Dunklin County, Missouri

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Dunklin County Courthouse, Kennett, Missouri

Dunklin County is a county in southeastern Missouri, in what is known as the "Bootheel" region. It had a population of 31,953 at the 2010 census. The county was organized in 1845 and named in honor of Daniel Dunklin, a former governor of Missouri. Kennett is the county seat and largest city.


Prior to the early 19th century, the area that became Dunklin County was virtually uninhabited by American settlers, though several Indian villages were scattered along or near the St. Francis River, one of the most important being Chilletecaux. As it was located away from the Mississippi River, the region was neglected during the colonial period, but isolated settlements had begun by the 1820s. Upon Missouri's receiving statehood in 1820, most of it lay below the 36°30’N latitude line that was to be the state's southern border, but a local landowner, Colonel John Hardeman Walker, successfully lobbied for the territory that lay between 36° and 36°30’N, and between the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers, to be transferred from the Arkansas Territory to Missouri, creating what would be called the Bootheel.[1]

Initially, the entire region was included within New Madrid County, then transferred to Stoddard County upon its organization in 1835. The section lying below 36°30’N was officially organized as Dunklin County on February 14, 1845. It was named to commemorate Daniel Dunklin (1790-1844), who had been governor in the 1830s and also surveyed the Missouri-Arkansas state line. A nine-mile-long section was added from Stoddard County in 1853, giving the county its approximate present shape.

Dunklin County did not see significant growth until well after the Civil War, when the swamplands were gradually drained and cleared for farming, and the arrival of railroads and the lumber industry brought a surge in population. Though many of these occupations have since declined, it remains one of the more populous counties in Southeast Missouri.


Dunklin County lies in far southeastern Missouri, making up the western portion of the so-called Bootheel. Its western boundary (except for a short overland section) is defined by the St. Francis River. Owing to the river's meandering course, the county has a vaguely hourglass shape; it has an east-west width of over 23 miles at its southern limit but less than 6 miles just north of Kennett. It is bordered on the west and south by the state of Arkansas, on the east by Pemiscot County, on the northeast by New Madrid County, on the north by Stoddard County, and on the northwest by Butler County.

The county has a total area of 547.18 square miles, 541.07 of which are land and 6.11 of which are water.[2] The northernmost part of Dunklin County is part of Crowley's Ridge, which enters from Stoddard County to the north and passes west of Malden and Campbell before continuing across the St. Francis into Arkansas. The highest elevation in the county, about 534 feet above sea level, is located on the ridge about five miles northwest of Malden. The rest of the county is part of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, which is very flat and low-lying, though a few small sand ridges do run across it from north to south. Its lowest elevation (which is also the lowest elevation in the state of Missouri) is about 230 feet, along the St. Francis near Cardwell.[3]

The major highways in the county are U.S. Route 62, which crosses through the northern section, passing through Campbell and Malden, and U.S. Route 412, which enters the county in the southwest near Cardwell, runs northeast to Kennett, then continues east into Pemiscot County. Missouri State Highway 25, which begins at Kennett and runs north into Stoddard County, is also an important route.


At the 2010 census, Dunklin County had a total population of 31,953, with 12,837 households and 8,492 families. The population density was 58.4 per square mile. There were 14,419 housing units, or about 2.2 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was about 85.06% White, 9.72% African-American, 0.22% Native American, 0.34% Asian, 0.03% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 3.07% from some other race, and 1.56% from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 5.40% of the population.

The median age in the county was 39.3 years. 25.30% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.22% was between the ages of 18 and 24, 23.55% was between the ages of 25 and 44, 26.44% was between the ages of 45 and 64, and 16.49% was 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 48.0% male, 52.0% female.[4]

According to the 2010 American Community Survey, the median income in the county was $29,375 for a household, and $36,873 for a family. Males had a median income of $35,287 versus $23,686 for females. The unemployment rate was 9.1%. The per capita income was $16,619. 23.6% of the population was below the poverty line, including 32.6% of those under the age of 18 and 16.8% of those 65 years old or older.[5]


Dunklin County is home to ten incorporated communities, including nine cities and one village.




Local government in Dunklin County is provided by the elected officials. Traditionally, these have been dominated by the Democratic Party, but the Republican Party has gradually become more competitive and now holds almost half the elected positions.

Countywide official Name Party
Assessor Karen Vandiver Democratic
Circuit Clerk Paula Gargus Democratic
County Clerk Kent Hampton Republican
Collector/Treasurer Kathy Rasberry Democratic
Commissioner (presiding) Don Collins Republican
Commissioner (District 1) Ron Huber Republican
Commissioner (District 2) Patrick McHaney Democratic
Coroner James Powell Democratic
Prosecuting Attorney Nicholas Jain Republican
Public Administrator Matt Jackson Democratic
Recorder Connie Green Republican
Sheriff Bob Holder Republican
Surveyor Metz Skelton Democratic

At the state level, Dunklin County lies within parts of two separate legislative districts for the Missouri House of Representatives. Most of the county, except for the northernmost portion, is part of the 150th District, which also includes a portion of Pemiscot County. It is currently represented by Andrew McDaniel (R-Deering), who was re-elected to a third term in November 2018, defeating Democrat Josh Rittenberry.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Andrew McDaniel Republican 6,525 75.373%
Josh Rittenberry Democratic 2,132 24.627%

McDaniel slightly overperformed in Dunklin County, winning by a margin of 4,521 votes to 1,192 for Rittenberry.

The northernmost portion of the county, including the Malden area, is in the 152nd District, which also includes part of Butler County. It is currently represented by Hardy Billington (R-Poplar Bluff), who was elected to his first term in November 2018, defeating Democrat Robert L. Smith.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Hardy Billington Republican 7,373 69.036%
Robert L. Smith Democratic 3,307 30.964%

Within Dunklin County, Billington won by a margin of 1,483 votes to 684 for Smith.

In the Missouri State Senate, Dunklin County is part of the 25th District, which also includes Butler, Carter, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Shannon, and Stoddard Counties. It is currently represented by Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who was re-elected in November 2016, defeating Democrat Bill Burlison.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Doug Libla Republican 44,373 69.354%
Bill Burlison Democratic 19,607 30.646%

Libla roughly matched his average margin in Dunklin County, winning 6,952 votes to 3,195 for Burlison.

At the federal level, Dunklin County is part of Missouri's 8th Congressional District, which includes most of southeast and south-central Missouri. It is represented by Jason Smith (R-Salem), who won re-election in November 2018, defeating Democrat Kathy Ellis.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Jason Smith Republican 194,042 73.39%
Kathy Ellis Democratic 66,151 25.019%
Jonathan Shell Libertarian 4,206 1.591%

Smith slightly overperformed his average margin in Dunklin County, winning 75.52% of the vote.[6]

Political Culture

As the above numbers indicate, though it sometimes continues to vote Democratic at the local level, Dunklin County is solidly Republican at the state and federal level. Its voting patterns mirror those in much of the South and lower Midwest, with a white majority that has gradually swung its support to the Republicans, and an African-American minority that continues to vote heavily Democratic. In the 2016 general election, the county overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, who won 75.87% of the vote.[7]

Like much of southern Missouri, Dunklin County can be included within the Bible Belt, and tends to combine social conservatism with economic populism. In 2004, it voted overwhelmingly in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2, which recognized marriage as between a man and a woman only—the measure passed in Dunklin County with 87.57% support. In 2006, while the state overall narrowly passed an amendment to fund embryonic stem-cell research, the county defeated the measure with 53.70% voting against. At the same time, it frequently supports economic measures that appear to favor the working and middle class. In the November 2018 election, the county voted in favor of an increase in the state minimum wage (though with only 57.61% support, a somewhat smaller margin than elsewhere in the state). These results generally align with the rest of Southeast Missouri.