For 12 years, James Mason “Jim” Owen served as a Branson, Missouri mayor. Before relocating to the Ozarks in 1933, Owen was employed by a Jefferson City newspaper as an advertising manager. Once arriving in Branson, he stayed and never left.
Owen owned an auto dealership, a drug store, and a movie theater. He was also a bank president and interestingly, he wrote a column for the Arkansas Gazette out of Little Rock, Arkansas focused on the subject of fishing. He also owned a large dairy. He was quite the entrepreneurial man with many hats.
Before Owen became known for his notable accomplishments, he established a float fishing venture in 1935 that was a very successful operation. This adventure gained national attention which in turn affected tourism in a positive way. Owen also wrote about living in the Ozarks in his book, Jim Owen’s Hillbilly Humor which is still on the market.
Owen, an entrepreneur in his own right in Branson, created a business with fishing on the White River. It’s interesting that Owen didn’t grow up in the region but made a life there. He definitely built up tourism.
Guide rates started at $2 per day, but during the heyday of the business, they rose to about $10 per day. (Source.)
If you went on a float trip, you could expect to be gone for several days. There was a guide and two fishermen in each boat. If you had a large group, there was a larger boat accompanying the trip that carried food and camping gear.
In the beginning, Owen had six guides and six boats. He may not have known everything about the water, but he was versed in advertising and promoting. When he brought in writers and editors, this was also giving him the publicity he wanted. His float service was included in national publications like Look, Outdoor Life, and Life magazines.
Owens used his abilities to advertise the area with its beauty and great fishing opportunities while providing weekly float trips to Branson on the White River.
He is also credited for having the first theater to be built in 1935 in Branson (historic Owen Theatre). In the beginning, it was constructed as a movie house for entertainment for those who went out on float trips down the White River. Now the theatre houses the Branson Regional Arts Council and Conservatory of the Arts focusing on providing youth with the education associated with performing and visual arts.
The commissary boat went on ahead with the guide, selecting a campsite, setting up the tents, and preparing for the evening meal. Owen had a warehouse filled with gear. (Source.)
In the above image, Owens is posing with friends and employees of the Owen Boat Line. In the late 1940s, Owen’s business was at its peak. By then, he had 40 boats with 35 guides. His float service business operated for 33 years. More than 10,000 fishermen came there from around the country.
Owens was a great marketeer and conversationalist. He allegedly worked his people hard. And he was goal-oriented to make money.
In 1958, Owen ran his last float trip.
In 1966, Owen had a stroke and died six years later. He was influential in building up tourism in Branson. But he had a lot of support, too, from those who worked with him on the White River.
Float fishing as it was has disappeared with the building of the dams on White River; it is just a memory in the minds of older generations. If you can find an old float fisherman, have a good imagination, and have a few hours to spend listening, you are in for as good a time as if you would have been there yourself. (Source.)
The below video includes clips of Owens with commentator and Bass Pro founder, Johnny Morris.
Thanks for reading.