When Mark Twain's unforgettable character, Tom Sawyer, scolded Huckleberry Finn for thinking that Illinois was green and Indiana pink because they appeared that way on the map, Huck demanded, "What's a map for? Ain't it to learn you facts?" Although the illiterate Huck could not read a map, he knew its purpose. The Missouri map can teach us many important geographic facts that will increase our understanding of its history.
Between the Appalachian Mountains in the east and the Rocky Mountains in the west is mid-America, a land with a variety of physiographic regions drained by a great inland water system formed by the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers and their 250 tributaries. These "western waters" give mid-America its geographic unity and help furnish the key to its history. Situated in the west north central part of mid-America, Missouri lies somewhat east and a little north of the geographical center of the United States. Between 36° and 40° 35' north latitude and 89° and 95° 42' west longitude, Missouri's total area of 69,686 square miles makes it nineteenth in size among the states. It is one of only two states bordered by eight other states: Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee on the east; Arkansas on the south; Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska on the west; and Iowa on the north. Looked at in terms of population, the 1980 federal census showed that the nation's population center shifted westward from Illinois to Missouri, while the 2000 federal census showed a 9.3 percent gain in Missouri's population over the previous decade to 5.5 million.