The Mississippi © Andrew Balet
Named after the Missouri Native Americans that inhabited the fertile lands around the tributaries of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the state of Missouri became part of the US after a long colonial tussle between France and Spain. The original Missouri people were driven out by the flood of European immigrants who came to settle here, founding the two fur trading centres of St Louis and Kansas City. The state's central location on the Mississippi River's north-south trade route and the east-west railroad made it an important crossroads for trade and transport. Kansas City, and St Louis in particular, established themselves as major gateways to the western frontier during the 19th century.
Today the state is associated with historical figures from the nation's past, such as Mark Twain and his famous stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the gun-slinging outlaw Jesse James, pioneers like Lewis and Clark, and the 33rd president of the United States, Harry Truman. The brown waters of the great Mississippi River and its small river towns, paddle steamers, the stockyards of Kansas City, and the jazz and blues clubs of St Louis are other images representative of the state. The dominant city of St Louis is recognisable for its Gateway Arch and is the 'Home of the Blues', while the only other significant city, Kansas City, is famous for its steaks and barbecues as well as its hearty jazz. In contrast, the south of Missouri features the beautiful hillsides and lakes of the Ozark Mountains providing great recreational areas, and the conservative country-and-western tourist town of Branson.