At the beginning of the twentieth century, swamps hosting immense timber resources covered much of Missouri's Bootheel. Once investors built a network of railroads and harvested the timber, the landscape became on of overgrown, cut-over land with little value until excess water could be drained and the swampland converted to farmland. Small, local drainage districts began the process but complete drainage came with the construction of a system of ditches by the Little River Drainage District which is the largest drainage district in the United States. The amount of earth moved in its constriction rivals or exceeds that moved in construction of the Panama Canal.With drainage, farms replaced cut-over land and mid-western farmers moved to southeast Missouri. Devastation of cotton in the South by the boll weevil in the early 1920s brought an influx of both white and black sharecroppers to the Bootheel, bringing changes to the social landscape. Cotton became the principal crop; sharecroppers provided the labor. Conflict over payments for taking land out of production in the 1930s led to the 1939 Sharecropper Demonstration along highways 60 and 61 near Sikeston. This demonstration foreshadowed civil rights protests decades later. The book chronicles the development of this unique region in the context of its geology, history, and sociology.
Southeast Missouri from Swampland to Farmland
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