Sunday, February 23, 2014

Natchez Trace

It's 1800. You have just sold your boat and load of produce that you floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Natchez. You have a pocket full of money and need to return to your home in Ohio. You find a three foot wide path leading out of Natchez to the northeast and begin walking (see picture). After 60 miles you come to the Choctaw Boundary. Behind you is Natchez territory and civilization. Ahead of you is Indian territory and wilderness. There are no inns or way stations, no food supplies. There are, however, bandits, Indians, wild animals and loneliness. You are on the Natchez Trace, an ancient pathway that was in use before Europeans set foot in this country. It runs for 444 miles between Natchez and Nashville and in its day was fairly dangerous but the main road between those cities. Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, was shot on the trace in1809 and is buried next to it about 60 miles south of Nashville. There is a monument there. You can still walk the trace if you want, although sections are now missing, but the best way is to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. This is a well kept two lane road that runs parallel to the trace and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park System. It runs for the same 444 miles at 50 mph and has no billboards, no houses or other buildings and, as in olden times, no services but is a very scenic road.
Eventually way stations, called stands, were established along the trace to serve travelers. Some of these grew into small towns, most of which are now defunct, and a few grew into larger cities. As you drive the Parkway there are turnoffs to sections of the trace or some of the old town sites. One of these was Rocky Springs, a small town established near a spring that served as a watering hole on the trace. The town is now gone except for an old church, a cemetery, a couple of cisterns, and oddly enough, two old safes without doors (see picture). The cistern in the foreground still contains water which you can see through the grate.
If you are driving the Parkway and have the time you might want to see this. A few miles north of the trace, but not really related to its history, is the Mississippi Petrified Forest, the only known petrified forest east of the Mississippi river. It is just outside the town of Flora, MS. Studies indicate the trees were from an area farther north and floated to this area by an ancient river into a log jam configuration that was then covered with mud and eventually petrified. This happened 36 million years ago and they were just uncovered in recent times by erosion. There are probably many more trees not seen yet as a well was being dug in 1962 and hit a petrified log at 75 feet down! Most of the logs are quite large (see pictures) and include species of Sequoia, Maple, Fir, and Spurge plus some extinct varieties. At the end of the trail is a very comprehensive fossil museum.

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