By Debby Woodin
Mark Twain, an old Mississippi River pilot, would surely like it.
It turns out, a lot of others do too.
State Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, is promoting a resolution that would give Missouri one more moniker to tout tourism: “The Great Rivers State.” It would join other slogans already used to describe Missouri, including the “Show-Me State” and “The Cave State.”
“The idea was brought to us by one of our constituents,” said Jennae Neustadt, Lamping’s chief of staff. “They suggested this would allow Missouri to promote more of its tourism.”
The proposal is receiving praise around Missouri, and not just from those tied to the state’s two famed waterways, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
“The interesting thing about it is that people in mid-Missouri may interpret it to be the Mississippi or the Big Muddy (Missouri), but it is applicable to other parts of the state,” said Holly Neill, of Ozark, executive director of the Stream Team Watershed Coalition. “To me, I think of all our beautiful Ozark streams. It connects everybody to their rivers and streams.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Ruth Young, of Pineville, who along with her husband, David, owns the Kozy Kamp campground on the head waters of Elk River, which is formed by the confluence of Big Sugar Creek and Little Sugar Creek.
“We have some great rivers in this state,” she said. “We took a trip this winter and traveled through other states. You look at their streams and the comment is, ‘Look how muddy they are.’ You get to Missouri and you look, and say, ‘How clean they are,’” by comparison.
“The ones we saw maybe weren’t dirty, but they weren’t as clean as the Missouri rivers and streams,” she said.
The Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association, composed of many of the state’s campgrounds and canoe concessionaires, endorses the slogan, said Michelle Lambeth of Marshfield, the executive director.
“Obviously it’s encouraging people to realize that there is more to Missouri than the Gateway Arch,” she said. “There’s over 110,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state.”
She said an advertising campaign done by the Missouri Division of Tourism a few years ago based on the slogan “Where the Rivers Run,” was a boon to the recreation industry.
“The state picked up on that and we, as an association, loved it. It does define Missouri,” Lambeth said, much like Minnesota’s “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
Proud but stubborn Missourians say there’s still room for the historical “Show-Me State” reference, which could have its roots in Joplin’s mining days, according to the state archives.
The official manual of the state of Missouri in 1980 reported that are two stories about the possible origin of that tag line.
One is in the mining town of Leadville, Colo., where Joplin area miners were taken to replace striking Colorado miners in the 1890s. The story goes that the Joplin men were not familiar with the mining methods used in Colorado and had to be given instructions.
Colorado mine bosses were reported to have told their native workers: “That man is from Missouri. You’ll have to show him.”
Another possible origin is a speech given in 1899 by Missouri’s U.S. Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver. It was reported that he coined the phrase when he said in his speech “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
Adding the slogan about rivers does not take away from the Show-Me handle, which has been in use for a century or more now. The newly proposed slogan “has economic value to it,” for promoting the entire state, said Patrick Tuttle, the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau director. “It also encompasses a very important part of the state.”
Having more tag lines to represent the diversity found in Missouri can’t hurt, said Jennifer Rosson, manager of Bluff Dwellers Cave in Noel.
“We have an interest in it,” Rosson said of the slogans. “We would love it to be ‘The Cave State.’ We have the most show caves of any state. So, of course, we are interested in promoting caves, but we also have awesome rivers.”
Either way, people can say what they want on their very own license plates.
While Missouri’s regular license plates carry the slogan “Show-Me State,” vanity license plates can be ordered with “The Cave State” phrase or Stream Team plates labeled with the “Great Rivers State” slogan.
River boat pilot
“The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.” — Mark Twain in his 1883 memoir “Life on the Mississippi.”