Bootheel: Wikis


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A map showing the relationship of the region, which is centered near 36°15′N 89°51′W / 36.25°N 89.85°W / 36.25; -89.85Coordinates: 36°15′N 89°51′W / 36.25°N 89.85°W / 36.25; -89.85, to the rest of Missouri

The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri and is called the "Bootheel" because of 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. The largest cities in the region are Sikeston and Kennett.

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 VirginiaNorth Carolina border extending all the way to the tristate border of Nevada, Arizona and Utah.



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 and Tennessee, 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, Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis in Missouri than with its proposed location in Arkansas Territory. The border was then dropped about 50 miles to the 36th parallel north. It follows that parallel about 30 miles until intersecting the St. Francis River, then follows the river back up to about the 36°30' parallel just west of Campbell, Missouri.

According to an apocryphal story in various versions, the bootheel originated in the request of some Missourian to remain in the state "as he had heard it was so sickly in Arkansas;" ""...full of bears and panthers and copperhead snakes, so it ain't safe for civilized people to stay there over night even." Another folktale has the adaptation made by a lovestruck surveyor to spare the feelings of a foolish widow living fifty miles south of the Missouri border, but unaware of it. At one time, the area was known locally as "Lapland, because it's the place where Missouri laps over into Arkansas" [1]

Geography and geology

Available samples from the entire Bootheel, and indeed most of the southeastern Missouri counties, demonstrate late TertiaryQuaternary 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 is famous for being the epicenter of the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes, some of the largest earthquakes ever felt in the United States.

Swamp Reclamation and Flooding

The Bootheel 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 20th century. As more and more glaciers receded towards the end of the Ice Age and turned ice into liquid, the Mississippi River grew longer and wider. Over time, the silt deposits of the Mississippi have given birth to some of the most fertile soil in the world, ideal for agriculture. The areas around the Mississippi are comprised of thick regolith that is around 100m thick. 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.

Flooding is also a major concern on the Mississippi River. With such a large river basin, and having such a vast discharge of water, the towns along it’s banks are very susceptible to frequent flooding. The National Weather Service reported that from 1980 to 2002 there have been nine floods in the United States with losses exceeding one billion dollars. In terms of monetary loss and impact on society, the Great Flood of 1993 was by far the worst of these events.[2]

New Madrid fault zone

Earthquakes have long been very prevalent in the area. 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. An eyewitness of the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 noted, “Great fissures opened the earth, geysers show mud and rocks hundreds of feet in the air, new hills and ridges heaved up out of the ground, and the river itself ran red with brimstone and sulfur. Whole islands in the river disappeared, the forests went under, the tall oaks snapped like twigs, and violent winds tossed bundles of fallen timbers. Deafening thunder rang to the heavens. Animals went crazy; thousands of birds hovered and screamed”.[3] The states of Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana felt the brunt of this quake, ruining lives and leaving its’ residents to live in a constant state of fear of aftershocks and possible larger quakes. To this day, the New Madrid Seismic Zone is still active and produces small earthquakes very frequently. Scientists have estimated that an earthquake as cataclysmic as the fore mentioned is inevitable to happen again and is certainly overdue. Though it is nearly impossible to predict earthquakes, residents of the area are aware that the earth below them could rumble at anytime, but aren’t as prepared as they should be. Author of "The Next New Madrid Earthquake", William Atkinson writes, “The area is well overdue for a moderately powerful tremor- which will cause major damage and undoubtedly some casualties...With each passing year, the inevitable earthquake is becoming more powerful, while the state of readiness in the Mississippi Valley remains woefully inadequate”.[4] If such an event occurs, the cities of Memphis, St. Louis, and Louisville, among others, will be severely damaged. Since the population of the United States has increased dramatically since 1812, even a moderately sized earthquake would be disastrous.

Culture and economy

The Bootheel 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 some of the uniqueness associated with rural black culture. The Black population ranges from about 26% in Pemiscot County to about 15% in New Madrid County and about 9% in Dunklin County.

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. It is part of the Mid-South, a region focused on the Memphis metropolitan area. Definitions of the Mid-South vary but in general include west Tennessee, north Mississippi, northeast Arkansas, and the Missouri Bootheel.[5] The locations of the region's television stations reflect this:

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: Because a large amount of the land was formally swampland and then drained, 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. Sizable towns include Kennett (the birthplace of singers Sheryl Crow, Trent Tomlinson, and David Nail) and Sikeston, which is partially in Scott County.

Hornersville, a small town in southern Dunklin County, was home to William H. "Major" Ray, a one-time 19th-century circus "midget" later known as the Buster Brown shoe brand's public face. He and his wife, Jennie, are buried in a cemetery in Hornersville.[1]

The small towns of Senath and Arbyrd are also located in Dunklin County. They are home to a locally celebrated ghost light. It is sometimes referred to as the "Senath Light" and others call it the "Arbyrd light", it is actually situated between these two towns. It is closer to an unincorporated community called Hollywood near the Lulu Church and Cemetery.[2][3]

The Missouri Bootheel is the home place of 2 members of the Kentucky Headhunter's, Doug and Ricky Phelps. They received their education at Southland C-9 the consolidated schools of Arbyrd and Cardwell, Missouri. They performed at the Cotton Pickin Festival in the small town of Arbyrd; a place where they spent lots of time while growing up. They both performed as Brother Phelps and then Doug came back and performed with The Kentucky Headhunters. This festival is a major attraction and draws a huge crowd for a town of only about 550 people. Other prominent acts to have graced the stage at Arbyrd include The Kentucky Headhunters (with Doug Phelps), T. Graham Brown, and the Bellamy Brothers. [4][5][6]

Also in the northern part of Dunklin County lies the town of Malden which is the home of country/rockabilly legend Narvel Felts. Narvels music has played world wide as he continues to tour, Another Maldenite is George (Richardson) Richey who is a well known country music producer. Richey was married to Tammy Wynette. Tammy came to claim Malden as her own and appeared annually at the Fourth of July celebrations for years.

A number of Civil War battles also took place in this area, most notably the Battle of Island No. 10.


  1. ^ Randolph, Vance. The Talking Turtle and Other Ozark Folk Tales. NY Columbia UP 1957, 36-8, 191-2
  2. ^ Orne, Anthony R. The Physical Geography of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  3. ^ Hall, B.C., Wood, C.T.. Big Muddy: Down the Mississippi Through America’s Heartland. New York: Penguin Press, 1992.
  4. ^ Atkinson, William. The Next New Madrid Earthquake: A Survival Guide to the Midwest. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
  5. ^ History of the National Weather Service: Memphis, Tennessee, National Weather Service

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