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Southeast Missouri had a key role in the road to Missouri statehood in 1817-1821. The events leading to statehood, and some of the events, people, and lifeways in the area may be unfamiliar to many modern-day Missourians. Currently, Missouri is celebrating its Bicentennial, and this program aims to summarize the events leading to statehood, some of the factors affecting Missouri’s entry into the Union, and how people lived and worked during that time 200 years ago.Every Friday morning at 6:42 and 8:42 a.m. and Saturday morning at 8:18 a.m., Bill Eddleman highlights the people, places, ways of life, and local events in Southeast Missouri in 1821.The theme music for the show ("The Missouri Waltz") is provided by Old-Time Missouri Fiddler Charlie Walden, host of the podcast "Possum’s Big Fiddle Show."

MO Bicentennial Minutes: Czar of the Bootheel: John Hardeman Walker

John Hardeman Walker
[from A History of Missouri from the Earliest Explorations and Settlements until the Admission of the State into the Union, by Louis Houck, 1908, p. 7.]
John Hardeman Walker

Among the other events occurring in 1821 was the election of John Hardeman Walker as Sheriff of New Madrid County. Walker had come to Missouri territory from Tennessee in 1810, settling in Little Prairie, which was near present-day Caruthersville. When the earthquakes hit in 1811-12, he was one of the few stalwart residents who remained. He saw opportunity, and bought up land and cattle, gaining the nickname of “czar of the bootheel.”

This time is when Walker is said to have earned his biggest claim to Missouri fame. Congress received the first statehood petition from Missouri in 1818, which omitted land south of New Madrid. Many of the relatively few citizens of the southeast objected because their business and social ties were to communities to the north such as New Madrid and Cape Girardeau. While the events are murky, Walker undoubtedly played a big role in modifying the southern boundary of Missouri. He knew the “right” people, including Robert D. Dawson on the territorial council, and is purported to have “wined and dined” the land commissioners, lobbied the territorial legislature, and even lobbied congressmen in Washington. However, lack of direct evidence suggests this is partly legend or else Walker left few tracks. Subsequently, the second petition for statehood included the Bootheel, which remained in Missouri.

Voters elected Walker a justice of the county court in 1822. His other public service included county collector, a term in the state legislature, and serving as one of the commissioners who platted Caruthersville in 1857, part of which lies on what was his land. He died of cholera in 1860.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.
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