Annie Miller and Sons Celebrates 40 Years of Family Business

There aren’t any words worthy enough to describe the late Annie Miller, founder of Annie Miller’s Swamp and Marsh Tours. Words like “extraordinary,” “one of a kind” and “multifaceted” are probably the closest to giving her justice.

The world-renowned “Alligator Annie” was a trapper, boat captain, gardner, multilinguist, licensed pilot, musician, published writer and more. But perhaps her biggest accomplishment was her globally celebrated, Houma-based swamp tour, which she started at 65 years old in 1980.

“She basically started [the tours] because there was a downturn in the oilfield industry in the late 70s, and the local chamber of commerce came to her to start the swamp tours and generate tourism in the area,” said Mark Bonvillain, Miller’s grandson.

“When she actually started the business, she started with basically a little swamp buggy,” he continued. “And she eventually built that to four boats that sat anywhere from 18 to 24 people each.”

The tour’s popularity spread not just throughout Louisiana but also the entire country and overseas, being featured in national and European publications.

When the tour was in full swing, it wasn’t uncommon for the business to receive 50-100 customers a day, Mark noted.

Miller gave tours for over 23 years, just past her 88th birthday. Before her passing, she handed the tour off to her son Jimmy Bonvillain, Mark’s father, who had been working alongside his mother for several years.

Jimmy scaled down the family-owned and -operated business to one boat, but it’s worldwide approval and popularity never faded. It is currently one of the top rated tours on Tripadvisor, Mark said, and 50 to 60 percent of their patrons are from abroad.

The boat tour sets out on Bayou Black, departing from Bayou Delight restaurant, and shows visitors an up-close look at Mandalay Wildlife Refuge as the watercraft traverses through bayou waters.

“We go down Bayou Black and down Minors Canal all the way to the Intracoastal. We pass up the Intracoastal, into Minors Canal and show people the swamp and marsh, and the differences in the terrain,” Mark explains. “We had back west on the Intracoastal and then head north on the Hanson Canal.”

Travelers are able to gaze at alligators, which come up to the boat to be fed, and other wildlife occupying the marsh and swamps.

“We see many birds, from your great blue herons, egrets and bald eagles. You also see a great many owls,” Mark noted. “Sometimes we see snakes, nutria and other wildlife.”

Mark said they regularly feed 20-25 alligators — not all in the same day — but in the summer, they could easily feed 12-15 alligators a day, ranging anywhere from 3 to 14-feet long.

Now taking over the reins from his father, who is planning to retire soon, Mark is looking into expanding the business again by acquiring a larger vessel and starting a seperate tour that goes out to the barrier islands.

“Hopefully I can build up what my grandmother started, which could be a lot of pressure,” Mark shared. “She built a very good thing.”

“My grandmother was a jack of all trades and a master of many,” he continued. “If I can accomplish half of what she accomplished, I think I’d be pretty successful.”