The Hootentown name comes from a small hamlet just south of Springfield, MO where we have camped and fished for many years. Hootentown is really nothing more than a bridge over the famous James River. The James River is known world wide for it’s smallmouth bass fishing. In the early 1900’s the river was host to many float fishing excursions. Radio and Ozarks Jubilee personality Big Bill Ring was among those who floated the James embarking from Galena and floating to Branson. I acquired Bill’s personal tacklebox many years ago and it started our love of antiques. It was a cedar box with brass trim and a worn leather strap handle that had seen many hours of river time. Filled to the brim with old wooden Heddon lures, so much in fact that many lure collectors including Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris wanted this historical piece of The Ozarks to display in his National Headquarters here n the Ozarks. Bill will not soon be forgotten.
Hootentown History is brought to you by James River Outfitters. When it’s time for a float trip visit our friends at James River Outfitters. Shuttle to Hootentown and float down 21 miles to James River Outfitters…make a day of it. James River Outfitters, LLC. 110 Y-Bridge Road Galena, MO 65656 Call 417-357-6443 • Home: 417-357-6447 • Cell: 417-830-1344 • FAX: 417-357-6440
or visit us online.
Hootentown Natural Arch is an alcove natural arch eroded through a steep limestone bluff. It is located on the west bank of the James River about 20 miles south of Springfield, Missouri. With a span of 80 feet and a height of 60 feet it is probably the largest natural arch in Missouri. Photo by: Jay Wilbur
Along the way many of those folks came across one of the most beautiful and historic sites along the river at Cape Fair which is Virgin Bluff. According to legend, a beautiful Indian maiden leaped to her death from the bluff because her father would not allow her to marry a Spanish solider that had passed through the area. Some people today, still claim that sometimes at night, you can hear the maiden crying for her lover. The James River became famous for Float Trips from Galena to Bear Den and Virgin Bluff in Cape Fair and on to Branson, offering over 100 miles of great fishing and beautiful scenery. You could start floating from Cape Fair at sunrise, and continue down river until 4:00 in the afternoon, landing at Jackson Hollow, a distance of 30 miles, and walk back to the place of departure in only one hour, a distance of less than four miles.
There were several tourist camps on the James River at Cape Fair catering to the floaters. Many movie stars and other dignitaries came from long distances to float the famous James River. It must have been a sight to see in it’s early days.
An excerpt from the White River Historial Quarterly by Scott Brady.
“Before the turn of the twentieth century float fishing as a recreational activity was born and later perfected in the Ozarks. The trips were one of the first forms of tourism in the Ozarks White River region. They attracted people from all parts of the Unites States. The White River region probably retains more stories and memories of this Ozarks odyssey than any other river region in the Ozarks. But has float fishing become a dying memory in the minds of those in past generations?
The “john boat” was the tool of transportation used in float fishing. John boats ranged in size from smaller 12 to 14 footers to long, narrow 22 foot boats. Most of these boats were very heavy, built with rough cut green oak and hemlock planks. One anonymous floater wrote that on a float from Forsyth in 1900, a local carpenter built their boat. It was 12 to 14 feet long and over four feet wide, constructed with green hemlock an inch and a quarter thick. The floater claimed it had the “gross tonnage of the Oceanliner, Queen Mary.” He continued, “that craft could generate one knot an hour by hard paddling in the long eddies, but lethargy vanished when we approached a rapid. Gathering velocity it would charge down rock-studded water like a bull elephant run amok; any attempt to steer it was futile…It was capable of knocking out of its path boulders half its own size.”
John boats did not leak despite the crack between the planks. Because the rough cut planks did not fit together tightly, tar and hemp rope was used to fill the cracks. Boats were also submerged so the planks would swell and close the cracks. Since the outboard motor had not yet been put into mass production, and paddling soon wore a person out, the only practical means of propelling a john boat was by the use of a “long pole.” A long pole is exactly what it implies. It is a very long pole used by the guides to push off the bottom and propel the boat.
Jim Strimple, in the May, 1970, issue of The Ozarks Mountaineer, told of a graduation gift he was presented with in 1922–an Ozarks float trip. “We drove from Kansas City to Galena, Missouri, in a 1919 Buick, which navigated the ‘then not too good’ Ozarks roads with about the same ease as a lumber wagon in the high-wheeled, hard-tired old car.” The starting point of the trip was Galena. Included in the supplies was a fully stocked case of food, a long pole, a paddle so heavy it could hardly be lifted, and a cheek full of juicy tobacco. Strimple continued,
As we floated down the beautiful James River, past the spot where the Cape Fair dock now stands, on past the mouth of the James into the White River and Taneycomo little did I realize the change that was destined to take place. Camping each night close to fresh spring water, cleaning and cooking our fish in this beautiful setting and under the stars was an experience for me never to be forgotten. We took two lazy days from side to side to get away from a possible snarl. With a four pound bass objecting to this retrieve you had a lot to remember.
Our guide kept all of our ‘keeping fish’ cool and sweet even though the daytime temperatures often reached the upper 80’s. He dressed the fish, cooled them out in the cold spring water, encased them in damp green leaves, slightly salted them, wrapped them in newspaper and then in burlap. The only difference that I see now is that the lakes line of beauty has moved back to the shoreline. The great White River country was beautiful in 1922 and continues to be even more beautiful in 1970.”