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Smithsonian Institution

The land bordering the Mississippi as it runs through Missouri and Illinois is where the old river highways, the Missouri, Des Moines, Illinois and Ohio, join the mainstream of the river for the journey south to the main port of New Orleans, and its towns were defined by the river traffic. By this history, if not by geography, this region became for many people the center of the United States. In the nineteenth century, it was the divide between east and west, and traces of that division still hold good. West of the river, the prairies begin, the land of cowboy boots, cattle and myth. East is white America's version of the "old country," the towns that liked to consider themselves as centers of civilization on the border of the barbarous wilderness. In later years, when the national migration pattern became as much south to north as east to west, this area was once again an important point on the journey, and a place where some travelers would choose to remain.


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