Pre-statehood Missouri history is carved in marble on the first floor of the Capitol building.
It is believed by many historians that De Soto explored our region while pursuing his dream to find a northern passageway to China back in 1541. After “discovering the Mississippi River”, he crossed from Kaskaskia (Illinois) into our region, meeting five different tribes of Native Americans along his trek through what is now Southern Missouri continuing on into Arkansas.
White men were sparse as hen’s teeth, though, for the next 130 years. Then the influx began.
It was not until 1673, when Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet (who are most often credited with the discovery of Missouri) sailed down the Mississippi River in canoes along the area that would later become Missouri. The two established that the Mississippi River ran all the way to the sea. In 1682, Robert de LaSalle claimed the Louisiana Territory for France (“New France” or Louisiana, was named to honor Louis XIV).
Soon French settlers were establishing trading posts and forts in the new territory. During the early years of French occupation, trade with the Indians was the only major industry.
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In 1750, the first white settlers founded nearby Ste. Genevieve as the first permanent white settlement in “upper Louisiana” (although there are some reports that Ste. Genevieve was founded as early as 1732-1734). It was a confusing time for these early settlers because in 1762, Spain gained control of the Louisiana Territory in the Treaty of Fontainebleau, but did not “officially assume control of the territory until 1770”.
Spain maintained control until 1800 when France was able to briefly regain some of their former possessions in North America from the Spanish. After a 20-day interlude of French control of Louisiana, Napoleon abandoned his dreams of creating a North American empire after his troops were defeated in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). The treaty between Spain and France was kept secret and Louisiana remained under Spanish control until a transfer of power to France in 1803. Almost miraculously, the entire Louisiana territory was sold to the United States for $15,000,000 in May of 1803.
One of Missouri’s nicknames is “Gateway to the West”. In 1804 Lewis and Clark set out from St. Louis not only to map this new region, but to also evaluate the potential of westward expansion at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, an advocate of western expansion. The expedition led all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The California Gold Rush began in 1848 and Missouri once again became the departure point for those heading to California, earning Missouri its first nickname.
After Louisiana became a state in 1812, the remaining Upper Louisiana Territory was renamed the Missouri Territory and was divided in to five original counties. Our present Iron and Reynolds counties were considered a part of the new county of Ste.Genevieve in the new Missouri Territory. In 1818 the first Missouri Constitution was drafted and in the same year, a request was made for admittance to the Union as a slave state. After a national controversy due to the delicate balance between free and slave states, Missouri was admitted as the 24th state in the Union in 1821.