The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri and called the "Bootheel" due to the shape of its boundaries. Strictly speaking, it is composed of the counties of Dunklin, New Madrid, and Pemiscot, but the term is sometimes broadly used to refer to the entire southeastern corner of the state.
When Missouri was added to the Union, its original border proposal was to be an extension of the 36°30' parallel north
that formed the border between Kentucky
which would have excluded the Bootheel. However 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, Missouri
, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
and St. Louis, Missouri
than with its proposed location in Arkansas Territory
. The border was then dropped about 50 miles to the 36th parallel north
. It follows the parallel about 30 miles until it intersects the St. Francis River which forms the toe of the boot back up to about the 36°30' parallel just west of Campbell, Missouri
The Bootheel along with the Oklahoma-Kansas-Missouri border near the 37th parallel north form the two biggest jogs in a nearly straight line of state borders that starts on the Atlantic Ocean with the Virginia/North Carolina border extending all the way to tri-state border of Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Geography and geology
Available samples from the entire Bootheel, and indeed most of the southeastern Missouri counties, demonstrate late Tertiary
geology. The lowest point in the state is in southwestern Dunklin County along the St. Francis
river near Arbyrd, Missouri
, at 230 feet above sea level.
The Bootheel area lies in the flood plain between the Mississippi
and St. Francis rivers; the land is very flat and is now used for predominantly agricultural
purposes, but was mostly abandoned, swampy forestland prior to the last century. Between 1893 and 1989, about 85% of the native forests were cut; the entire landscape was transformed into farmland by extensive logging, draining of the watershed, channelization
, and the construction of flood control structures. High levees
along both river courses, an extensive system of drainage ditches and diversion channels, and controlled lakes, pumping stations and cutoffs protect the area from flooding. The soils are predominantly a rich and deep glacial loess
, alluvial silt
, and a sandy loam
, well-suited for agricultural use.
New Madrid fault zone
The New Madrid Fault Zone (pronounced New MAD-rid) is named for the town of New Madrid in the Bootheel. This fault zone is entirely hidden beneath the deep alluvial deposits of the Mississippi embayment and, unlike the San Andreas Fault in California, is not visible anywhere. This fault zone was responsible for an extremely powerful series of earthquakes that rocked the area in 1811 and 1812, known collectively as the New Madrid Earthquake, which reportedly rang church bells along the East Coast and resulted in the subsidence that formed Reelfoot Lake across the Mississippi River in West Tennessee.
Culture and economy
The Bootheel area is on the edge of the Mississippi Delta
culture that produced the Delta blues
. Its relatively large black
population makes it distinct from the rest of rural
Missouri, giving the area, its music, and its religious makeup the uniqueness associated with rural black culture.
The Bootheel once had a reputation for lawlessness; remote settlements along the river banks, miles from paved roads, provided an ideal environment (and market) for moonshining and bootlegging.
Culturally, the Bootheel is considered more Southern than Midwestern. Some say it is part of a subculture that includes northwesternmost Tennessee, the westernmost part of Kentucky, and the Little Egypt portion of Illinois. The locations of the region's television stations reflect this:
However, the farther south in the Bootheel, the more pronounced is an unambiguous identification with the South: In this southern portion of the area, the network television affiliates in Memphis, Tennessee, which is the largest city for 200 miles, or in Jonesboro, Arkansas, often have a greater audience than those in Illinois, Kentucky, or even Cape Girardeau.
Economically, the area is one of the more impoverished parts of Missouri and does not enjoy many of the benefits of tourism felt in parts of the nearby Ozark Mountains. There is some manufacturing, but the area is primarily agricultural: the area's rich soil is ideal for growing soybeans, rice and cotton. Some "truck crops" are grown, most notably various types of melons, especially watermelons. There is some, but little, raising of livestock; in contrast to much of the rest of Missouri, there are very few fences.
No large cities are located in the Bootheel. Sizeable towns include Kennett (the birthplace of singers Sheryl Crow and Trent Tomlinson), and Sikeston, which is partially in Scott County.
Hornersville, a small town in the bootheel, was home to Major Ray who was the midget known as Buster Brown. He and his wife Jennie are buried in a cemetery in Hornersville, MO.
The small town of Senath is located in Dunklin county, and is home to a famous ghost light. It is commonly referred to as the "Senath Light" and has been a favorite destination for those interested in paranormal activity.