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A slender steel arch towers on the banks of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, graceful in its sweep toward the sky. The Gateway Arch symbolizes Missouri's enduring status as linchpin between civilization and frontier, east and west, north and south. Situated in the geographic center of the U.S., Missouri is surrounded by Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee to the east; Arkansas to the south; Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska to the west; and Iowa to the north. Water defines much of this landlocked state, from the presence of two great rivers--the Mississippi on its eastern border and the Missouri meandering through its heart--to countless smaller rivers and streams and an array of lakes, especially in the state's southwestern quarter.
Missouri has 10 state-designated tourism regions. The northern third includes Pony Express country, where the "lightning mail" began and outlaw Jesse James spent his final years; the Chariton Valley, notable for its wildlife refuges; and Mark Twain country, where writer Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) got the material for his famous tales of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher. In the center of the state, from west to east, vibrant Kansas City is full of history and culture; Osage Lakes offers abundant recreation on its public lands; Lake of the Ozarks features resort communities, the state capital at Jefferson City, and the Katy Trail; and St. Louis has everything from big-time sports and fine wineries to caverns and casino riverboats. The state's southern third includes the Ozark Mountain region, best known as home to the entertainment center of Branson; Ozark Heritage country, featuring scenic canoeing on the Jacks Fork, Current, and Meramec rivers; and the River Her itage region, where the Mississippi rolls past quiet towns including the French-flavored Ste. Genevieve.
Ste. Genevieve was the site of Missouri's first permanent white settlement, about 1750. But the region had been inhabited as early as 12,000 years before, first by Paleo-Indians who hunted prehistoric animals, later by mound-building Mississippian peoples. Except for about 35 years in the late 18th-century, France had control of Missouri from 1682 until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was the Louisiana Purchase that compelled President Thomas Jefferson to send explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark west from St. Louis in 1804 to explore the newly acquired lands along the Missouri River. Missouri soon became the staging area for many other westward journeys, including the Santa Fe Trail, Oregon, and California trails and the Pony Express.
In the Civil War, Missourians fought on both sides in the war, with about 110,000 troops defending the Union and 40,000 going Confederate. That characteristic, frontier-forged independence gave Missouri its nickname when Congressman Willard Vandiver said in 1899 that "frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri. You've got to show me." Missourians have always appreciated a good show, whether from a country music star at Branson or baseball slugger Mark McGwire at Busch Stadium. With a colorful cast of characters past and present, life's rich pageant plays on in Missouri.