John Hardeman Walker’s Bootheel

On July 18, 2008 · 6 Comments

I sometimes wonder about unusually-shaped geopolitical boundaries. Sometimes I find it’s due to specific geographic features as with The Gambia. Other times it arises from territorial clashes as with the Temburong exclave of Brunei Darussalam. Generally speaking, the stranger the shape the better the story. So I got to wondering about the Missouri Bootheel, a little knob of land protruding from the state’s southeastern corner like a hernia.

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The Bootheel exists for no other reason than a single person wanted it to exist. It’s an enduring testament to the power and influence of a wealthy Nineteenth Century landowner, one John Hardeman Walker.

The “Czar of the Valley” gathered vast acreage in the wake of severe earthquakes rocking New Madrid in 1811-1812. Mr. Walker remained in the area while others left in fear for their lives. He used this as an opportunity to acquire cheap land from desperate people, and built a profitable cattle-raising business in what was then the Territory of Missouri.

The original State of Missouri petitions submitted to the United States Congress proposed a southern border pegged at latitude 36°30′. This would allow the new state to line up cleanly with the Kentucky / Tennessee border, immediately to the east. However this would also have left Mr. Walker sitting on the sidelines in Arkansas Territory, twenty five miles below the proposed State of Missouri.

He argued that towns along this stretch of the Mississippi River had more in common with settlements in Missouri such as St. Louis rather than with towns in Arkansas. He lobbied heavily in Missouri and in Washington, DC to press his case. He must have been very persuasive because when Missouri became a state it had a southern border at 36°30′ except for the little area between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis River, where the border dropped down to 36°00′. Thus the 980 square mile bootheel was born at Missouri’s inception as a state in 1821.

Technically the bootheel is just that portion of Missouri that extends south of 36°30.’ It includes Pemiscot County and parts of Dunklin and New Madrid Counties. In a more practical sense it extends to a much larger southeastern region of the state, culturally more southern than Midwestern unlike the remainder of Missouri. Geologically it’s part of the Mississippi River Alluvial Basin, the northernmost portion of a broad floodplain extending down to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s much flatter and with more wetlands than is typical of the rest of the state.

It’s an interesting crossroads and transition region, at the confluences of history, culture and geology.

On July 18, 2008 · 6 Comments

6 Responses to “John Hardeman Walker’s Bootheel”

  1. James Hardeman Walker says:

    Hey! I always love reading stories like this, and especially because this one has some personal significance to me. I was named after John Hardeman Walker, and I am his direct descendant. My family even still owns some of the original land, and we still grow cotton on it. The topsoil in the region is fabulous, making it one of the most fertile areas in the world, with 30-60 feet of dark black Missouri soil. This fertility is because the whole area was swamp, which was all drained with mules, dragging channels all the way to the Mississippi river, certainly something that would not be allowed by any environmental protection today.

    Anyway, just thought it was an interesting article here! I’m just sorry it took me three years to read it!

    • Jo Walker says:

      Dear James Hardeman Walker,

      I too am a direct descendant of John Hardeman Walker. My father was James Faris Walker Jr. I have considered several times over the years about trying to reconnect with family and never thought I would do it in this way but since the opportunity has presented itself I decided to take it. Please contact me.

      • Kelly Patterson says:

        Hello to both of you. My name is Kelly Patterson and I am the History teacher at Risco School District in Risco, MO (in the Bootheel). I have a student that is actually putting together a board project about Mr. Walker. Is there any way at all one of you can contact me so we can ask you a few questions?

      • Kathleen Leo says:

        Jo your dads middle name came from John H Walkers mother. Farris was her maiden name 🙂

    • Kathleen Leo says:

      Hi James and Jo Walker – I wanted to leave my info as well- I’m related to John H Walker though his son John, and Johns daughter Mary C Walker – who moved to GA after her first husbands death and married my GGG Grandfather Shepherd Green. It took a LONG time to trace that connection because their daughter died early in her marriage and our family knows virtually nothing of her extended family. All I had to go on was one letter from the 1940s and the lady who wrote it, bless her heart, had almost every detail wrong – it was like untangling spaghetti! Anyway I’d love to know more about that branch of the family so if either of you would please email me my email is kathleen.leo at gmail!

  2. Judith says:

    My husband is a direct descendant of John Hardeman Walker’s brother Federal Walker. I have been researching the family for 50 years and would love to correspond with any or all of you.
    Please check WikiTree for information on the parents of John Hardeman Walker and the Walker family.
    I am still working on posting all of my sources but each of you may be able to help as well.
    Judith (Weeks) Ancell

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