Missouri truly is the gateway between the east and west of America. It starts at the Mississippi River and contains cultural elements of the American South and Midwest, in equal parts urban and rural society. Its big cities like St Louis and Kansas City were the starting points of all the major pioneer trails west, and today they are vibrant and youthful cities. Balancing the history of Missouri is a seemingly endless array of forests, lakes, and rivers used by residents extensively for outdoor recreation.
Long before European colonists arrived, the Native American Mississippian culture thrived in the river valley around St Louis and beyond. French Canadians arrived in 1750 from the north, founding a village at today’s Ste Genevieve. In 1764, the French moved from New Orleans and founded St Louis. Many of these early towns have retained much of their historic look.
From 1764 until 1803, the region west of the Mississippi was controlled by the French or Spanish until the United States acquired the territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase. At this point, Missouri was a thriving center of the fur trade, agriculture and transportation along the Mississippi River. The state immediately earned the nickname "Gate to the West" as explorers and pioneers poured through St Louis on established trails westward.
The historic town of St Charles, just west of St Louis, is where the Lewis and Clark Expedition began and returned. The Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails all started in St Louis, as well, so the city boomed as a hub for commerce and travel. Missouri stayed with the Union north during the Civil War, but saw only guerilla-style fighting between the two sides.
The railroad opened up even more trade potential for Missouri, adding to its river commerce. Both St Louis and Kansas City boomed as a result of the business generated by the railroads in the late 1800s. Major industries moved in, notably the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, but farming and cattle remained the most important economic sectors.
After the Great Depression of the 1930s crushed Missouri’s economy, WWII brought it back to life. Industry was revived and manufacturing an tourism began to supplement farming as the main source of income in the state. Today, its major cities are strong and attractive, while its rural areas and the Ozarks draw thousands of travelers each year to enjoy the folksy mountain culture and outdoor recreation.
There is a wide mix of culture in Missouri thanks to its traditional role as a gateway for migrants heading west. The south is covered by the Ozark Mountains, the Lake of the Ozarks and most of the big national parks. This blend of outdoor adventure and unique Ozark culture has made the southern region of Missouri popular with all kinds of travelers.
Along the state’s eastern and western borders are its two main cities, St Louis and Kansas City. These urban areas have been prosperous, important hubs of trade and commerce since the land was purchased by from France in 1803. The influx of various ethnic groups and races helped create the two cities’ reputations for jazz, blues and barbecue. Most Missourians are friendly, open people, who enjoy music, food and outdoor activities.