Opening the Ozarks: A Historical Geography of Missouri's Ste. Genevieve District, 1760-1830

By Walter A. Schroeder | Go to book overview

Foreword

TERRY G. JORDAN

Eight decades ago, in an issue of National Geographic, Frederick Simpich described Missouri as the “mother of the West.” The truth of his assertion remains evident today in the dominantly heartland cultural character of the far greater part of the American West. His is an assertion I personally came to accept after a decade of research on the origins of the cattle-ranching business, a project that came into print as North American Cattle Ranching Frontiers. For me, a sixth-generation Texan, to discover that Missouri exerted a greater influence than Texas upon the West in general and ranching in particular ranks as a major-league epiphany. Missouri served as the migratory funnel through which heartland pioneers from the Old Northwest and upland South passed west, often after a residential stopover. The Oregon, Mormon, California, and Santa Fe Trails all had their roots in Missouri. Lesser-known but equally wellbeaten paths led from Missouri to Texas. The American West is a giant triangle with apexes in California, the Pacific Northwest, and Missouri.

If Missouri mothered the West, then the Ste. Genevieve District was parent to Missouri. What Walter Schroeder has to tell us about this small district, then, has profound relevance not just for the Ozarks, but for half a continent as well. A cultural prototype formed in the Ste. Genevieve area, made from diverse national and regional raw materials. Even my Texas would feel its influence, conveyed by the Austins, DeWitts, and other Anglo-American founding families.

I, like Walter Schroeder, am a geographer. In our academic discipline, we tend to view matters such as sectionalism rather differently than historians do, though in a complementary way. Walter Schroeder’s geographical approach is revealed on almost every page of this wonderful and important book. Geographers emphasize the character of the natural habitat and the manner in which people adapt to and change the land, in the process creating distinctive ways of life and unique humanized landscapes. The explanation for a way of life also leads the geographer to consider cultural diffusion—the spread of people, ideas, and traditions across geographical space. When these several strands—habitat, adapta-

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