In February 1937 Thomas Hart Benton was sent by the Kansas City Star to sketch the flood-devastated region of southeastern Missouri. The artist reported that "the roads of the flood country were full of movers . . . Every once in a while seepage from under the levee would force evacuation of a house and you would see a great struggle to get animals and goods out of the rising water." Benton's quick, vivid sketches later led to Spring on the Missouri. However, in translating the drawings into a painting, the artist reimagined the scene as epic theater, symbolic of mankind's valiant and unrelenting struggle with the forces of nature.
The original owner of this painting was Arthur "Harpo" Marx.