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How and why was the bootheel of Missouri formed?

The southeast corner of Missouri extends like a boot heel into northern Arkansas. This projection is approximately fifty miles long and thirty miles wide. It contains approximately 2,000 square miles and three million acres. All of Pemiscot and portions of Dunklin and New Madrid counties are in this area.

It was this section that was most affected by the earthquake of 1811 - 1812. According to local traditions, prior to the earthquake the area was fertile and promising -- after the earthquakes, wet and swampy. Many people left the area following the tremors, but one who did not was John Hardeman Walker whose family had settled in the vicinity of Caruthersville in 1810, just before the earthquakes. By 1818, when he was twenty-five years of age, he reportedly owned several thousands of acres and a large number of cattle, all in the area between the Mississippi and the St. Francis River to the west.

At that time the territory of Missouri applied to the U. S. government for admission as a state. When the proposed boundary for the new state was drawn it established the southern line at a parallel of 36 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, an extension of the boundary of that served to separate Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. But such a boundary would leave

the people of the Caruthersville area and all of J. H. Walker's property in the Territory of Arkansas, which was, at the time, les organized than Missouri. Consequently, Walker and other residents of the area brought all of the political pressure they could muster to move the boundary to the south, creating the Missouri "bootheel."

The details of exactly how and why this effort succeeded is one of the great stories of early Missouri, shrouded in legend, folklore, and mystery.

Center for Regional History
Carnahan 301   MS2950
573-651-2555
regionalhistory@semo.edu
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Last modified   07/18/2009

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