At the far southeastern corner of Missouri is a chunky bit with jagged edges that dips down into Arkansas. At first glance, one would think this oddly shaped area was added as an afterthought, most probably by a tipsy map maker. Imagine the scenario…”Ah shucks, (belch) I messed up Missouri.”
In reality, this area is known as the Missouri Bootheel – named for it’s resemblance to, ah, a boot heel. But along with it’s unusual shape, The Bootheel has an interesting history… (wait for it)…to boot! In essence, it’s very existence is the result of one man’s dogged determination, along with an act of God, (or replace with your deity of choice).
Let’s begin with the man. John Hardeman Walker was born in Tennessee, but moved to Missouri in 1810 and settled in what is now Pemiscot County. Here he purchased some land, bought some cattle and basically concentrated on making a living. The first year, everything was fine and dandy. But then, as they say, the proverbial shit hit the fan.
On December 16, 1811, an earthquake, estimated magnitude 7.5-7.9 rocked Walker’s little piece of paradise, and that of everyone around him. Six hours later, an aftershock of equal intensity jolted the area. But this was just the tip of the earthquake iceberg for an area that had never experienced anything like this before. On January 23, 1812, yet another quake, this time 7.3-7.6 rattled the region. And then, about two weeks later a quake registering 7.5- 8.0 hit on February 7, 1812, which destroyed the town of New Madrid Missouri. Devastation from these quakes, and the subsequent hundreds more recorded between 1811 and 1812, destroyed homes and businesses, created landslides and warped the landscape.
Not surprising, it also motivated people to leave the area, in droves. Everyone, that is except John Hardeman Walker (or so the story goes). Determined to stay in the area, Walker not only stuck it out, but he acquired more and more land.
In 1818 plans were in the works for Missouri to be added to the union. At this time the original southern border for the Show-Me state was drawn to line up with the tops of Kentucky and Tennessee, placing Walker’s property in Arkansas.
Unhappy with this proposal, Walker argued that the region he lived in had more in common with Missouri than Arkansas. And he must have been very persuasive, for at the end of the day, he convinced the decision makers to move the border of the southeast corner 50 miles to the south. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Today, The Missouri Bootheel is filled to the brim with cotton farms as the result of the boil weevil (more to follow on this in later blogs).
It is also home to several well-known cities, such as, Cape Girardeau and Kennett, as well as some lesser known gems, such as, Charleston, Holland, Netherlands, Parma and Essex. Naturally, we visited the latter. We will provide separate blogs for each of these cities – with the exception of Holland and Netherlands, which we will lump together (for obvious, and then again, not so obvious reasons).
To whet your appetite, here’s a few pictures from our journey…