by Cliff Huntington
Ben Pearson was born in Saline County, Arkansas on November 16, 1898. Events are hazy and accounts conflicting, but it's safe to say that Ben made his first bow sometime prior to 1926, a six foot hickory patterned after the English longbow obtained from instructions on bow building in Boy Scout articles written by Uncle Dan Beard. Later, in the Boy Scouts' Merit Badge Series for Archery, he would author his own instructions with "How To Make A Flat Bow." Ben performed numerous exhibitions across America for youth and scout groups and according to a recent article by Arline Chandler, "Pearson never charged a fee for his demonstrations, nor asked for expenses."
In 1926, Ben entered the Arkansas State Championships held in Little Rock and placed next to last. It was a humbling experience for the budding archer. Determined to improve his skills, Ben worked at upgrading his equipment and learning to shoot. The next year, he once again entered the Arkansas State Championships, but this time he walked away as the Arkansas State Champion. During the next 10 years or so, Ben would become a regular fixture at target events, develop into a highly respected competitor and place seventh behind Pat Chambers during the 1938 NAA National Tournament and 24 places ahead of a young Fred Bear. Pat would later go to work for Ben in 1940 as a field man and author "Archery," the first publication issued by Pearson Archery.
After completing grammar school, Ben worked on the family farm in Lonoke county until he was drafted toward the end of WWI. The Armistice was soon signed and Ben's short lived service came to an end. Ben returned home, but the farm couldn't hold him and he moved to Little Rock. In Little Rock, Ben would land a job with the Little Rock Railway and Electric Company, move on to the Arkansas Power & Light Company and as the Depression deepened in 1931 he would take off on his own. He tried the floral business in Pine Bluff, but with little money and even less experience his venture soon collapsed and he resorted to selling caterpillar tractors for John Riggs, doing some work for Lee Woods, Inc., of Pine Bluff and producing archery equipment in his garage.
It was during this period that a chance meeting would forever change his life. It seems that Carl Haun, a retired oil man from Blackwell, Oklahoma, had purchased a bow and arrow set for his grandson. It didn't take the grandson long to lose or break all his arrows. Grandpa set about to replace the youngster's arrows but found the task more difficult than anticipated. Upon learning of Ben Pearson, Mr. Haun cranked his airplane up and flew to Pine Bluff. Soon Mr. Haun was knocking on Ben's door and Mr. Haun's arrow problems were solved. According to Roy Hoff, "That was the beginning of a great partnership little known to the user of Ben Pearson equipment. Carl listened intently as Ben explained his dream of mass producing archery tackle and became intrigued. This was still during the depression years, but evidently not in the oil business."
Ben later commented on the meeting. "He was tickled to death to find some arrows for his grandson. So, Mr. Haun invited me to `go for a walk'. He said he wanted to look for some For Sale signs. He took a dim view of mass production in a backyard garage. We came upon an old sorghum mill with a For Sale sign on it." At that moment Carl Haun's financial support and Ben Pearson's mechanical knowledge were joined, forming Ben Pearson Company. Ben Pearson Company would later lay claim to being "the world's greatest mass-producing archery tackle manufacturer."
Ben Pearson retired from the archery manufacturing business in 1967 and passed away four years later on March 2, 1971 at age 72, after revolutionizing the manufacturing of archery tackle, providing quality, functional equipment well within the means of the average person. He left a legacy in the "Bushmaster" and the unsurpassed "Deadhead." He left another in Longbow, a 400 acre retreat near Prim, Arkansas, now restored by his son Ben, Jr. in tribute to his father and those who stalked the hills before him. His presence is still felt there in his get-away cabin. The cabin provides an awesome view of a waterfall cascading off a rock bluff into the blue-green pool below.
For those who would like to visit Longbow and experience it's spell, arrangements may be made by contacting: Ben & Paulette Pearson, P. O. Box 66, Prim, Arkansas. 72130; phone: 501-948-2362.