Volume 6, Number 1, Fall 1976
In recent years, with the inflow of new residents into our area, a few more Owen and Owens names appear in the local telephone directory. Earlier there seemed to be only three families of that surname in Taney County, and these three still have members here.
The C.C. Owen-Hobart Owen family of Protem and Forsyth arrived in the county first, soon after the Civil War. Half a century later, about 1920, my own family came to the Branson area. And the third of these was the John Owen-Jim Owen family, which came to Taney County in the 1930s, also to Branson.
All three of these families spell the name without the "s", though for the United States as a whole Owens is a good deal more common. According to the Social Security Administrations vast name records, the distribution in this country, between these two spellings, is about 70% Owens, 30% Owen. The name is fairly common; about 1 in 1000 of the American people bear the name Owen or Owens, compared to the 1 in 100 or 1% of our people who have that most common of names, Smith.
As far as any present knowledge goes, these three Taney County Owen families are not related to each other. But of course they may be, somewhere farther back in Eastern states of this country, or in the British homeland. It is a wise genealogist who knows his own 5th cousins.
As to spelling the name with or without the "s", Jim Owen, in a 1969 letter I have, wrote this interesting thought,
which, while it may not be of historys more accurate recordings, made me wonder if it has some truth, and if so, just why. I had never heard this assertion before: Jim wrote my grandfathers spelled the name Owen, and not Owens. They always told me that without the s it meant Republican, and if they spelled it with an s, the folks were Democrats." Jims own leaning was certainly Republican, and the other two of these Owen families at one time or another had candidates for public office, and sometimes officeholders, on the Republican ticket. My own grandfather, Harvey Owen, though born in Virginia, was a Civil War soldier from Illinois in the Union Army, and a follower of the Lincolnian faith. The 1840 federal census of Taney County was the first census after this countys 1837 beginning, and the family-head names of that census are listed in Elmo Ingenthrons 1976 book, The Land of Taney. The county area was then over twice what it is now, with in addition some adjacent land attached to it for civil and military purposes, and the 1840 population total of all this was 3,264 people. But that 1840 family-head list shows no Owen or Owens in the expanded Taney County of then.
So the C.C. Owen family, which came to Taney in 1870, was probably the earliest here of that name. He was born in Kentucky in 1829, according to the Goodspeed A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region, published in 1894 while he was still alive. As a boy Owen moved, in his father George W. Owens family, from Kentucky to Benton County, Missouri, in 1842. After the Civil War, where he got the title of captain in the Union Army, C.C. Owen, who had married Caroline Russell in 1850 and started a family, moved to Taney County. Goodspeed also says "About 1874 he was instrumental in establishing the postoffice at Protem, and gave it the name of Pro tem, thinking it would be only a temporary office, and was made the first postmaster." Ingenthrons The Land of Taney has a little different story about who named the Protem settlement, and why -- that, after disagreement between C.C. Owen and the Post Office Department over the naming, " someone in the Post Office Department gave it the temporary name of Protem" -- which was never changed. And in a 1970 letter to me. James W. Owen, a grandson of C.C. Owen and speaking of him, puts that story about Protems naming this way: "He wanted to call Protem Owenville but never succeeded and so the legislature just told him they would settle that later -- so Granpa told them Protem and that it has remained since."
Though I have seen or heard nothing of this objection to his naming the place Owenville for his family, I would think that a fatal obstacle was the existence of an Owensville (which still has that name), northeasterly in the Missouri Ozarks in Gasconade County. The Post Office Department would never accept, in the same state, another place-named different by only that "s". Owensville was so named in 1867, according to Robert L. Ramsays 1952 book, Our Storehouse of Missouri Place Names. And this book has still another slightly different version of the naming of Protem, as shown in the following quoted paragraph which also mentions the naming of some other small Missouri towns in other counties:
"The perennial struggle waged by our local postmasters with the Post Office Department in Washington has provided some of our best place-name jokes. One harried postmaster was instructed that he must find a name that was peculiar; another that he must select a name that would avert confusion; another that he could use any name protem until he had made up his mind; and still another that the number of names he had already sent in was enough. In humble obedience to their instructions, the names of these four towns have become Peculiar, Avert, Protem, and Enough."
In printed items about the Protem pioneer, one sees his initials used, and him called C. C. Owen, and I long wondered what those initials stood for -- what his given names were. In answer to my question about that, in another 1970 letter James W. Owen wrote that his grandfathers name was Christopher Columbus Owen -- a striking name. I like it, and have thought that if I had a rolling, splendiferous given name like that I would have used it, but he apparently preferred the subdued initials.
This James W. Owen died in 1975, and a Branson Beacon-Leader item said then, about his death at 85, that he was "the first known graduate of the School of the Ozarks." Again a difference in data: The Ingenthron history mentioned above names Joseph R. Gideon as the first S of 0 graduate, even describing the graduating ceremony, where Joe was the only graduate, he being the whole "class of 1913". The School of the Ozarks was a high school then (though I think not yet a 4-year one) - not a college as now. It was located at Forsyth until its building burned in 1915, whereupon it moved to the present Point Lookout location.
Bransons high school began in 1913. Its first graduating class, a 2-year one of 6 students, was in 1915. 1913 was the year of Lake Taneycomos filling, after completion of the impounding dam downstream at Powersite. The coming of the lake, accompanying arrival of new people, and growth of the town of Branson, were among the forces leading to the starting of a high school there in 1913.
The first 4-year high school graduating class at Branson was in 1923, and I was in it. When I entered Bransons high school it had 3 years, but just the year I needed it, in the fall of 1922, the 4th year was added. R. L. French was Bransons school superintendent that year, and he also taught in the high school as did 2 women teachers. The year before, the 3-year high school had just 2 teachers, both women, with Mrs. Gladys Stewart being one, and she was also superintendent of the Branson school system which included the grade school with its separate teachers. I heard in those student days that state law or regulations required a high school to have 3 teachers as a minimum for a 4-year offering, and that is what Branson got with the fall of 1922.
There were 11 of us in that first 4-year graduation at Branson, on May 25, 1923 -- 6 girls and 5 boys. Eva Lea Worrell was salutatorian. She married Dillard Branson, another member of that class, who was of the family from which the town of Branson got its name. And (if I may brag a bit in these latter years) I was valedictorian. I remember delivering my "oration" with considerable uncertainty as to whether I would get through it. There was no auditorium at the Branson school, and the graduating ceremony was held in the Branson Presbyterian Church of those days, the old cut-stone building which is the south or older part (bearing a 1910 cornerstone date) of the present enlarged edifice used as the Tri-Lakes Adult Center.
Now some comment on the invention of the Owen (and other) surnames. Given names are ages old, doubtless going back to caveman grunts or maybe even cries up in the trees. But surnames for most families are only a few centuries old, with thousands of generations of ancestors before that having got along with just what we call the given name. Family names, or surnames, came into use mostly as a matter of convenience when population grew enough, in first one place then another, to cause confusion between all the Toms, Johns, and so on. Then, to clarify, family names got added on, from such sources as occupation, place of dwelling, personal attributes or peculiarities. One surname forming device in many lands and languages was what linguists call the "patronymic", a name built by adding a prefix or suffix to the father or other ancestors given name, like Williamson, meaning son of William. Thus came the name Owens, with that "s" ending indicating "son of Owen" or some other descent or possession relationship.
Sometimes a family name is somewhat self-flattering, in which case one wonders if it was originally picked by the neighbors or by the family itself. So for the name of Owen, derived from language roots meaning "well born", that is, of noble blood, and akin linguistically to the Greek-origin word "eugenic" (which likewise means well born, though today in a scientific or genetic sense).
A person wonders, for his family name, when his people first adopted it or had it applied to them, how they got started using that name instead of some other, and in what faraway place this all happened. Among prominent families, aristocrats one might say, there was some surname use even back in-classical Greece, and more in Roman times, with a full name like Gaius Julius Caesar already then developed. But for the vast numbers of us serfs, peasants, and simple people out in the boondocks, we -- our ancestors -- got along pretty well with just a name like Tom or Dick. Surname usage for most of us is no older than five or six hundred years, and in some parts of Europe a good deal less than that. This is only about 20 generations (allowing 25 or 30 years to a generation, as the time overlap from parent to child) -- and 20 generations is a comparative sliver of human existence. With the human race maybe 20,000 generations old, depending on when we begin to call our forebears human, one sees how recent and thin a veneer, then, the family name is. At 25 years per generations, 20,000 generations reach back half a million years. And anthropologists keep moving back the antiquity of man. In those days our ancestors were lucky to have meals, without worrying about surnames.
Would that one could see, talk with, and come to know his remote ancestors: the eo-Owens, protoMehuses, dawn-age Rebenstorfs!
Protems pioneer C.C. Owen was a prominent and versatile man in Taney County. He held a number of public offices, and was a physician too, as well as a farmer. He was county surveyor, probate judge, and representative of Taney County in the
Missouri state legislature. Hobart F. Owen, Sr., a grandson of C. C. Owen, in later time held the office of Taney County tax collector. A son of Hobart, H.F. Owen, Jr., became prosecuting attorney, still later. And Vernon M. James, long prominent in this county, was another grandson of the pioneer, child of the marriage between C.C. Owens daughter Sarah and Cyrus A. James of the Protem area, where Vernon grew up. Vernon James was superintendent of schools at Hollister and Branson for quite some years, and earlier was principal at Forsyth, and taught elsewhere. He served as county tax collector, like his cousin Hobart Owen, and, like their grandfather C.C. Owen, Vernon was Taney Countys representative in the Missouri General Assembly, or state legislature. Still later he served as a judge of the "county court" (which in Missouri is not a court in the usual sense, but mainly a county legislative and executive commission).
Now the Jim Owen family. While everybody knew him as Jim, his full name was James Mason Owen. Apparently he was doubly named for grandfathers: in a 1969 letter he wrote "Both my Grandfather Owen and Grandfather Mason had the first name of Jim". No doubt, like him, they were formally named James.
Jim Owen was born at Elkland, Webster County, Missouri, in 1903, and died at Branson in 1972. He was the best known, over the country and especially among sportsmen, of these Taney County Owen individuals. I often had people elsewhere, when I said I was from Branson, Missouri, ask me if I knew Jim Owen or was related to him. In fact, the last time I saw that good old artist, Thomas Hart Benton, briefly on Main Street in Branson just three months before Bentons January 1975 death, one of the things Benton asked me was whether I was related to Jim Owen.
Jims father, John B. Owen, bought a drug-
store in Branson in 1933, and that is when that family moved here from elsewhere in Missouri. After John Owens death in 1939, the store was run for a number of years by Jims sister Wylna Owen, who is still a Branson resident. My mother, who used to like to sit in the drugstore and visit, remembers John Owen telling her that his branch came to Missouri from Kentucky.
Jim Owen became known as "the king of the Ozarks float trip operators", and in that role entertained people from far and wide over the country. In 1933 he opened the Owen Theatre in Branson, and it still operates under that name. He was interested in hunting dogs and wrote articles about them. He was interested in livestock and at one time had a Jersey dairy herd. Jim was Branson mayor for quite some years. And he planned at one time to run for state legislature (Republican ticket).
Jim wrote a Branson newspaper column, and from that authored his book, Jim Owens Hillbilly Humor. He was featured in many newspaper and magazine articles. One of the best of these was done by that writer of heart, mind, and skilled pen, Dan Saults, in the May 1974 issue of Sports Afield, in memory of Jim. That article had the title, a sweet and poetic one I thought, "Gently Down the Stream".
My own family came to Branson, Taney County, in July 1921, the month of my 15th birthday, though my father, Edgar Owen, was already here then, perhaps having arrived in 1920. We had lived the three previous years at Erie, southeast Kansas, though I was born in Kiowa County, southwest Oklahoma (which was then, 1906, still Oklahoma Territory, and not a state until 1907). We lived in Kiowa County, then in Oklahoma City, until the 1918 move to Kansas when I was 12.
In 1893 my father, then 26, was one of the men and women, young and old, who lined up in Kansas at the Oklahoma border for the run for land at the opening of the Cherokee Strip. In that he obtained a claim near Uncas, in Kay County, north Oklahoma, but he did not have it long. Then in 1897, according to an unclear family story (my father was never a communicative man), he traded something for a piece of Taney County land, sight unseen, but somehow soon lost title to that new possession with, he believed, fraud involved in the loss. As far as I know he never actually visited Taney County in those earlier years, or until shortly before the family move to Branson in 1921. He was, however, a restless and wandering man until his old age, and wherever we lived he was often away, generally we knew not where or what doing.
But he lived his last years with my mother at my rural home west of Branson, and there he died in 1962, aged 95. He now rests in the Ozark Memorial Park east of Branson, a cemetery lying on a former hilltop field, which he once rented to raise feed for his cattle -- my brother Dale plowed there, I think, while I was away at college. At my old fathers grave there, in addition to his name and dates on the headstone, I added some words from Thoreau on a little granite stone at his feet:
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
That first land that Edgar Owen got in Taney County, at age 30 in 1897, and then soon lost, was about half way between Kirbyville and Mincy, and about a quarter mile east of the old Springfield-Harrison Road that then went southward through Kirbyville into Arkansas. The 157 acre parcel was the NW¼ of Sec. 6, T. 22, R. 20. His Cherokee Strip run and initial homesteading in northern Oklahoma, and this purchase-loss of that Taney County land, were all before his second marriage to my mother on December 6, 1899 -- which was a second marriage for him. His first wife lived only about 9 months and had no children. Father was 33, my mother 22, when they were married at Beatrice, Nebraska.
My mother, still living, is of even more years than Father attained. She was born Stella Beatrice Tibbets, Nov. 11, 1877, in Gage County, Nebraska. Thus her Bicentennial year birthday saw her 99 years old -- nearly half the age of the United States. For many, many years she lived at my home west of Branson, a small old stone house (built 1911), overlooking the White River valley from a 290 foot bluff. My children and I spent many summers and other vacations there, where they roamed, played, swam and hunted as they grew up. I bought these forested acres in 1934, and now live there in retirement after 40-plus years of college and university teaching.
During her 30-odd years in my house, Mother gardened, sewed, cooked for growing grandchildren and other visitors, and came to know county neighbors, near and far. And she did something specially dear to her heart: she planted and cared for many flowers, and often shared bulbs, cuttings, or seed with friends for and wide over the county. Every now and then someone on a Branson street tells me that bits of beauty in his or her yard come long ago from Mother. She roamed hills and creek beds collecting wildflowers too, to move samples to her bed of them near the house. Mother now lives with my sister, Mrs. Audrey (Owen) Sare (born 1903), on the Sare family beef cattle ranch north of Springfield.
Besides that sister there were two other boys born to Edgar and Stella Owen, after first the sister, then me. Next was brother Harvey Dale Owen, born in 1909, and finally Leo Max Owen, born 1912 and who passed away in 1969. We brought Max home from California, so that he could lie close to his kinfolks. There is a little footstone for him too, there in the Ozark Memorial Park -- with a few words from Shakespeare which I thought fitted him and his life:
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
I guess I put those footstone memorials there partly for them, partly for me, and partly for the passer-by.
My earliest Owen ancestor I know the name of is really not very far back, by great-grandfather Jason Owen, born 1792 in Virginia, died in Carter County, Kentucky, in 1847. He had married Elizabeth Thompson in Virginia, where she was born in 1798, and she died in 1853 in the same Kentucky county.
In their large family my grandfather Harvey Owen was one of the later children, born 1838 in Lee County, Virginia, died 1889 in Pawnee County, Nebraska. He married Catharine Hannah in Illinois, where she was born in Peoria County in 1841, and her life ended in Nebraska where his did, 1891.
My father, Edgar Owen, was born in 1866 in Knox County, Illinois, and in the spring of 1872. When he was 5, the family drove westward from there to settle in homestead Nebraska. Fathers mature-years memory of that childhood journey seemed to be only of their little dog, that followed along with the wagon and them.
The oldest of my three children is Edgar Lauren Owen, born 1941. Next is Robert Dale Owen, 1948, then Judith Irene Owen, born 1951 and married now to Robert Eugene Dumont, Jr.
These children spent a lot of growing-up days at our country home in Taney County. The entrance lane for that begins on the public Fall Creek Road, then winds a third of a mile among the oaks and dogwoods to our house and yard. In 1970, after their grandmother Stella Owen, full of years and without her strength of many decades, had begun to live most of the time with her daughter Audrey, my son Robert, then 21, wrote this out of his memories, and with it I will close:
When I was a child,
This, our narrow forest road,
Seemed so much longer.
Past this last bend - yes,
The house is still there; it is
Made of stone, you see.
The woman is gone
Who planted this garden of
Flowers - still they bloom.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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