“Way down in Missouri…Journey back to Dixieland in dreams again with me…” – Lyrics from the “Missouri Waltz” (The Official Missouri State Song) by James Royce Shannon.
A cultural identity crisis can be an absolutely terrible thing that can often have ramifications that transcend the time in which it was spawned. Such a trend can lead to the cultural destruction of a people, leaving them without that identity that sets them apart from others. Such is the situation with the history, people and culture of the State of Missouri. The case will be made here that Missouri was and is a Southern state in both history, tradition and culture while providing a warning for her sister states of the South that the effects of Reconstruction are still very much alive and eroding away our shared heritage, mores and lifestyle.
From the very beginning Missouri’s identity has been argued over, starting with what it would be. The Missouri Compromise established, at least for a while, that politically, she would be a Southern state, complete with the institution of slavery. Moving into Missouri from the earliest time she was a territory were Tennesseans, Kentuckians, Carolinians and Virginians. These Southerners moved west with the hope of a vast new territory complete with timber, hills and river valleys that reminded them of the areas from which they came. They brought with them their heritage, music and traditions and began to shape the cultural landscape of their new home.
They settled in the fertile river valleys of the Missouri and Mississippi River and there Old Southern plantation culture took over with the mass cultivation of cotton, hemp and tobacco being the major economy for those areas. They also settled in the hills and “hollers” of the Ozarks, where subsistence farming and isolation were a way of life and slavery was relatively scarce. St. Louis, a popular spot since the days of the French, became a major Mississippi River port and “The Gateway to The West”. Democratic politics would rule the state until the outbreak of the “War for Southern Independence” and would resume after the end of Reconstruction. An influx of primarily German immigrants in the 1850s would have a pivotal effect on the state’s political and cultural identity confusion. The Kansas troubles furthered Missouri animosity towards northerners and solidified Southern sympathy in the state, with murderous, plundering raids coming from Kansas Jayhawkers and being returned in kind. A special hatred of Kansas is shared by many Missourians to this day, albeit on the athletic level.
During the “Secession Winter” of 1860-61, the majority of Missourians were “Conditional Unionists”, the condition being no invasion of the seceded states. Secessionists and Southern Unionists occupied the periphery of public opinion. On March 9th, 1861 a state convention, under the leadership of former governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, determined that there was “no adequate cause for the withdrawal of Missouri from the Union.” However, the convention made perfectly clear the Conditional Unionist platform: Washington could not “employ force against the seceding states.”
The events in Charleston Harbor and Lincoln’s subsequent call for invasion of the South, would drastically effect the neutral ground of Conditional Unionism but some holdouts remained in the hope of averting war. Lincoln’s call for four regiments of Missourians invoked a harsh rebuke from Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, who leaned more toward the Secessionist side of the political spectrum: “Your requisition is illegal, unconstitutional, revolutionary, inhuman, diabolical, and cannot be complied with.” A large portion of Missouri’s citizens and politicians would have agreed with their governor but a significant minority of the state’s population (mainly but not exclusively, the Germans of St. Louis, backed by the Unconditional Unionist element of Missouri politics) looked to undermine Jackson’s government in favor of the government in Washington.
These German immigrants had fled their homeland due to a failed revolution in 1848-49. These “Forty-eighters”, as they were referred to, rebelled against the aristocrats and monarchs of Europe with the influence, at least partially, of men like Karl Marx. Generally favoring constitutional protections of the working class on one hand but strong central government on the other, they found a home in the Republican Party and gave a massive outpouring of support to Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential Election. It is little wonder that their new Missouri neighbors usually found them odd in their idioms, language and politics, and referred to them derisively and erroneously as “Dutchmen”. Unconditional Unionist and Republican politician Francis P. Blair teamed up with U.S. Army Captain Nathaniel Lyon to raise these Germans into “Home Guards” to fill Missouri’s quota from Lincoln’s call.
In early May, Governor Jackson ordered the establishment of a Missouri Militia encampment outside of St. Louis. Officially, the camp was the annual encampment of the Missouri Militia; unofficially it was preparation for an attempt on the Federal Arsenal within the city. Seven-hundred men encamped at what became known as “Camp Jackson”. The commander, Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost, realized that his men were no match for Blair and Lyon’s 10,000 and preparations were made to disband the encampment peacefully on May 10th.
That was not to be, however, as Blair and Lyon had become highly suspicious of the activities of the camp. Lyon supposedly had personally scouted the encampment and deemed it a “nest of traitors”. The camp had street names such as “Jefferson Davis” and “Beauregard”, “Confederate flags” flying in the breeze and two cannons, recently sent from Baton Rouge by President Davis. The sympathies of the encampment couldn’t have been more obvious to Lyon. With quick thinking, he transferred the arms across the Mississippi to Illinois and moved out to surround “Camp Jackson” with his overwhelming force. Lyon surrounded the militia and demanded their surrender. Nothing but a verbal fight about the legalities of capturing the State’s Militia were given and the men were marched back through the streets of the city to be paroled.
Crowds began to gather, many angry at what was happening to their militia at the hands of the “Dutch”. Insults were hurled, rocks thrown and shots rang out. In response, the “Dutchmen” fired into the crowd. “Twenty-eight people lay dead or mortally wounded…among them were three prisoners and an infant in the arms of its mother.” Subsequent historians have done much to minimize the “Camp Jackson Massacre” and its effects even belittling the use of the term “massacre”. The question must be asked: If a riot ensued in a major urban area and Federal troops attempted to stop it, would indiscriminately firing into the crowd and killing the same amount of people (including an infant) be considered a “massacre”? One would surely think so! The massacre set off a firestorm throughout the state, as Missourians saw it as proof of the willingness on the part of the Federals to use coldblooded coercion in “preserving the Union”. They also saw the capture of the militia as an unconstitutional attack on state sovereignty.
The legislature, fearing that Lyon would steam upriver and attack the capitol, convened with bowie knives and pistols on their desks. They passed a “Military Bill” creating the Missouri State Guard and appropriating all of the State Treasury for the expense. Sterling Price was appointed the commander of the State Guard with the rank of Major General.
Missourians began to muster throughout the state at the news of the massacre and the call of their governor. In some locales, Pro-Secession Missourians drilled within close and sometimes friendly proximity with their Southern Unionist neighbors. Men who would soon become bitter enemies decided to delay the bloodshed and strife, if only for a short while.
Price and Jackson, if only to buy time to raise an army and receive Confederate support, made a fragile truce with Major General William S. Harney who was (you wouldn’t know it given the recent events) Lyon’s superior and Commander of the Department of Missouri. The truce was essentially a stand down of both sides. Most Missourians once again began to hope for a cessation of hostilities before they even began.
But the Lincoln Administration had different plans and neutrality, in their eyes, was not acceptable. Lincoln personally relieved Harney and replaced him with Lyon who was promoted to Brigadier General. Price and Jackson attempted to establish an extension of their agreement with Harney and met with Lyon and Blair in St. Louis. Negotiations broke down as Lyon wouldn’t agree to any of the terms and he stormed out of the meeting saying:
“Rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter however important, I would see you, and you, and you, and you, and every man, woman and child in the State, dead and buried…This means war!”
Price and Jackson fled the city and soon after were followed by Lyon and his troops. War had finally come to Missouri.
Lyon and his army left St. Louis on steamers and attacked the capitol, sending Jackson, Price most of the Legislature fleeing south, gathering State Guardsmen as they went. They fought a few skirmishes with their pursuers but made it to the southwest corner of the state and there began to build an army. An armed mob began to resemble an army despite poor discipline and even poorer logistics. This homespun army, complete with improvised ammunition for their shotguns, squirrel rifles and few antiquated cannons and military arms, and red flannel for rank insignia, would become one of the finest fighting forces in Confederate, and therefore American, military history. They came from the Ozark highlands, the fertile Mississippi and Missouri river bottoms and the plains of the northern part of the state. Men from all walks of southern, rural, agricultural, frontier life would come together and serve gallantly through some of the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theatres’ bloodiest campaigns.
The campaign which Price was to undertake was brilliant considering the raw material he had to work with. He successfully retook the state up to the Missouri River Valley after the battles of Oak Hills (Wilson’s Creek), in which he had official Confederate support, and Lexington, which was purely Missourians, but couldn’t hold on due to lack of Confederate support. Price thought that quite a few thousand more pro-Secession Missourians would have flocked to the colors if he could’ve held a recruiting base along the Missouri river long enough to receive secessionists from the north bank, and if the people would’ve seen more official Confederate support for the plight of their state.
The Missouri State Guard fell back to defensive positions in the Southern half of the state, and in October Governor Jackson called the Legislature to convene in the town of Neosho. On October 28th, the remaining exiled legislature introduced an ordinance of secession:
“An act declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved.
Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions; and
Whereas the present Administration of the Government of the United States has utterly ignored the Constitution, subverted the Government as constructed and intended by its makers, and established a despotic and arbitrary power instead thereof: Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the general assembly of the State of Missouri, That all political ties of every character new existing between the Government of the United States of America and the people and government of the State of Missouri are hereby dissolved, and the State of Missouri, resuming the sovereignty granted by compact to the said United States upon admission of said State into the Federal Union, does again take its place as a free and independent republic amongst the nations of the earth.
This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, October 31, 1861.”
Governor Jackson signed the document on October 31st and Missouri was formally admitted as the twelfth state on November 28th 1861.
In February, Union troops forced Price and his army of now Confederate Missourians out of their state and, with the decisive Federal victory at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge), established Federal control of the State for the rest of the war. Afterwards, Confederate Missourians went on to an unmatched fighting record in the War’s Western Theatre but minus a few raids, most were never again to set foot on their beloved Missouri soil. The Confederate Government of Missouri was exiled to Marshall, Texas but had representation in the Congress of the Confederate States. The harsh occupation that followed the Confederate withdrawal produced a neighbor against neighbor guerrilla conflict that is unmatched in its cruelty in American history. Order Number 11 depopulated four whole Missouri counties along the border with Kansas. Many of the people headed south and never returned. Men such as Frank and Jesse James, William Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson swore revenge against the occupying Federals, their Missouri collaborators and their Jayhawker allies. Roving gangs of both sides rode throughout the countryside killing their opponents, many innocent non-combatant men.
Missouri’s role in the conflict has been disputed since the war but more investigation is clearly needed. Most historians conclude that Missouri was a “Union” or “Border” state and they usually use two points to make their case:
- Missouri never “Officially” seceded from the Union and that the Neosho Convention was an illegitimate “rump” legislature and, if nothing else, failed to achieve a quorum.
- That Missouri clearly sent more men to the Federal armies versus the Confederacy.
The first point can be countered with a question: Which government had more legitimate claims to governing the state? The legally elected, constitutional legislature of the State, which was forced from the capital by Federal bayonet point and whose only illegitimacy was not voting from the seat of power? Or the “puppet” regime, made up of the minority who stayed behind to welcome the invader and were installed by the very forces that drove the legally elected government from their capitol. An apt comparison might be found in questioning the right to rule of either the Vichy government, backed by the Germans, or the Free French government in exile during the Second World War. Questions concerning quorum need more investigation, mainly within the journals of both the Missouri House and Senate. However, several eyewitness accounts attest to a quorum indeed being present in Neosho. Much is also made of the State’s first secession convention rejecting secession almost unanimously but didn’t Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia do the same thing before eventually leaving the Union? One must wonder whether or not Missouri (under more peaceful conditions and retaining control in the capital) might have left the Union in a more “legitimate” way after seeing the results of Northern invasion in the Spring of 1861.
The second point has far more complexity behind it and would require much more, albeit worthwhile, effort. Estimates for Missouri troops have been anywhere from 80,000-110,000 Federals to 30,000-50,000 Confederates. A study of the origin of Missouri’s Union troops and a more complete count of Missouri’s Confederates might hold a crucial key to this controversy. While natives of Missouri or other Southern states did indeed join the ranks of the Federal Army, others who hardly qualify as Missourians also contributed greatly to Missouri’s Union numbers. The “Forty-eighters”, some of whom weren’t even naturalized citizens of the United States, much less Missouri, played a major role in boosting Missouri’s Federal recruiting quotas. Imagine, if you will, a large number of foreign immigrants moving to your state, being at odds with your way of life and having different culture, language, music and traditions. These immigrants later join your enemies, attack your people, help drive you from your state and assist in your subjugation. Later, they and their supporters claim that they were the true citizens of your state and you weren’t. Sound terrible? This was the plight of Southern Missourians.
Another issue with Missouri’s Federal numbers were the presence of whole “Missouri” regiments such as the Eighth and Thirteenth Infantries, who were made up almost entirely of men from other states whose enlistment quotas were already met. A quick glance at these regiments, and no doubt more, reveal whole companies of men from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. In May of 1862, for instance, the Thirteenth “Missouri”, due to a large proportion of “Buckeyes” in the regiment, was redesignated as the Twenty-Second Ohio! Some Federal “Missouri” units were made up of both foreigners and men from other states. Captain Joseph Boyce of Company ‘D’, 1st Missouri Infantry C.S.A. recorded in his reminiscence of the surrender of the “Hornet’s Nest” at Shiloh:
“..We Captured a great many prisoners and then became aware of the fact that they were Missouri troops and a part of Prentiss’ Division. The regiments some of the prisoners belonged to were the queerest Missourians we ever saw. They were nearly all Germans, spoke English very poorly, but informed us they were nearly all from Belleville, Ill…”
Federal numbers are fairly inflated by conscription and the organization of the “Enrolled Missouri Militia” which accounted for 52,000 of Missouri’s Federals, by at least one count. Many were Unionists who wanted to farm rather than fight. However, a large number were Southern sympathizers who tried to remain neutral but we’re forced to join as a loyalty test. Some were called out to fight off various guerrilla actions and raids but most were simply forced to sign a roll or face a fine and imprisonment. Many that were called out were simply a ready-made labor force to build forts and such. Many didn’t see any service and some that did were reported as disloyal by the officers placed in charge of them.
Finding the number of Confederate Missourians seems to be the most problematic as the Missouri State Guard barely kept any records, and muster rolls of a morning were used as cartridge paper by night. Estimates of as many as 12,000-20,000 men served in the State Guard with the vast majority being completely undocumented. Missouri partisan rangers are an even bigger enigma, as they never kept a muster but simply banded together in irregular bands. Who knows how many private citizens, wronged by Federal forces or their allies, took to the brush to conduct their own private war. Except for eyewitness accounts and some unofficial lists, these too remained largely undocumented.
Even more intriguing of a mystery are the Missourians who joined Confederate units from other states. St. Louis Irishmen sneaked down the Mississippi after the Camp Jackson Massacre and formed the “Erin Guards”, Company K of the Thirteenth Arkansas Infantry. Missourians were known to have been present in the ranks of the Fourth Arkansas, Fourteenth Arkansas, Thirty-fourth Texas Cavalry and no doubt several others. Several Missouri infantrymen transferred to the Navy and served aboard, among others, the ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas. With these points considered, it’s possible to believe that Missouri’s contribution to the Union war effort is inflated, while her efforts on behalf of the Confederacy are understated. The question of how different the true numbers are, in both respects, is a matter best left to thorough research and mathematics.
Reconstruction certainly affected Missouri as harshly, if not more so, than the rest of her sister Southern states. The Missouri Legislature, now dominated by the Radical Republicans, held a constitutional convention which adopted a new constitution in April, 1865. Among the changes was the abolition of slavery, new naturalization laws (which were greatly scorned by the German community that had just helped them win the war) and the disfranchisement of almost anybody who had anything, however slightly, to do with the Southern cause in Missouri. Article II, Section 3 read in part:
“…no person shall be deemed a qualified voter, who has ever been in armed hostility to the United States, or to the lawful authorities thereof, or to the Government of this State; or has ever given aid, comfort, countenance, or support to persons engaged in any such hostility; or has ever, in any manner, adhered to the enemies, foreign or domestic, of the United States, either by contributing to them, or by unlawfully sending within their lines, money, goods, letters or information; or has ever disloyally held communication with such enemies; or has ever advised or aided any person to enter the service of such enemies; or has ever, by act or word, manifested his adherence to the cause of such enemies, or his desire for their triumph over the arms of the United States, or his sympathy with those engaged in exciting or carrying on rebellion against the United States; or has ever, except under overpowering compulsion, submitted to the authority, or been in the service, of the so-called “Confederate States of America”; or has left this State, and gone within the lines of the armies of the so-called “Confederate States of America,” with the purpose of adhering to said States or armies; or has ever been a member of, or connected with, any order, society, or organization, inimical to the Government of the United States, or to the Government of this State; or has ever been engaged in guerrilla warfare against loyal inhabitants of the United States, or in that description of marauding commonly known as “bushwhacking;” or has ever knowingly and willingly harbored, aided, or countenanced, any person so engaged; or has ever come into or left this State for the purpose of avoiding enrollment for or draft into the military service of the United States; or has ever, with a view to avoid enrollment in the militia of this State, or to escape the performance of duty therein, or for any other purpose, enrolled himself, or authorized himself to be enrolled, by or before any officer, as disloyal, or as a Southern sympathizer, or in any other terms indicating his disaffection to the Government of the United States in its contest with rebellion, or his sympathy with those engaged in such rebellion…nor shall any such person be capable of holding, in this State, any office of honor, trust, or profit, under its authority; or of being an officer, councilman, director, trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority; or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school; or of holding any real estate, or other property, in trust for the use of any church, religious society, or congregation…”
However, a “Test Oath” commonly referred to as the “Ironclad Oath” could be taken, although estimates as high as one-third of the state’s post-war population would not qualify. None of the above would affect a man if he could truthfully claim that:
“…I have never directly or indirectly done any of the acts in said section specified; that I have always been truly and loyally on the side of the United States against all enemies thereof, foreign and domestic…”
The Radical Republicans, at least according to one source, felt that these measures would drive Southerners out of the state, making room for Northern and foreign immigration and industrialization of the mostly agrarian state; it worked, at least temporarily and partially. As past Commander of the Missouri Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, Robert L. Hawkins III would later write:
“…The enforcement of these harsh provisions greatly encouraged the migration of Missourians to Indian territory, Texas or beyond. The numbers of eligible voters in most Missouri counties were mere fractions of those qualified in prewar times…”
Many Southerners fled their homes, some to return after Reconstruction ceased. Others stayed to await a better day. Vigilantes and outlaws roamed the state, intimidating voters and killing opponents including at least one preacher. His crime: Attempting to preach the Gospel, not having taken the “Ironclad Oath”. This time period also gave rise to groups such as the “James-Younger Gang”, Southerners (not “Westerners” as they have been portrayed) who vengefully robbed banks and trains of Unionist money, while by some accounts, sparing former Confederates.
As time passed, reconciliation became a statewide theme, things began to cool and tensions were eased. Former Confederates were enfranchised and in the latter part of the century, even held prominent positions in state and national leadership. Brigadier General Francis Marion Cockrell, who commanded the famous First Missouri Brigade, spent thirty years as one of Missouri’s United States senators. George Graham Vest, a member of the Neosho Secession Convention and one of Missouri’s Confederate Congressmen also became a United States senator and held that position for twenty-four years. In 1884, Major General John Sappington Marmaduke, like his father before him, was elected governor of Missouri. His platform, among other things, was reconciliation while exposing the horrors of Union occupation and Reconstruction.
Confederate veterans were, once again, treated as veterans of the state they had fought so nobly to defend. Parades, festivals and reunions were soon held in their honor, including with their former enemies. United Confederate Veterans Camps, Sons of Confederate Veterans Camps and United Daughters of The Confederacy chapters sprung up all across the state. To date, 55 monuments have been erected to Missouri’s Confederates by various organizations and there are plenty more that are needed. In 1891 a Confederate Veterans Home was established in Higginsville, and in 1913 Confederate pensions were finally granted by the state.
Even with the above facts presented, there are Missourians, other Southerners and other Americans that insist upon Missouri being a “Union”, “Border”, “Midwestern” or, worse yet, “Northern” state. A December 1903 – February 1904 debate in the pages of Confederate Veteran magazine is a perfect example of this. With the United Daughters of The Confederacy in the lead, a project was under way to build a memorial to President Jefferson Davis, which was to include thirteen columns for the thirteen states that he led through four years of bloody strife. A gentleman from North Carolina was furious, writing:
“…As…eleven states acknowledged him as president, and gave as he did, their all to the “loved cause”, so let them, only them, be represented in that memorial. It is proposed to have thirteen columns in that memorial, representing the eleven states that seceded and Kentucky and Missouri. Think of what the president of the Confederacy would say to having these states honored equally with his own eleven Confederate States! As a man cannot serve God and mammon, so no State could serve the Confederacy and the Federal government, and Kentucky and Missouri had Federal Governors. They were represented in the Federal Congress, and were under the protection of the Federal flag the whole four years of the war. Though these states had representatives in the Confederate Congress, they could not represent these states.
He continues very contradictory:
Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri gave to the Confederacy some of the bravest men who followed Lee and Western commanders; and when the memorial to President Davis is completed, let us erect no columns to these states, stepsisters to the Confederacy…As there were eleven States in the Confederacy, so there should be eleven stars on every Confederate flag, especially on the Crosses of Honor given to the heroes who wore the gray and still glory in this sacred uniform, and wear it, when they can, at their reunions.”
He was challenged in fine style by fellow readers, including a Missouri Confederate Veteran
and a Missouri Daughter, who asked:
“How will that sound to men who fought with Price, [McCulloch],Bowen, Cleburne, Shelby, Gates, Cockrell…and scores of other gallant officers in Missouri [?]
The Missouri Confederate veteran, on the other hand, took the offensive in a style reminiscent of his struggle of forty years past:
“I cannot believe that a majority of the people of the South condemn these tried, true, and patriotic people for failing to perform an impossibility by holding in check the combined forces of the North and the outside world. We gave up our homes and country to the invaders inch by inch, never failing to inflict the greatest damage to them in our power…I feel that I represent the sentiments of 99 per cent of the Southern people of Missouri when I say that when the time comes they will expect and insist on being accorded the same honors and rights in the Davis Memorial given to other Southern States.”
Unfortunately, the author has encountered this stance numerous times from fellow Southerners, who should be allies in our mutual struggle instead of rivals. Perspectives such as this need to be honestly challenged with education to repair this slight to the Missouri Confederate Soldier who, according to General Price’s, Adjutant Thomas L. Snead, had:
“…abandoned his home with all its tender ties, and thrown away all his possessions, and left father and mother, or wife and children, within the enemy’s lines, that he might himself stand by the South in her hour of great peril, and help her defend her fields and her firesides.”
As if the marginalization of her Confederate History wasn’t enough, attacks on Missouri’s Southern cultural identity (aside from the war) have taken place both inside and outside the state to the point where some Missourians who are Southern in culture, cuisine, dialect and tradition have accepted the moniker of “Midwesterner”. This cultural confusion can no doubt be traced to Reconstruction and its lingering effects in academia and political correctness.
The things that these so-called “Midwesterners” mischaracterize as “Midwestern” rather than “Southern” would almost be humorous if they weren’t so tragic. The Kansas City area, known for barbeque, Jesse James, Harry S. Truman and numerous War for Southern Independence sites (all fairly Southern things) can still convince itself that it is a Midwestern Metropolis. The University of Missouri at Columbia would contain another example of this confusion. Despite only recently joining the Southeastern Conference, the school, into the late 20th century, waved Confederate Battle Flags and played “Dixie” during football games. Political correctness, however, hasn’t killed the hatred of Kansas University and its “Jayhawks”, it has just taken away the longstanding name of athletic contests between the two schools: The “Border Wars”. In fact, one of the possible origins of the University’s Tiger mascot lies in a cheer that Confederate Missourians gave: “The Missouri Tiger”. When people think of Missouri, they undoubtedly think of St. Louis and Kansas City, which have become “melting pots” of immigrants from other regions and nations. In terms of Missouri, it must be remembered that these areas don’t necessarily represent the values, customs and culture of mainly rural, small-town Missouri. An apt comparison would be Atlanta’s representation of the rest of Georgia or urban Florida’s representation of the rest of that state. The state is a part of the “Bible Belt” and is, for the most part, traditional and conservative in politics along with her sister Southern states. Hunting, fishing, frog gigging, fried foods, fiddle music, Bluegrass festivals etc. remain pastimes within the state and would be considered Southern traditions. Numerous businesses have “Rebel” or “Southern” in their company names and sweet tea and fried chicken is a traditional Sunday meal. Restaurants even vie for the coveted title of “The Best Chicken Fried Steak in Town”. Festivals such as the “Jesse James Festival” in Kearney, the “Bushwhacker Days” in Nevada and the “General Sterling Price Days” in Keytesville remind Missourians of their Confederate past. Catfish aquaculture is found throughout the state and cotton is grown throughout its Mississippi Delta region. Occasionally, fishermen have to deal with surly cottonmouths while attempting to catch their limits. The Springfield and Branson area of the state once rivaled Nashville as Country Music’s Capitol and, even today, Branson is second only to Nashville. Missouri literature as well as Ozarks legends and songs are filled with Southern themes and culture. Tom Sawyer and ‘Huck’ Finn were Southern boys! As far as dialect is concerned, the rural, small-town Ozarker uses a mix of Appalachian and Upper Southern Highlands accent. “Y’alls” and “You’ens” are still part of the vernacular and “Ain’t” is a word. Even the pronunciation of the State’s name is part of this grapple over her identity (Missour-ah vs. Missour-ee).
Even with all the arrows in Missouri pointing south, the truth still seems to elude all but a handful, and a dangerous precedent has been long established. Even histories, songs and cultural commentaries by Unreconstructed, well-meaning Southerners usually fail to give “Grand Old Missouri” her due. Other states, with just as controversial of a Southern History and culture (Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma), seem to be readily accepted as members of the South. It appears that with the second war on the south (political correctness) well underway, Missouri should once again be the first to fall to the invader. This time, her sister states and her own people must realize her importance and rush to her defense, or all will be lost starting with Missouri. The erosion of Southern culture and values is occurring all over our Southland and unless the tide is stemmed in places like Missouri, all will be lost. Southerners today will be a people without an identity or heritage tomorrow.