Mississippi County, Missouri

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Mississippi County is a county in southeastern Missouri. It lies along the Mississippi River, for which it was named upon its creation in 1845. It is geographically the easternmost county in Missouri, and the easternmost county to lie west of the Mississippi.

Mississippi County's population was 14,358 at the 2010 census. Charleston is the county seat and largest city.

History

In the first days of European exploration, the future Mississippi County region was thinly populated by a variety of Indian tribes. The Osages lay claim to it much of the time, and groups of Delawares and Shawnees had also moved into the area by the late 18th century.

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto is supposed to have briefly spent time in the vicinity during his 1540-41 expedition, though this has not been firmly established.[1] Because of its low and swampy terrain, the region drew few settlers during the colonial era. The first American settlement occurred in 1800, on what came to be known as "Bird's Point" after one of the early frontiersmen, located on the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Ohio River. At this time, the whole area was part of the New Madrid district, then later of Scott County after its formation in 1821. Population growth picked up in the 1830s with the establishment of Charleston on slightly higher ground, and such river ports as Norfolk and Belmont. On February 14, 1845, Mississippi County was finally organized by the Missouri legislature as a separate jurisdiction. Court business was conducted in a Methodist church in Charleston until the construction of a courthouse in 1852.

Owing to the fertility of the land, Mississippi County thereafter grew rapidly, with a good road constructed from Charleston to Bird's Point, and a first railroad being laid out in the late 1850s; but this growth was interrupted by the Civil War. Owing to the generally pro-Southern sympathies of the inhabitants, and the erection of a powerful fortress on high bluffs across the river at Columbus, Kentucky, the county was dominated by Confederate forces for much of the first year of the war, but there was much confusion regardless. At one point, Confederate general M. Jeff Thompson removed the money of a Charleston bank, arguing it was in danger of being stolen by Union forces, and supposedly buried it under a tree in Sikeston. One of the more notable early battles of the war occurred at Belmont, where a Confederate position was attacked by a Union army under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant on November 6, but repulsed it with assistance from the fortress across the river at Columbus.

After Grant's capture of Fort Donelson in February 1862, and the subsequent campaign against Confederate forces at New Madrid, a permanent Union presence was re-established in Mississippi County, though periodic military action would continue to the end of the war.[2]

Like many such battle-torn areas, Mississippi County was left in disorder after the war, but quickly rebounded. By the early 20th century, much of the former swampland had been cleared and converted to agriculture, with corn, wheat, cotton, and alfalfa among the most important crops. Mills, timber cutting, and woodworking were also important occupations. At the same time, the presence of a significant number of freed blacks led to periodic racial strife during the Jim Crow era. At least four black men were lynched between 1900 and 1930.

Following the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1927, the U.S. Corps of Engineers created a spillway between Bird's Point and New Madrid to relieve extremely high water on the river, by blowing a hole in the levee at the former place. This has only been done twice, in 1937 and 2011; the latter instance brought extensive water damage to much of the county and raised questions about repeating such a move in the future.[3]

Mississippi County's population has stagnated and somewhat declined in recent decades, as the mechanization of agriculture has resulted in fewer opportunities for farm-related work in what is still mainly an agricultural region.

Geography

Mississippi County is located in southeastern Missouri and is sometimes included in the region known as the "Bootheel." It has a somewhat triangular shape, with the apex pointing west. It is bordered on the east by the Mississippi River and the states of Illinois and Kentucky, on the northwest by Scott County, and on the southwest by New Madrid County.

The county has a total area of 429 square miles, 412 of them land and 17 water.[4] It is entirely within the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, with generally flat terrain (apart from a few very low ridges). The highest elevation, northwest of Charleston, is about 330 feet above sea level, falling off to about 285 feet around St. James Bayou in the south.[5]

Major highways within the county include Interstate 57, which runs southwest to northeast through the communities of Bertrand and Charleston before crossing into Illinois; U.S. Route 62, which roughly parallels the interstate; and U.S. Route 60, which runs as part of Interstate 57 west of Charleston and as part of Route 62 east of it. There are also several state routes, including Highways 77 and 105.

Demographics

At the 2010 census, Mississippi County had a total population of 14,358, with 5,180 households and 3,442 families. The population density was about 33.5 per square mile. There were 5,711 housing units, or about 13.3 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was about 74.06% White, 23.96% African-American, 0.21% Native American, 0.17% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.55% from some other race, and 1.05% from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 1.61% of the population.

The median age in the county was 39.4 years. 22.2% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.3% was between the ages of 18 and 24, 27.3% was between the ages of 25 and 44, 27.0% was between the ages of 45 and 64, and 15.2% was 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 53.6% male, 46.4% female.[6]

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the median income in the county was $32,212 for a household, and $35,722 for a family. Males had a median income of $32,804 versus $25,819 for females. The unemployment rate was 10.0%. The per capita income was $17,918. 31.7% of the population was below the poverty line, including 50.9% of those under the age of 18 and 17.6% of those 65 years old or older.[7] Because of its low per capita income and high poverty rate, Mississippi County was rated by one group in 2016 as the poorest county in Missouri.[8]

Communities

Mississippi County is home to eight incorporated communities, six cities and two villages.

Cities

Villages

Government

Local government in Mississippi County is provided by the elected officials. Traditionally, these positions have been dominated by the Democratic Party, but in recent years the Republicans have become more competitive and they are now almost evenly split.

Elected countywide officials Name Party
Assessor Lisa Norton Democratic
Circuit Clerk Dottie McKenzie Democratic
County Clerk Emily Pullen Republican
Collector Cyndi Hensley Republican
Commissioner (presiding) James D. Conn Republican
Commissioner (District 1) Mitch Pullen Democratic
Commissioner (District 2) Darrell Jones Republican
Coroner Terry Parker Democratic
Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann Democratic
Public Administrator Julie Summers-Day Republican
Recorder George Bays Democratic
Sheriff Britton Ferrell Republican
Surveyor Vacant NA
Treasurer Sandra B. Morrow Democratic

At the state level, parts of Mississippi County belong to two legislative districts in the Missouri House of Representatives. Most of the northern half, including the cities of Bertrand and Charleston, belong to the 148th District, which also includes most of central and eastern Scott County. It is currently represented by Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston), who was re-elected in November 2018 without opposition.

Most of the southern half, including East Prairie and the surrounding area, is part of the 149th District, which also includes all of New Madrid and parts of Scott and Pemiscot counties. It is currently represented by Don Rone (R-Portageville), who was re-elected in November 2018, defeating Democrat Bill Burlison.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Don Rone Republican 6,633 65.537%
Bill Burlison Democratic 2,938 29.029%
Jackie McGee Independent 550 5.434%

Within Mississippi County, Rone decisively defeated Burlison, 962 votes to 306.

In the Missouri Senate, Mississippi County is part of the 25th District, along with Butler, Carter, Dunklin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Shannon, and Stoddard Counties. It is currently represented by Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who has served since 2012. In the 2016 election, Libla won re-election with 69.35% of the vote.[9]

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

(Libla narrowly defeated Burlison in Mississippi County, winning 56.41% of the vote.)

In the U.S. Congress, Mississippi County is part of Missouri's 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, represented by Jason T. Smith (R-Salem). Smith was re-elected to a fourth term in Congress in the November 2018 general election, receiving 73.39% of the vote; he performed close to average in Mississippi County, receiving 71.89% of the vote.[10]

Candidate Party Votes Vote percentage
Jason Smith Republican 2,716 71.890%
Kathy Ellis Democrat 1,025 27.131%
Jonathan L. Shell Libertarian 37 0.979%

Political Culture

As the above numbers indicate, though it continues to frequently vote Democratic at the local level, Mississippi County is solidly Republican at the state and federal level. In recent elections, most local municipalities have voted in favor of Republican candidates by a heavy margin, the one exception being Charleston; here, because of the city's large African-American population, races are usually much more contested. In the 2016 general election, the county overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, who won 71.77% of the vote.[11]

Like much of southern Missouri, Mississippi 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 Mississippi County with 86.87% support. In 2006, while the state overall narrowly passed an amendment to fund embryonic stem-cell research, the county defeated the measure with 57.35% voting against. At the same time, residents tend to support the Democratic Party on economic measures such as increases in the minimum wage and regulations on large businesses. In the November 2018 election, the county voted in favor of an increase in the state minimum wage, with 61.35% in support. These results generally align with the rest of Southeast Missouri.

Points of Interest

Mississippi County is home to one state park, Big Oak Tree State Park, which lies off Highway 102 in the far southern portion of the county. Extending over 1,029 acres, it is a preserved stretch of original hardwood forest, which once covered most of Southeast Missouri. The park was dedicated in 1938 and is home to a number of rare plants and animals, including several trees over 130 feet in height, setting state records in their species.[12]

The site of Bird's Point, near the U.S. 60/62 bridge to Illinois, provides a scenic view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Farther south is the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, which connects the ghost town of Dorena with the town of Hickman, Kentucky. It is one of the few remaining ferry operations on the lower Mississippi.[13]

References