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Missouri (MO) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Missouri is located in the southeastern portion of the Midwestern United States, bumping up against the region known as the South. Its central location and important river system have made it a crossroads of several different cultures.
Counties and Regions: In addition to its 114 counties, Missouri is home to a single independent city, St. Louis. Its geographic regions could be summed up as follows:
- Dissected Till Plains
- Lead Belt (southeastern Missouri)
- Little Dixie (along the Missouri River)
- Missouri Bootheel
- Natchez Trace
- The Ozarks (mountains)
Population: Missouri has nearly six million people living there, more than half of them in its major urban areas. Its total population density is the closest of any state to the national average.
Major Cities: The capital of Missouri, Jefferson City, is not even in the top ten most-populated cities in the state. The largest city is technically Kansas City, although its greater metropolitan area is not as large as that of St. Louis. Their metropolitan areas are home to 2.1 million people and 2.8 million people, respectively.
Story Behind the Name: The state of Missouri was carved from the early Missouri Territory, which was in turn named for the Missouri River. The river’s name came from the Native American Illini tribe’s term for the other natives that lived in the area, which roughly translates to “people with dugout canoes.”
History and Colonization: Centuries ago, the area that was now Missouri was occupied by the mound-building Mississippian Native American culture. They had a sedentary, complex society that is still not fully understood, as they vanished long before European exploration of the area. The Native Americans who inhabited Missouri when the Europeans came have mostly been lost to disease and warfare, although some were relocated and others still remain in the southern portions of the state.
Monarchial France claimed the region in the seventeenth century, and the earliest settlers were French and French-Canadians who traded with the local natives for expensive fur. Due to it being at the confluence of two major rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, the area was rapidly settled over the next several decades. The rivers were vitally important to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century trading, and the fertility of the land brought many who wished to be farmers. After the United States acquired the territory through the Louisiana Purchase, American immigrants from the Upper South and European immigrants from Ireland and Germany poured into Missouri, adding to its multifaceted culture.
Because Missouri was a gathering place of many different ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, there were deep divisions there at the onset of the American Civil War. Slaveholding farmers that identified with the South tended to live along the rivers, while subsistence farmers in the northern and western parts of the state had stronger Union sympathies. One council of legislators declared that Missouri would join the Confederacy, but they were later banished and a new, Union-favoring government arose. Violence persisted throughout the war as various factions fought for control, although Missouri saw only a few formal battles and instead suffered through a crossfire of guerilla warfare. Because the state had officially joined the Union, it did not have to undergo the difficulties of Reconstruction at the end of the war.
Though it had been a wealthy trading ground throughout the nineteenth century, as well as a major point of embarkation for the West, Missouri’s agricultural economy became depressed in the first half of the twentieth century. The arrival of the interstate highway system forever changed the state, making it more connected than ever. Manufacturing jobs sprung up in the mid-century, although the market has collapsed again in recent years. Today, Missouri is still mostly known for its rich agricultural production.