SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Missouri is celebrating 200 years this year and to honor that, OzarksFirst is taking a look at the past 200 years and what has made Missouri significant all this time.
OzarksFirst Political Analyst Dr. Brian Calfano met with a former history teacher turned Missouri’s senior Senator, Roy Blunt. Blunt has a master’s degree in history and taught history at Marshfield High School before moving to politics.
“There are a lot of Missourians that have led the way in so many different fields. You know, politicians from Harry Truman to Phyllis Schlafly. Innovators from Walt Disney to Rush Limbaugh, who really decided there were different ways to do things than anybody else have ever done them before,” says Sen. Blunt
Blunt adds, to understand the history of America, you need to understand the history of Missouri. Missouri has served as a prime transportation hub and has the biggest piece of contiguous agricultural ground globally for being in the middle of the Mississippi River Valley.
“Missouri is right in the center of that. It has its own built-in transportation system, which created that focus on St. Louis and then later Westport, and Independence, and Kansas City. The gateway to the West and, more than that, a state where reaching out was always important. You know, originally a place where traders and trappers, merchants, would congregate, but not necessarily to do business there but to do business other places. So our westward expansion was important. The trade with Mexico, the Santa Fe Trail, that all was generated by Missourians out of Missouri,” says Blunt.
Blunt also talks about the importance Missouri had in sports.
“You have the Negro Leagues that bring that element not only into sports but also into the transition into the Kansas City Monarchs, the home team of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, and many others: Buck O’Neil,” says Blunt.
And so you have this great story of who we are, and I think Missouri is in so many ways where the country comes together. Sometimes when I’ve been explaining our state, I say, you know, st. Louis may very well be the most western eastern city, maybe more like Baltimore than it is Kansas City. Kansas City may be more like Denver than it is St. Louis. The boot-heel is very delta south. Southwest Missouri, where I live, is part of that entrepreneurial culture of northwest Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and Kansas. In many ways, those border counties in the north of our state are more like Iowa more than they are anywhere else in Missouri, and there’s nothing wrong with being more like Iowa. I think Missouri has been the population center of the country for several decades now, but in many ways, I think it’s the heartbeat of America: Where it comes together.Sen. Blunt
For decades, Missouri was known as a political bellwether. In recent years, maybe not so much. Drury University Professor Dan Ponder shared his take with Dr. Calfano on the state’s political status.
“One of the biggest things to take away from Missouri and Missouri politics is the loss of the bellwether status. And we had been a very identifiable microcosm of the rest of the country in terms of our urban areas, unionization, religious affiliation. We kind of had it all, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism. We were really a microcosm of the rest of the country, and I think that helped to explain why Missouri was more prescient in terms of picking the winner of the presidential election,” says Ponder.
But there’s more to Missouri than just its politics. These are just some of the things that Missouri and the Ozarks became known for over the last two centuries.
St. Louis hosted the World’s Fair in 1904, and vendors there get credit for popularizing iced tea. The drink was around before the 1900s, but it didn’t get mass exposure to the marketplace until tea sellers at the Fair dropped ice into the black tea they sold to the public on hot days.
How about partners in crime? Literally. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met in Texas and died in Louisiana. The crime duo spent time hiding out from the law in Joplin in 1933. Bonnie and Clyde and members of their gang fled Joplin so quickly ahead of police that they left behind a treasure trove of photos and other personal effects.
Springfield was a bit like a frontier town just after the Civil War. In fact, the square was the site of one of only a handful of documented “quick draw” duels in American history. On July 21, 1865, Wild Bill Hickok mortally wounded Davis Tutt over unpaid gambling debts, a stolen watch, and mutual affection for the same local women. A jury acquitted Hickok of murder charges, and the duel helped shape popular conceptions of cowboy showdowns in television and movies decades later.
The Ozarks is synonymous with water. Table Rock Lake helped make Branson a can’t miss tourist destination beginning in the 1960s. Even more famous is Lake of the Ozarks, which is so big it actually has a longer coastline than the entire state of California!
Want more Missouri water wisdom? If anyone asks you what the longest river in North America is, don’t say the Mississippi. The longest river on the continent is the Missouri, which stretches for over 2300 miles from Montana through the center of the Show-Me State before entering the Mississippi just north of St. Louis.
Speaking of St. Louis, if you’re going to meet me there or if it’s Kansas City, here you come, there’s a reason. Both of Missouri’s most prominent cities were transportation mainstays in the 20th century, especially for Trans World Airlines, TWA.
Before the jet age, flying across the country meant stopping midway to refuel. And that meant stopping in Kansas city or st. Louis. In fact, TWA’s headquarters was in Kansas City until 1964, and the airline later based its largest hub at Lambert International in St. Louis.
Getting around the Ozarks much of the last two centuries often meant train rides. Springfield was the headquarters and main shop for the St. Louis, San Francisco Railway: the Frisco.
Going back to Missouri politics, we can’t forget our nation’s 33rd president, and the only one ever to hail from the Show-Me State. Harry S. Truman, born in Lamar and hailing from Independence, was an accidental president of sorts—assuming office just four months into what was franklin Roosevelt’s unprecedented fourth term.
Truman made many consequential policy decisions in the first term, not all of which won him admiration. In fact, polls had him badly trailing New York’s Republican Governor Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential election. Famously, Truman pulled an upset, leaving the poor folks at the Chicago Tribune to pioneer fake news.