The Ozark hills have produced many famous and legendary people. There are people of science, business, outlaws, environmentalists, musicians and authors.
Wes Franklin often quotes Vance Randolph, the folklorist, in his articles. Larry Dablemont, who has written columns for the Traveler, has published several interesting and entertaining books about life in the Ozarks.
Another interesting and legendary person of the Ozark hills is Jim Owen.
James Mason “Jim” Owen (Nov. 11, 1903-July 12, 1972) served as mayor of Branson, Missouri, for 12 years. Jim was an advertising manager for a Jefferson City newspaper before he came to the Ozarks in 1933 on a visit to Branson. He never left.
Before he died in 1972, he had owned a drug store, a movie theater, and an auto dealership. He was president of a bank and wrote a fishing column for the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock, Ark.
In addition, he owned champion fox hounds and bird dogs, produced his own brand of dog food, and owned a large dairy.
But Jim Owen became best known for his other business venture — he set up the largest and most successful Ozark float fishing operation of that day. His success sparked national attention, giving area tourism a big boost.
His float service was being described in the pages of Life, Look, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield plus dozens of large newspapers.
Owen is credited with Branson’s first theater, the Owens’ Theater, which proved to be a beginning of things to come. Owens’ Theater, on historic Commercial Street in downtown Branson, was called the “Hillbilly Theater” when it was initially built in 1936.
Owen built a movie theater in 1934 and then expanded it in 1936 to a live stage theater to provide additional entertainment for the fishermen he took out for float trips on the White River and other tourists to the area.
Jim Owen also authored a book entitled “Jim Owen’s Hillbilly Humor,” and some of these stories were published in Look, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post where Jim shared his hilarious and heartwarming stories of life in the Ozarks.
I have taken the liberty to share some of the sayings and stories from this book with the readers of the River Hills Traveler.
A man might not know where his children are, but he keeps an expensive hunting dog penned up.
A genuine hillbilly is a person who is shrewd enough and lazy enough to do it right the first time.
Whenever I get to feeling indispensable, I take another look at the old saddle hanging in the garage.
Things ain’t changed much. Folks still like the front of the bus, the middle of the road and the back of the church.
The years are beginning to add up when it takes you longer to rest than it did to get tired.
I’m finding out that by the time a man finds greener pastures, he can’t climb the fence.
A young mother asked an old hill woman how to care for her young baby. The many-times hill mother replied, “Honey, there hain’t nothin’ to hit — just keep one end full and the other end dry.”
The other day I noticed two of my neighbors coming down the road carrying a long pole. When they got about even with my barn, they stopped and stood the pole on end.
While one of them held it steady in this upright position, the other one started to climb it with a tape measure in his hand.
I yelled and asked them why they didn’t lay the pole down if they wanted to measure it.
The spokesman of the two yelled back to me, “Jim, we don’t give a dern how long it is; we just want to know how tall it is.”
A native preacher phoned the Board of Health to have a dead mule removed from his front yard. The young clerk who answered thought he would be smart.
“I thought you preachers took care of the dead,” he said.
“We do,” the preacher answered kindly, “but first we always get in touch with the relatives.”
(If you have an amusing story, a funny joke or a quotation or saying that you have enjoyed and would like to share, please send it to: Bill Wakefield, Traveler St. Louis Branch, 9707 Pauline Place, Affton MO 63123; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)