Missouri – The Show Me State


Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States.  With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union.  The largest urban areas are Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City, near the center of the state on the Missouri River.  The state is the 21st-most extensive in area.  In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation.  The Mississippi River forms the eastern border of the state.

Gateway Arch in Saint Louis

Origin of the State Name:

The state is named for the Missouri River, which was named after the indigenous Missouri Indians, a Siouan-language tribe.  There are several competing theories about the exact wording and the exact translation, but the most likely theory is that the name Missouri comes from the Chiwere language, a fairly unique Siouan dialect spoken by people who resided in the modern day states of Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri & Nebraska.


Missouri is landlocked and borders eight different states. No state in the U.S. touches more than eight. Missouri is bounded by Iowa on the north; by Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee across the Mississippi River on the east; on the south by Arkansas; and by Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska (the last across the Missouri River) on the west.  Whereas the northern and southern boundaries are straight lines, the Missouri Bootheel protrudes southerly into Arkansas.

Missouri in the United States

The two largest rivers are the Mississippi, which defines the eastern boundary of the state, and the Missouri River, which flows from west to east through the state, essentially connecting the two largest metros of Kansas City and St. Louis.

Kansas City

When Missouri was admitted to the Union, its original border was proposed as an extension of the 36°30′ parallel north that formed the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.  This would have excluded the Bootheel.  John Hardeman Walker, a pioneer planter in what is now Pemiscot County, argued that the area had more in common with the Mississippi River towns of Cape Girardeau, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis in Missouri than with its proposed incorporation in the Arkansas Territory.  The border was dropped about 50 miles to the 36th parallel north.  It follows that parallel about 30 miles until intersecting the St. Francis River, then follows the river back up to about the 36°30′ parallel just west of Campbell, Missouri.

Bootheel Region

According to an apocryphal story in various versions, the Bootheel was added to the state because of the request of some Missourian to remain in the state “as he had heard it was so sickly in Arkansas”; “…full of bears and panthers and copperhead snakes, so it ain’t safe for civilized people to stay there overnight even.”  Another legend has the adaptation made by a love-struck surveyor to spare the feelings of a widow living 50 miles south of the Missouri border, but unaware of it.

Topography of the Bootheel

Although today it is usually considered part of the Midwest, Missouri was historically seen by many as a border state, chiefly because of the settlement of migrants from the South and its status as a slave state before the Civil War, balanced by the influence of St. Louis. The counties that made up “Little Dixie” were those along the Missouri River in the center of the state, settled by Southern migrants who held the greatest concentration of slaves.

North of, and in some cases just south of, the Missouri River lie the Northern Plains that stretch into Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.  Here, rolling hills remain from the glaciation that once extended from the Canadian Shield to the Missouri River.  Missouri has many large river bluffs along the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec Rivers.  Southern Missouri rises to the Ozark Mountains, a dissected plateau surrounding the Precambrian igneous St. Francois Mountains.  This region also hosts karst topography characterized by high limestone content with the formation of sinkholes and caves.

Southern Missouri

The Missouri Bootheel region is part of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain or Mississippi embayment.  This region is the lowest, flattest, warmest, and wettest part of the state.  It is also among the poorest, as the economy there is mostly agricultural.  It is also the most fertile, with cotton and rice crops predominant.


Pre-European Contact:

Indigenous peoples inhabited Missouri for thousands of years before European exploration and settlement.  Archaeological excavations along the rivers have shown continuous habitation for more than 7,000 years.  Beginning before 1000 CE, there arose the complex Mississippian culture, whose people created regional political centers at present-day St. Louis and across the Mississippi River at Cahokia, near present-day Collinsville, Illinois.  Their large cities included thousands of individual residences, but they are known for their surviving massive earthwork mounds, built for religious, political and social reasons, in platform, ridgetop and conical shapes.  Cahokia was the center of a regional trading network that reached from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.  The civilization declined by 1400 CE, and most descendants left the area long before the arrival of Europeans.

Cahokia Mounds

European Settlement:

The first European settlers were mostly ethnic French Canadians, who created their first settlement in Missouri at present-day Ste. Genevieve, about an hour south of St. Louis.  They had migrated about 1750 from the Illinois Country.  They came from colonial villages on the east side of the Mississippi River, where soils were becoming exhausted and there was insufficient river bottom land for the growing population.  Sainte-Geneviève became a thriving agricultural center, producing enough surplus wheat, corn and tobacco to ship tons of grain annually downriver to Lower Louisiana for trade.  Grain production in the Illinois Country was critical to the survival of Lower Louisiana and especially the city of New Orleans.

St. Louis was founded soon after by French fur traders, Pierre Laclède and stepson Auguste Chouteau from New Orleans in 1764.  From 1764 to 1803, European control of the area west of the Mississippi to the northernmost part of the Missouri River basin, called Louisiana, was assumed by the Spanish as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, due to Treaty of Fontainebleau.  The arrival of the Spanish in St. Louis was in September 1767.

Fur Traders on the Missouri River

St. Louis became the center of a regional fur trade with Native American tribes that extended up the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which dominated the regional economy for decades.  Trading partners of major firms shipped their furs from St. Louis by river down to New Orleans for export to Europe.  They provided a variety of goods to traders, for sale and trade with their Native American clients.  The fur trade and associated businesses made St. Louis an early financial center and provided the wealth for some to build fine houses and import luxury items.  Its location near the confluence of the Illinois River meant it also handled produce from the agricultural areas.  River traffic and trade along the Mississippi were integral to the state’s economy, and as the area’s first major city, St. Louis expanded greatly after the invention of the steamboat and the increased river trade.

Napoleon Bonaparte had gained Louisiana for French ownership from Spain in 1800 under the Treaty of San Ildefonso.  But the treaty was kept secret.  Louisiana remained nominally under Spanish control until a transfer of power to France on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the cession to the United States.

Treaty of San Ildefonso

Purchase by the United States:

Part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States, Missouri earned the nickname Gateway to the West because it served as a major departure point for expeditions and settlers heading to the West during the 19th century.  St. Charles, just west of St. Louis, was the starting point and the return destination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which ascended the Missouri River in 1804, in order to explore the western lands to the Pacific Ocean.  St. Louis was a major supply point for decades, for parties of settlers heading west.

Louisiana Purchase

As many of the early settlers in western Missouri migrated from the Upper South, they brought enslaved African Americans as agricultural laborers, and they desired to continue their culture and the institution of slavery.  They settled predominantly in 17 counties along the Missouri River, in an area of flatlands that enabled plantation agriculture and became known as “Little Dixie.”  In 1821 the former Missouri Territory was admitted as a slave state, in accordance with the Missouri Compromise, and with a temporary state capital in St. Charles.  In 1826, the capital was shifted to its current, permanent location of Jefferson City, also on the Missouri River.

Capitol in Jefferson City

In the early 1830s, Mormon migrants from northern states and Canada began settling near Independence and areas just north of there.  Conflicts over religion and slavery arose between the ‘old settlers’, mainly from the South, and the Mormons, mainly from the North.  The Mormon War erupted in 1838.  By 1839, with the help of an “Extermination Order” by Governor Lilburn Boggs, the old settlers forcefully expelled the Mormons from Missouri and confiscated their lands.

Conflicts over slavery exacerbated border tensions among the states and territories. From 1838 to 1839, a border dispute with Iowa over the so-called Honey Lands resulted in both states’ calling-up of militias along the border.

With increasing migration, from the 1830s to the 1860s Missouri’s population almost doubled with every decade.  Most of the newcomers were American-born, but many Irish and German immigrants arrived in the late 1840s and 1850s.  As a majority were Catholic, they set up their own religious institutions in the state, which had been mostly Protestant.  Having fled famine and oppression in Ireland, and revolutionary upheaval in Germany, the immigrants were not sympathetic to slavery.  Many settled in cities, where they created a regional and then state network of Catholic churches and schools. Nineteenth-century German immigrants created the wine industry along the Missouri River and the beer industry in St. Louis.

Missouri in the Civil War:

After the secession of Southern states began in 1861, the Missouri legislature called for the election of a special convention on secession.  The convention voted decisively to remain within the Union.  Pro-Southern Governor Claiborne F. Jackson ordered the mobilization of several hundred members of the state militia who had gathered in a camp in St. Louis for training.  Alarmed at this action, Union General Nathaniel Lyon struck first, encircling the camp and forcing the state troops to surrender.  Lyon directed his soldiers, largely non-English-speaking German immigrants, to march the prisoners through the streets, and they opened fire on the largely hostile crowds of civilians who gathered around them. Soldiers killed unarmed prisoners as well as men, women and children of St. Louis in the incident that became known as the “St. Louis Massacre“.

US Civil War Map

These events heightened Confederate support within the state.  Governor Jackson appointed Sterling Price, president of the convention on secession, as head of the new Missouri State Guard.  In the face of Union General Lyon’s rapid advance through the state, Jackson and Price were forced to flee the capital of Jefferson City on June 14, 1861.  In the town of Neosho, Missouri, Jackson called the state legislature into session.  They enacted a secession ordinance.  However, even under the Southern view of secession, only the state convention had the power to secede.  Since the convention was dominated by unionists, and the state was more pro-Union than pro-Confederate in any event, the ordinance of secession adopted by the legislature is generally given little credence.  The Confederacy nonetheless recognized it on October 30, 1861.

With the elected governor absent from the capital and the legislators largely dispersed, the state convention was reassembled with most of its members present, save 20 that fled south with Jackson’s forces.  The convention declared all offices vacant, and installed Hamilton Gamble as the new governor of Missouri.  President Lincoln’s administration immediately recognized Gamble’s government as the legal Missouri government.  The federal government’s decision enabled raising pro-Union militia forces for service within the state as well as volunteer regiments for the Union Army.

Fighting ensued between Union forces and a combined army of General Price’s Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops from Arkansas and Texas under General Ben McCulloch.  After winning victories at the battle of Wilson’s Creek and the siege of Lexington, Missouri and suffering losses elsewhere, the Confederate forces retreated to Arkansas and later Marshall, Texas, in the face of a largely reinforced Union Army.

Price’s Raid

Though regular Confederate troops staged some large-scale raids into Missouri, the fighting in the state for the next three years consisted chiefly of guerrilla warfare.  “Citizen soldiers” or insurgents such as Captain William Quantrill, Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William T. Anderson made use of quick, small-unit tactics.  Pioneered by the Missouri Partisan Rangers, such insurgencies also arose in portions of the Confederacy occupied by the Union during the Civil War.  Historians have portrayed stories of the James brothers’ outlaw years as an American “Robin Hood” myth.  The vigilante activities of the Bald Knobbers of the Ozarks in the 1880s were an unofficial continuation of insurgent mentality long after the official end of the war.

Twentieth Century:

Between the Civil War and the end of World War II, Missouri transitioned from a rural economy to a hybrid industrial-service-agricultural economy as the Midwest rapidly industrialized.  The expansion of railroads to the West transformed Kansas City into a major transportation hub within the nation.

Union Station St Louis

The growth of the Texas cattle industry along with this increased rail infrastructure and the invention of the refrigerated boxcar also made Kansas City a major meatpacking center, as large cattle drives from Texas brought herds of cattle to Dodge City and other Kansas towns.  There, the cattle were loaded onto trains destined for Kansas City, where they were butchered and distributed to the eastern markets.  The first half of the twentieth century was the height of Kansas City’s prominence and its downtown became a showcase for stylish Art Deco skyscrapers as construction boomed.

Union Stock Yards

During the mid-1950s and 1960s, St. Louis and Kansas City suffered deindustrialization and loss of jobs in railroads and manufacturing, as did other Midwestern industrial cities.  These major cities have gone through decades of readjustment to develop different economies and adjust to demographic changes. Suburban areas have developed separate job markets, both in knowledge industries and services, such as major retail malls.

Twenty-First Century:

In 2014, Missouri received national attention for the protests and riots that followed the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer of Ferguson, which led Governor Jay Nixon to call out the Missouri National Guard.  A grand jury declined to indict the officer, and the U.S. Department of Justice concluded, after careful investigation, that the police officer legitimately feared for his safety.  However, in a separate investigation, the Department of Justice also found that the Ferguson Police Department and the City of Ferguson relied on unconstitutional practices in order to balance the city’s budget through racially motivated excessive fines and punishments, that the Ferguson police “had used excessive and dangerous force and had disproportionately targeted blacks,” and that the municipal court “emphasized revenue over public safety, leading to routine breaches of citizens’ constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law.”

Ferguson Riots

On June 7, 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a warning to prospective African-American travelers to Missouri. This is the first NAACP warning ever covering an entire state.  According to a 2018 report by the Missouri Attorney General‘s office, for the past 18 years, “African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are disproportionately affected by stops, searches and arrests.”  The same report found that the biggest discrepancy was in 2017, when “black motorists were 85% more likely to be pulled over in traffic stops”.


Major industries in Missouri include aerospace, transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, printing/publishing, electrical equipment, light manufacturing, financial services and beer.

The agriculture products of the state are beef, soybeans, pork, dairy products, hay, corn, poultry, sorghum, cotton, rice, and eggs.  Missouri is ranked 6th in the nation for the production of hogs and 7th for cattle.  Missouri is ranked in the top five states in the nation for production of soy beans, and it is ranked fourth in the nation for the production of rice.  In 2001, there were 108,000 farms, the second-largest number in any state after Texas.  Missouri actively promotes its rapidly growing wine industry. According to the Missouri Partnership, Missouri’s agriculture industry contributes $33 billion in GDP to Missouri’s economy, and generates $88 billion in sales and more than 378,000 jobs.

Missouri has vast quantities of limestone.  Other resources mined are lead, coal, and crushed stone. Missouri produces the most lead of all of the states.  Most of the lead mines are in the central eastern portion of the state.  Missouri also ranks first or near first in the production of lime, a key ingredient in Portland cement.

Missouri also has a growing science, agricultural technology and biotechnology field. Monsanto, one of the largest biotech companies in America, is based in St. Louis.

Tourism, services and wholesale/retail trade follow manufacturing in importance.

Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Missouri is the only state in the Union to have two Federal Reserve Banks: one in Kansas City (serving western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Wyoming) and one in St. Louis (serving eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and all of Arkansas).[74]



Missouri has two major airport hubs: Lambert–St. Louis International Airport and Kansas City International Airport.  Southern Missouri has the Springfield–Branson National Airport (SGF) with multiple non-stop destinations.  Residents of Mid-Missouri use Columbia Regional Airport (COU) to fly to Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW) or Denver (DEN).

Transportation Map of Missouri


Amtrak passenger trains serve Kansas City, La Plata, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Lee’s Summit, Independence, Warrensburg, Hermann, Washington, Kirkwood, Sedalia, and Poplar Bluff.

Amtrak Station in Kirkwood

The only urban light rail/subway system operating in Missouri is MetroLink, which connects the city of St. Louis with suburbs in Illinois and St. Louis County. It is one of the largest systems, by track mileage, in the United States. The KC Streetcar in downtown Kansas City opened in May 2016.

Kansas City Streetcar

The Gateway Multimodal Transportation Center in St. Louis is the largest active multi-use transportation center in the state.  It is in downtown St. Louis, next to the historic Union Station complex.  It serves as a hub center/station for MetroLink, the MetroBus regional bus system, Greyhound, Amtrak, and taxi services.

Flag of Missouri:

The flag of the state of Missouri consists of red, white, and blue stripes, with the Missourian state seal in the center.

Designed by Mary Elizabeth Oliver, the red and white stripes, as is traditional, represent valor and purity, respectively.  The blue represents three things: the permanency, vigilance, and justice of the state.  The three colors also highlight the French influence on the state in its early years.  In the center white stripe is the seal of Missouri, circled by a blue band containing 24 stars, symbolizing Missouri’s admission as the 24th U.S. state.

The center of the seal contains the Great Seal of the United States on the right side, and, on the left, symbols representing the state.  On both sides of the center circle, a bear represents strength and bravery; a crescent moon represents the newness of statehood and the potential for growth. Surrounding these symbols is the motto “United we stand, divided we fall”.  The belt buckle signifies the State’s ability to secede from the Union if deemed necessary, i.e., the belt can be unbuckled.  Two mighty grizzly bears support this center shield.  A scroll carries the state motto, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto”, a Latin phrase meaning “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”  The year 1820 is inscribed in Roman numerals below the scroll, although Missouri was not officially granted statehood until 1821.  A star representing each of the other states of the Union (Missouri became the 24th) graces the top portion of the seal.  The outer circle of the seal bears the words “The Great Seal of the State of Missouri”.  Above the shield is a helmet representing Missouri’s state sovereignty.  The large star above the helmet surrounded by 23 smaller stars represents Missouri’s status as the 24th state.  The cloud around the stars indicates the problems Missouri had in becoming a state.

Seal of Missouri

The flag was made the official flag of the state on March 22, 1913, when then governor Elliot Woolfolk Major signed a bill making it official.

The Missourian state flag was designed and stitched in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, by Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, the wife of former State Senator R.B. Oliver.  She began her flag project in 1908 as part of her volunteer activities with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when she was appointed chairperson of the DAR committee to research and design Missouri’s flag.  Oliver researched state flags extensively.  She wrote each state’s secretary of state for information about how their state’s flags had been designed and officially adopted.  Her original design incorporated Missouri’s coat of arms and was rendered as a painted paper flag by her friend Mary Kochitzky.

The flag was brought to the Missouri State Capitol in 1908 and bills to adopt the flag as the official flag of Missouri were introduced by Senator Arthur L. Oliver, her nephew, in 1909 and 1911.  Both bills failed to pass in the House.  A competing flag design, by Dr. G.H. Holcomb and referred to as the “Holcomb flag”, was opposed due to its resemblance to the Flag of the United States and its lack of Missouri symbolism.  Oliver’s original paper flag was destroyed when the Missouri State Capitol burned in 1911. With Mrs. S.D. MacFarland, Oliver sewed a second flag out of silk.  The flag design remains unchanged to this day.

The silk flag was kept by Marie Oliver until 1961 when her son Allen gave it to the state of Missouri.  The flag was displayed until it began to deteriorate and was put into storage.  In 1988, Secretary of State Roy D. Blunt issued a challenge to elementary students to raise money to restore the flag.  The campaign was successful and the restored flag has been displayed in the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center in Jefferson City ever since.

State Nickname:

Missouri’s most well-known nickname is; “The Show-Me State.”  Although the nickname has not been officially recognized by Missouri’s Legislature, it can be seen on Missouri license plates.

There are several stories concerning the origin of the “Show-Me” slogan.  The most widely known story gives credit to Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver for coining the phrase in 1899. During a speech in Philadelphia, he said:

“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

This origin is disputed as some sources claim that the nickname was in common use well before 1899.

The phrase is now used to describe the character of Missourians: not gullible, conservative, and unwilling to believe without adequate evidence.

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