The Natchez Trace Parkway is a beautiful drive. It is a U.S. National Park that is perhaps 200 to 300 feet wide and 444 miles long, running from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It passes through parts of the states of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Construction of the Natchez Trace Parkway was begun in 1939 but was not completed until 2005. But the history of the Natchez Trace is very old. Prehistoric animals began establishing the trails through the thick forests as they sought out water, salt, and grazing resources. Burial mounds near the Trace dating back 2000 years indicate that the peoples of the middle Woodlands culture used those animal trails in their migratory lifestyle..
Indians of the Mississippian culture -- the Choctaw and Chickasaw -- developed those early animal trails into an elaborate system of foot trails. These trails enabled them to move through the dense woodlands with ease by the early 1700s. An unnamed Frenchman, in 1742, was the first European known to have traveled the early Trace. He complained about "the awful conditions" he found there during his travels.
As the 18th century progressed, however, farmers and merchants from the Ohio Territories and "Kaintucks" from south of the Ohio River began using the Trace in increasing numbers. They would float their produce or merchandise down the Ohio River on flat boats and on down the Mighty Mississippi to Natchez or New Orleans to sell. Completing their business, they returned home either on foot or by horseback. The steamboat, which could travel against the river's current, had not yet been invented. The old Natchez Trace, they discovered, was a well marked route back north.
President Thomas Jefferson, eager to develop the United States' frontier westward, commissioned the Natchez Trace as a postal road in 1801. Within ten years, the Trace was navigable by wagon. The invention of the steamboat a few years later gradually put the Trace out of business as the route of choice for northbound travelers.
From its very early days, The Natchez Trace was called "The Devil's Backbone" because trouble seemed to lurk along its rugged miles. Hostile Indians were a menace to the traveler at unexpected places. Wild animals and snakes roamed the forests. Lack of pure water and disease were common in the portions of the Trace at lower elevations. Highwaymen roamed the route seeking to lighten the purses of the returning sellers of goods.
Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, was killed on the Trace in a stand (overnight lodging) in which he had taken refuge. He was on his way to Washington, D.C. and to this day it remains a mystery whether his death was murder or suicide.
Twelve Confederate soldiers lie buried near the Trace. There is nothing that identifies their names, ranks, or the dates or causes of their deaths.
Dozens of prehistoric Indian burial mounds testify to the troubles of life on the Trace in very early times. The deserted town of Rocky Springs bears silent witness to the effects of the Civil War, yellow fever, the boll weevil and soil erosion during the late 1800s. The Trace has, over the years, earned its nickname, "The Devil's Backbone."
Well, last Thursday, we, too, experienced trouble on the Trace. No hostile Indians, dangerous wildlife, or sneaky highwaymen. No illness or unexpected death. No travel headaches (except that many of the public restrooms were closed due to the "sequestration"!). No truck problems, and we didn't even get lost!
We did, however, run into trouble as we traveled "The Devil's Backbone." Stopping for lunch at a roadside point of interest, I unlocked the door of the trailer and went in. I was greeted by a dessert bowl upside down in the walkway. It was intact, but behind it was a sizeable pile of dishes and pieces and broken shards of glass!
I remembered that several hours earlier we had bounced our way across an especially rough bridge. Bruce had commented, "That will probably scramble some things in the kitchen!" Well, he was right. We had sixteen scrambled bowls. The pantry cupboard door had bounced open. Even though it is tucked away beside the wall of the slide, the storage bin had fallen out, crashed to the floor and scattered dishes hither and yon!
What a mess! Lunch was late as we cleaned up shards and slivers of broken glass. The devil may have been laughing at the trouble he had caused us, but we had a good laugh, too. Only four of the sixteen bowls were broken, and nobody got hurt! Our troubles on the Trace could have been so much worse!