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The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missourimarker and is called the "Bootheel" because of the shape of its boundaries. Strictly speaking, it is composed of the counties of Dunklinmarker, New Madridmarker, and Pemiscotmarker, but the term is sometimes broadly used to refer to the entire southeastern corner of the state.


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 Kentuckymarker and Tennesseemarker, 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 Girardeaumarker, Ste.marker Genevievemarker and St. Louismarker 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, Missourimarker.

The Bootheel along with the Oklahomamarker-Kansasmarker-Missourimarker border near the 37th parallel north form the two biggest jogs in a nearly straight line of state borders that starts on the Atlantic Oceanmarker with the VirginiamarkerNorth Carolinamarker border extending all the way to the tristate border of Nevadamarker, Arizonamarker and Utahmarker.

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, Missourimarker, at 230 feet above sea level.

Swamp reclamation

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. 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.

New Madrid fault zone

The New Madrid Fault Zonemarker (pronounced New MAD-rid) is named for the town of New Madridmarker in the Bootheel. This fault zone is entirely hidden beneath the deep alluvial deposits of the Mississippi embayment and, unlike the San Andreas Faultmarker in Californiamarker, 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 Lakemarker across the Mississippi River in West Tennessee.

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. Some say it is part of a subculture that includes northwesternmost Tennesseemarker, the westernmost part of Kentuckymarker, and the Little Egypt portion of Illinoismarker. 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, Tennesseemarker, which is the largest city for 200 miles, or in Jonesboro, Arkansasmarker, 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 Mountainsmarker. There is some manufacturing, but the area is primarily agricultural: 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 Kennettmarker (the birthplace of singers Sheryl Crow, Trent Tomlinson, and David Nail) and Sikestonmarker, which is partially in Scott Countymarker.

Hornersvillemarker, 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.[77747]

The small towns of Senathmarker and Arbyrdmarker 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.[77748][77749]

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, Missourimarker. They performed at the Cotton Pickin Festival in the small town of Arbyrdmarker; 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 Arbyrdmarker include The Kentucky Headhunters (with Doug Phelps), T. Graham Brown, and the Bellamy Brothers.[77750][77751][77752]

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