National Geographic : 1923 Apr
MISSOURI, MOTHER OF THE WEST BY FREDERICK SIMPICH AUTHOR OF "TIHE STORY OF THE RUIIR," "ALONG TIIE NILE, THROUGH EGYPT AND THE SUDAN," "TIHE RISE OF THE NEW ARAB NATION," "THE WENDS OI TIE SPREEWALD," ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE IN ALL our Union, no State name is more widely known or taken more in vain than that of Missouri. Even as far away as Iongkong, in the sad silence of a British club, the mere mention of Missouri is sure to provoke at least a cautious, well-guarded ]British smile. Once, in just that very place, I was in troduced to an Englishman; he was an "old China hand," as white men are called who have lived long on that coast. IHe had spent his life there, tasting tea. A good "Cha-zee," or tea-taster, he was-a (lull, colorless character and as cheerful as a grave-digger. Politely enough, how ever, when he saw I was an American he mentioned that he had a cousin in Akron, Ohio ; possibly I had met him. "No," I evaded, tactfully, "I'm from Missouri." "Right O!" he cackled. "From Pike County, too, what ?" Now this man had never seen the States. All he knew of American wit and ways he had picked up from Yankee tea buyers, traders, and tourists. Yet right away, at the bromidic cue, "I'm from Missouri," he burst out laughing. Extraordinary! Yet no more inex plicable than that everywhere to-day, in all the English-speaking world, from Manila to Manchester, the Yankee slang phrase "Show me !" is bandied about just as the supposedly incredulous natives of Missouri are said to use it. Yet these very natives themselves, so good-naturedly jeered by other "Bab bitts" in New Jersey and Maine, who are they but the sons and daughters of Vir ginia and Kentucky pioneers, transplanted and matured now in a new environment. with a mid-west culture peculiarly their own! PROVINCIAL, YET POWERFUL And as to Missouri itself-let us ex amine this vast rich Commonwealth that has become the butt of a national joke. In all the Union no State has had a more picturesque history; and few, certainly not more than four or five out of the whole 48, contribute more to the Nation's wealth, strength, and daily bread. To-day, provincial yet powerful, the variegated resources of an empire within her wide borders, tolerant, indifferent- maybe a little ignorant of the notoriety that is hers in the outside world-what kind of a place is it, anyway, the mere mention of whose name makes men smile, even over in China? Before we talk of the Missouri folk themselves-of their life, work and play-let us look hastily at the region they live in and the peculiar part it has played in the drama of the West. From the first days of French and Spanish exploration, and the settlement of white fur-traders at Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis, the colonization and de velopment of Missouri has had a far reaching influence on the American West. A MAN-POWER RESERVOIR FOR OTHER STATES From the original Missouri Territory twelve other States were carved, and from the wild lands farther west eight more were formed. From Missouri, in great numbers, early pioneers went out to settle these new States-to become their governors, judges, and congressmen. When Texas fought for independence, an army of men from along the Hig Muddy, in coonskin caps and buckskin breeches, rallied to the Lone Star banner, and later tens of thousands swarmed down and helped settle that enormous State. Long before Chicago was even a town, Missouri pioneers were plodding over the Santa Fe Trail, fighting Indians as they went, to trade with distant Mexico. Situated as it is, on two great rivers and midway between North and South, Missouri-from the days of Lewis and Clark, of Pike, Doniphan, and Fremont, down to the transcontinental flivver tour ist of 1923-has been the great natural gateway to the West.