Pemiscot County, Missouri

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Pemiscot County is a county in the "Bootheel" region of southeastern Missouri, organized in 1851. It had a population of 18,296 at the 2010 census. The name derives from the local Pemiscot Bayou and is thought to come from the Fox tribe's pem-eskaw, or "liquid mud." Caruthersville is the county seat and largest city.


The region including future Pemiscot County was at one time inhabited by members of the Mississippian culture, many of whom constructed earthen mounds to support domestic dwellings or possibly ceremonial sites. One of the largest of these, the Murphy Mound Archaeological Site southwest of present-day Caruthersville, was occupied from 1200 to 1500 AD. Other tribes, including members of the Delaware, Fox, and Shawnee, later moved into the area.[1]

The region may have been explored by Hernando de Soto in his voyages along the Mississippi in 1539-41. However, the first settlement was not made until 1794, when Francois Le Sieur, a French-Canadian fur trader who had been one of the founders of New Madrid, established the town of Little Prairie south of the later site of Caruthersville. Mostly populated by other French settlers, Little Prairie flourished until it was almost completely destroyed by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12, and only a few settlers remained in the area in the years afterward. One of these was Colonel John Hardeman Walker, who was instrumental in organizing the inclusion of the "Bootheel" region within Missouri upon the state's creation in 1821.[2]

The local population gradually increased again during the antebellum era, thanks to the opportunities for trade along the Mississippi River, and by the mid-19th century was large enough to be organized as a separate county (it had been part of New Madrid County since the latter's creation in 1812). Pemiscot County was officially established by the state legislature on February 19, 1851, separated from New Madrid County along the line of Portage Creek, which would form part of its northern boundary.[3] The river port of Gayoso served as the first county seat until 1873, when that function was transferred to Caruthersville.

Due to the warm climate and fertile soil, a number of cotton plantations were established along the Mississippi during the antebellum era, but the county's population and economic output would not significantly expand until after the Civil War, when more of the swampland in the interior was drained and cleared, and more extensive levees were built along the river to prevent flooding. Agriculture and timber-harvesting boomed, and multiple railroad lines were extended through the county.

As in many areas, Pemiscot County, which had a significant black population, experienced some racial conflict after Reconstruction, and several lynchings occurred in the early 20th century in the Caruthersville area.[4] Nonetheless, the region remained prosperous and stable in population through the 1940s, at which time the mechanization of agriculture, and the resulting decline in demand for farm labor, led to a steady drop in population.


Pemiscot County makes up the southeastern portion of the so-called "Bootheel" of Southeast Missouri. Its eastern boundary is formed by the Mississippi River, along which most of the early settlements grew up. It is bordered on the north by New Madrid County, on the east by Tennessee, on the south by Arkansas, and on the west by Dunklin County.

The county has a total area of 513.43 square miles, 492.54 of which are land and 20.89 water.[5] It lies entirely within the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and apart from a few low sand ridges, has no notable topographical features, being almost completely flat river bottomland. Pemiscot County has the lowest average elevation of any county in Missouri, generally descending from north to south from a height of 290 feet above sea level along Portage Bayou to around 240 feet near the Arkansas border.[6]

The chief highways in the county are Interstate 55, which runs from north to south between Portageville and the Cooter area; Interstate 155, which branches off from I-55 south of Hayti and goes southeast into Tennessee; U.S. Route 61, which is part of I-55 as far south as Steele before separating and continuing on into Arkansas; and U.S. Route 412, which enters Pemiscot County from the west and joins with I-155.


At the 2010 census, Pemiscot County had a total population of 18,296, with 7,350 households and 4,812 families. The population density was 35.6 per square mile. There were 8,161 housing units, or about 15.9 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was about 70.41% White, 26.78% African-American, 0.27% Native American, 0.22% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.80% from some other race, and 1.48% from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 1.86% of the population.

The median age in the county was 37.0 years. 27.51% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.80% was between the ages of 18 and 24, 23.13% was between the ages of 25 and 44, 25.84% was between the ages of 45 and 64, and 14.72% was 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 47.5% male, 52.5% female.[7]

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the median income in the county was $32,468 for a household, and $44,005 for a family. Males had a median income of $41,148 versus $27,354 for females. The unemployment rate was 10.7%. The per capita income was $18,883. 28.5% of the population was below the poverty line, including 39.0% of those under the age of 18 and 16.6% of those 65 years old or older.[8]


Pemiscot County is home to eleven incorporated communities, including ten cities and one village.




Local government in Pemiscot County is provided by the elected officials. Traditionally, these have been dominated by the Democratic Party, which continues to hold most of the county offices.

Countywide official Name Party
Assessor Patsy Hinklin Democratic
Circuit Clerk Kelly Maners Democratic
County Clerk Pam Treece Democratic
Collector Rhonda Price Democratic
Commissioner (presiding) Mark Cartee Democratic
Commissioner (District 1) Steve Watkins Democratic
Commissioner (District 2) Ben Baker Democratic
Coroner Jim Brimhall Democratic
Prosecuting Attorney Jereme Lytle Democratic
Public Administrator Trina Holloman Democratic
Recorder Vanessa Darnell Democratic
Sheriff Tommy Greenwell Democratic
Surveyor Darrall Hirtz Democratic
Treasurer Frankie Stewart Democratic

At the state level, Pemiscot County lies within parts of two separate legislative districts for the Missouri House of Representatives. Most of the northern half of the county, including the cities of Hayti and Wardell, is part of the 149th District, which also includes all of New Madrid and parts of Scott and Mississippi Counties. It is currently represented by Don Rone (R-Portageville), who was re-elected to a third term 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%

Rone decisively defeated Burlison within Pemiscot County, by a margin of 896 votes to 425.

Most of the southern half of the county, including the cities of Caruthersville and Steele, is part of the 150th District, which also includes a portion of Dunklin 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 decisively defeated Rittenberry in Pemiscot County, winning by a margin of 2,004 votes to 940.

In the state Senate, Pemiscot County is part of the 25th District, which also includes Butler, Carter, Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Shannon, and Stoddard Counties. It is currently represented by Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who was re-elected to a second term 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 somewhat underperformed in Pemiscot County, defeating Burlison by a margin of 3,247 votes to 2,461.

At the federal level, Pemiscot County belongs to the 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, which includes most of southeast Missouri. It is currently represented by Jason T. Smith (R-Salem), who was re-elected to the House in November 2018 with 73.39% of the vote.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Jason Smith Republican 194,042 73.390%
Kathy Ellis Democratic 66,151 25.019%
Jonathan L. Shell Libertarian 4,206 1.591%

Smith slightly underperformed in Pemiscot County, defeating Ellis by a margin of 2,985 votes to 1,455. [9]

Political Culture

As the above numbers indicate, though it continues to vote Democratic at the local level, Pemiscot 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. This is especially noticeable in Hayti and Caruthersville, which have large black populations and frequently see close races or a narrow Democratic win in state and federal elections. In the 2016 general election, the county strongly supported Donald Trump, who won 65.60% of the vote, a somewhat narrower win than elsewhere in Southeast Missouri.[10]

Like much of southern Missouri, Pemiscot 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 Pemiscot County with 84.73% support. In 2006, while the state overall narrowly passed an amendment to fund embryonic stem-cell research, the county defeated the measure with 52.41% 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 with 63.73% support.[11] These results generally align with the rest of Southeast Missouri.