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How Did Missouri Get the Nickname 'Show-Me State'?

Mary Anthony Oct 22, 2020
The proverb 'Seeing is Believing' adheres to the Missourians very much who are not very gullible people and need concrete evidence before putting faith in anything. Hence this nonconformist trait has earned the state a unique monicker 'Show-Me.'

Show-Me Your Identity!

You know you are a Missourian when you have the Show-Me tag displayed on your license plate!
Missouri has rich Indian origins and has been named after the Sioux Indians of the state who are known as the Missouris. The meaning literally translates to town of the large canoes or river of the big canoes.
The state goes by many nicknames that it prides in and there many legends attached to one particular sobriquet Show-Me, the origin of which is still mysterious. Apart from this it is also known as The Bullion State originating after the first U.S. senator from the state Thomas Hart Benton who was called 'Old Bullion'.
The state was extremely popular as departure point towards the Pacifics for great expeditions and hence came to be known as Gateway to the West.
Author Mark Twain has famously depicted the rugged terrain of the 6,400 known caves in his Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stories, thus adding another nickname the Cave State.
The stunning Ozark mountains are made up of peaks as high as 2,000 ft (610 m) and are a rich source of lead and zinc; have subsequently encouraged mining activities since French expeditions from early 1720s. This very fact makes Missouri the worldwide leader in lead production, thus the state is also known as The Ozark State and The Lead State respectively.

Show-Me Legends

◆ The state boosts of many political figures who pride in their origin and one such legendary personality happens to be U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who held office in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903.
In 1899, while serving as a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs he attended a naval banquet in Philadelphia. There he got engaged in a political debate and praised the virtues of his state by raising questions on the speech delivered by other speakers. During his speech (which went down the ages as the origin of the phrase) he stated:
I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I'm from Missouri, and you have got to show me.

Those strong words sum up the state's glory and go beyond historic reference as the symbol of the formidable Missourians.
◆ The not-so-popular version of origin states that there was a miner's strike in Leadville, Colorado in mid-1890s and miners from Southwest Missouri were imported to finish the work. These miners were unfamiliar with the Colorado mining techniques and requested instructions which earned them the phrase "That man is from Missouri. You'll have to show him."
◆ Another bizarre legend states that around 1897, hundreds of free train passes were issued to Missouri legislators and while traveling when they faced the conductor he would utter "You've got to show me."
◆ Yet another story states that during the 1898 Spanish-American war guards from St. Louis, Missouri were stationed at Chickamauga Park in Tennessee. When any soldier wanted to leave the cantonment, the guards would not allow the soldier to exit without uttering a stern "show me your pass".
Whatever the obscure origin of the phrase it embraces the realistic, sturdy, bourgeois, high-spirited character of Missourians.