Missouri (see pronunciations)—nicknamed The Show Me State—is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. Missouri is the 21st most extensive and the 18th most populous of the 50 United States. Missouri comprises 114 counties and the independent city of St. Louis.
The four largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia. Missouri's capital is Jefferson City. The land that is now Missouri was acquired from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase and became known as the Missouri Territory. Part of the Territory was admitted into the union as the 24th state on August 10, 1821.
Missouri's geography is highly varied. The northern part of the state lies in dissected till plains while the southern part lies in the Ozark Mountains (a dissected plateau), with the Missouri River dividing the two. The state lies at the intersection of the three greatest rivers of North America, with the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers near St. Louis, and the confluence of the Ohio River with the Mississippi north of the Bootheel. The starting points of the Pony Express Trail and Oregon Trail were both in Missouri. The mean center of United States population as of the 2010 Census is at the town of Plato in Texas County, Missouri.
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. St. Louis was at one time known as Mound City by the European Americans, because of the numerous surviving prehistoric mounds, since lost to urban development. The Mississippian culture left mounds throughout the middle Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, extending into the southeast as well as the upper river.
The first European settlers were mostly ethnic French Canadians, who created their first settlement in Missouri at present-day Sainte-Geneviève, 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 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 (in order to have Spain join with France in the war against England). The arrival of the Spanish in St. Louis was in September 1767.
It 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, after it had been a Spanish colony since 1762. 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.
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 in 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 departed up the Missouri River in 1804 to explore the western territories to the Pacific Ocean. St. Louis was a major supply point for decades for parties of settlers heading west.
As many of the early American settlers in western Missouri migrated from the Upper South, they brought enslaved African Americans for labor, and a desire 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 territory was admitted as a slave state in 1821 as part of the Missouri Compromise with a temporary state capitol in St. Charles. In 1826 the capital was shifted to its permanent location of Jefferson City, also on the Missouri.
The state was rocked by the 1812 New Madrid earthquake. Casualties were light due to the sparse population.
Originally the state's western border was a straight line, defined as the meridian passing through the Kawsmouth, the point where the Kansas River enters the Missouri River. The river has moved since this designation. This line is known as the Osage Boundary. In 1835 the Platte Purchase was added to the northwest corner of the state after purchase of the land from the native tribes, making the Missouri River the border north of the Kansas River. This addition increased the land area of what was already the largest state in the Union at the time (about to Virginia's 65,000 square miles, which then included West Virginia).
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 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 they were mostly Catholic, they mostly 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.
Most Missouri farmers practiced subsistence farming before the Civil War. The majority of those who held slaves had fewer than five each. Planters, defined by historians as those holding twenty slaves or more, were concentrated in the counties known as "Little Dixie", in the central part of the state along the Missouri River. The tensions over slavery had chiefly to do with the future of the state and nation. In 1860 enslaved African Americans made up less than 10% of the state's population of 1,182,012. In order to control the flooding of farmland and low-lying villages along the Mississippi, the state had completed construction of of levees along the river by 1860.
American 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".
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.
20th century to present
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. 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.
In 1930, there was a diphtheria epidemic in the area around Springfield, which killed approximately 100 people. Serum was rushed to the area, and medical personnel stopped the epidemic.
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. In 1956 St. Charles was the site of the first interstate highway project. Such highway construction made it easy for middle-class residents to leave the city for newer housing developed in the suburbs, often former farmland where land was available at lower prices. 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.
Note: Missouri was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and became part of Louisiana Territory, established in 1805 and comprising the whole of the Louisiana Purchase north of present- day Louisiana. This was renamed Missouri Territory in 1812. The southern portion (present-day Arkansas and most of Oklahoma) became Arkansas Territory in 1819. Missouri was admitted as a State on August 10, 1821; the northwestern corner (the Platte Purchase) was added in 1837, bringing the State to essentially its current boundaries. In 1810, census coverage of Louisiana Territory was limited to portions of present-day Missouri and Arkansas, mainly close to the Mississippi River. The 1810 census was reported by districts (renamed counties in 1812); Arkansas District was entirely within present-day Arkansas and is shown under that State; New Madrid District also was partly within present-day Arkansas. In 1820, census coverage of Missouri Territory did not extend beyond present-day Missouri. After statehood in 1821, Missouri Territory, distinct from the State, continued to exist until 1854, but was almost entirely Indian lands and had virtually no census coverage.. Areas reported in 1810 were districts, renamed counties in 1812. Total for 1810 is population of Louisiana Territory (20,845), excluding population (1,062) of Arkansas District, in present- day Arkansas; total includes New Madrid District, part of which was within present-day Arkansas. Total for 1890 includes 1 Indian in prison, not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Death records, post-1910: Missouri State Archives is in the process of digitizing death certificates from 1910-1956. The index is up (names and death dates only), with links to PDF certificates for the years 1910-1934, and 1945-1956. They are apparently allowed to release records more than 50 years old, so 1956 just became available (early 2007).
Other records, pre-1910: Records are incomplete, and mostly from the late 19th century, but the Archives also has online indices for pre-1910 birth and death records.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Missouri family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.