People may have lived in the land now called Missouri for as many as 20,000 years. Many centuries later Native American tribes, including the Chickasaw, Illini, Missouri, and Osage, lived on the land.
In 1682 a huge swath of land called the Louisiana Territory, which included the land that would become Missouri, was claimed by France. Spain took control of it eighty years later, but that wouldn’t last long: Spain returned the territory to France in 1800. In 1803 the United States bought the land when they signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. A year later American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from the city of St. Louis to explore and map this vast land. In 1821 Missouri became its own state.
Missouri would become home to a historic lawsuit in 1846 when Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom and lost in 1857. It was one of the events that would lead to the Civil War, which was fought between states that wanted to abolish (or end) slavery in the country and those that wanted to keep it legal.
During the Civil War, which started in 1861, slavery was legal in Missouri, but the state never seceded (or withdrew) from the Union, something that other states with slavery did.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Missouri is named after the Missouri Native American tribe. It comes from the word ouemessourita, which roughly translates to "wooden canoe people," or "those who have dugout canoes."
Not everyone agrees on how Missouri got its nickname, the Show Me State. The most popular legend says the name was coined when a Missouri congressman said "I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." His statement meant that actions speak louder than words.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Missouri is bordered by Iowa in the north; Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the east; Arkansas in the south; and Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska in the west. The state’s wiggly eastern border is almost entirely created by the Mississippi River. Missouri can be divided into four geographical regions.
The Dissected Till Plains cross the far north, above the Missouri River. The area is mostly flat prairie with fertile soil, rivers, and streams.
The Osage Plains in western Missouri are largely flat with a few hills. The soil is shallower and less rich than it is in the Till Plains. Tallgrass, which can grow high enough to cover a horseback rider on a horse, used to cover 15 million acres of the state. But now very little of it remains. Prairie State Park in this region is one of the few places these supertall grasses are preserved.
The Ozark Plateau is Missouri’s largest geographical region, and it covers most of the state’s southern half. Gradual water erosion here created high, forested ridges, springs, and caves. The state’s highest point, Taum Sauk Mountain, is in this area. So is the Lake of the Ozarks, a reservoir where many visitors come to fish, camp, and boat.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain is lowland in the southeastern corner of the state (which is called the state’s "Boot Heel"). Mississippi River flooding has made this land very fertile, and cotton, soybeans, and rice are farmed in this region.
Missouri is home to the biggest mammal in North America, the American bison. Black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, and endangered gray wolves also live in the state. Peregrine falcons, eastern screech-owls, and purple finches are some of the birds that fly through Missouri. The state’s reptiles include alligator snapping turtles, Great Plains rat snakes, and prairie massasaugas (a type of rattlesnake). Meanwhile, cave salamanders and American bullfrogs are a few of the amphibians that live here.
Missouri has a wide variety of trees such as eastern redbud, white oak, black walnut, and eastern wahoo. But the state is even better known for its prairies, where hundreds of species of grass grow, among them switchgrass, Indian grass, bluestem, and June grass.Missouri’s wildflowers include putty root (which has sticky roots once used as glue), yellow lady’s slipper; and Ozark bluestar.
Missouri is the top producer of mined lead in the United States, and it’s mainly used in car batteries. The state also produces the most lime in the nation. (Lime is a mineral used for steel manufacturing, among other things.)
—Author Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), inventor George Washington Carver, author T.S. Eliot, Molly Brown (known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown after surviving the R.M.S. Titanic tragedy), and former President Harry Truman were all born in Missouri.
—The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the tallest manmade monument in the United States. At 630 feet, it’s more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty!
—With nearly 200 officially registered fountains, Kansas City has earned its nickname, the City of Fountains.