Missouri History:: Bootheel

Missouri History

How did the state boundary of Missouri come to include the "Bootheel"?

The inclusion of the "bootheel" in the boundaries of Missouri has been credited to John Hardeman Walker, a landowner and influential citizen of southeast Missouri. Walker was born in Tennessee in 1794 and came to the New Madrid area of the Territory of Missouri at the age of sixteen. When the New Madrid earthquakes began a year later, in December 1811, many of the area's citizens moved away. Walker, however did not leave the area and his cattle-raising enterprise; instead he acquired more property and soon became known as the "Czar of the Valley." His extensive landholdings were located in Little Prairie, near present-day Caruthersville. This area fell under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Territory as administered from the town of New Madrid.

In January 1818, the United States Congress received the first petition requesting permission for the Missouri territory to organize a state government; other petitions were presented over the next couple of months. At that time, the southern boundary for Missouri was fixed at 36 ° 30 ¢. Walker and the people of Little Prairie realized this line would place their lands some twenty-five miles south of the Missouri border. Little Prairie would be under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas territorial government, not the state government of Missouri. Walker, who preferred the area, and his holdings, to be under the protection of Missouri state laws, lobbied in Missouri and Washington D.C. for inclusion of the "bootheel" within the boundaries of the state of Missouri.

On November 22, 1818, the territorial legislature adopted a memorial to the United States Congress for the admission of Missouri to the Union. The new memorial described a more extensive boundary than that proposed in the earlier petitions, fixing the boundaries to include the Little Prairie area as follows:

"Beginning at a point in the middle of the main channel of the Mississippi River at the 36 th degree of north latitude and running in a direct line to the mouth of the Black river, a branch of the White river; thence in the middle of the main channel of the White river to where the parallel of 36 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude crosses the same; thence with that parallel of latitude due west..."

The boundary outlined in this memorial was not adopted, but if it had been, the State of Missouri would have been much larger, including parts of southern Iowa, eastern Kansas, and northeastern Arkansas. The United States Congress amended the memorial boundaries, but agreed to include the area known as the "Bootheel" within the new state.

On March 6, 1820, when the Territory of Missouri requested admission to the Union with the modified boundary in the southeast corner, the request was granted. The Missouri Enabling Act describes the southern boundary as follows:

".Beginning in the middle of the Mississippi river, on the parallel of thirty-six degrees of north latitude; thence west, along that parallel of latitude, to the St. Francois river; thence up, and following the course of that river, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the parallel of latitude of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes; thence west, along the same, to a point where the said parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing through the middle of the mouth of the Kansas river ."

This acquisition increased the total area of Missouri by some 980 square miles (627,000 acres).


Houck, Louis. History of Missouri: From the Earliest Explorations and Settlements Until the Admission of the State into the Union. Volume I. Chicago: R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company, 1908.

March, David. History of Missouri. Volume I. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1967.

Missouri: Day by Day. Volume I. Edited by Floyd C. Shoemaker. Columbia [ Mo. ]: State Historical Society of Missouri, 1942.