Natchez Trace Parkway, MS – Echoes of History!

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Old Trace

Mount Locust "stand"

Dining room - with seating for 6

Parents' bedroom

10 kids slept here (5 in each bed?!)

Grandmother and eldest daughter slept here.

Driveway to Stanfield

Stanfield, where Andrew Jackson was married.

Rocky Springs Campground

Rocky Springs:

Population 1860 - 2,616

Population Today - 0

Bank vault

Rocky Springs Church, built 1837

Rocky Springs Graveyard

French Camp

Natchez Trace & Jim Henson Museum, Mississippi

April 29-May 2, 2008 - We left Natchez and ventured onto the Natchez

Trace Parkway, a 444 mile road that follows a primitive trail linking

Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville, Tennesse.  The Parkway is a

remarkable two lane road that is closed to commercial traffic and has a

speed limit of 50 mph.  The National Park Service oversees the Parkway

and maintains three free campgrounds along its length.  Because of the

low speed limit the traffic is non-

existent and we often drove for many

miles without seeing another vehicle.

There is a lot of history along the

Trace and at times it felt like we were

viewing layers of history.  We saw

Indian burial mounds from 4,000

years ago and travelers' "stands" or

inns from 150 years ago.

The original Trace was created by buffalo and other animals migrating north-south.  The ancient

peoples used the trail for their own migrations.  In the 1700's European traders would bring furs

and other goods down the Mississippi by boat, sell their goods in Natchez (and even sell their

boat for lumber) and then walk back to Nashville and other points north to do it again.

The Trace became a popular

place for highway robbers, as the

folks walking north from Natchez

had money in their pockets and

little protection.  In the early 1800's, seeking to bind the vast and

turbulent frontier to its northeast seat of power, President Jefferson

ordered the army to widen the trail and make it a road passable by


As was noted by the Secretary of State at the time, "the passage of

mail from Natchez is as tedious as from Europe when westerly winds

prevail."  The Trace vastly improved communications, but by 1830 it

fell into disuse as steamboats going up and down the Mississippi

river offered easier transportation.  The Natchez Trace Parkway

weaves along the original Trace route.  At times the original Trace is

visible.  It is a mere hiking trail.  After the Trace was built into a road,

"stands" or inns popped up along the route.  These offered food and

lodging to travelers -- on a very simple scale.

We visited the Mount

Locust stand.  A family

operated this stand with

51 slaves.  In the main

house the parents slept

in one bedroom.  The

grandmother and eldest

daughter in another.

The other ten kids slept

in the remaining

bedroom.  The

mattresses were made

of corn husks and rope.

Visitors made do on the


Looking at these


accommodations it was

hard to imagine that

arriving at one of these

stands was all that

inviting.  However, after

walking or riding a horse

all day on a dirt trail

these intrepid travelers must have been accustomed to truly roughing it.

Nothing like us, with our motorized transport, smooth paved roads to drive on

and a buggy with a well stocked fridge, freezer, hot shower and 12 inch mattress.

We stopped briefly at Stanfield, the mansion where Andrew Jackson was married.

Like others we had visited, there was a long tree-lined drive up to the house, and

the house was a

pillared beauty.

At Rocky Springs Campground, one of three lovely and free

campgrounds on the Trace, we were treated to a gorgeous morning

with filtered sunlight pouring through the trees.

On the edge of this

campground is the

ghost town of Rocky

Springs.  All that

remains of this once

bustling town is the church, the graveyard and two bank vaults.  The abandoned

bank vaults reminded me of the vault we had seen in the Gulf Coast town of Bay

St. Louis, MS.  However, the once prosperous rural town of Rocky Springs wasn't

devastated by a hurricane.  Instead its death came from many sources:  bad land

management that cleared hillsides for cotton leaving

erosion scars that can be seen today, the Civil War, a

yellow fever epidemic in 1878 and a boll weevil infestation.

It was eerie to walk a small trail through the woods where

there had once been cotton plantations and 2,616 residents.

There is nothing but trees now.

Up on the hill the church is still used, but

the cemetery's stones all date from the

1800's.  How can a town vanish in just a

little over 100 years?

Port Gibson is one of the larger towns at

the southern end of the Trace.  At one

time it was considered "too beautiful to

burn," but we didn't find it particularly

inspiring.  There was an interesting mural

on the wall of one building, and a small street with a handful of

stores, some in business and some shuttered.  More intriguing were

the homes on the outskirts of town where the Confederate flag was

flying.  Some flew the flag along with the American flag, and some

flew it alone.

We took advantage of this ideal area for cycling to do a few rides along

the Trace.  With no noticeable traffic, modest rollers, and interesting

historical sites every few miles, we thoroughly enjoyed our rides.  One

day, while camped further north on the Trace at Jeff Busby

Campground, we rode our bikes down to French Camp.  This was a

bustling community in earlier days and had several pretty buildings.

Besides the recent historical sites that can be seen on Natchez

Trace, there are a lot of prehistorical sites as well.  We stopped

at several Indian ceremonial and burial mounds.  Archaeologists

have dug through these mounds and made some startling

discoveries.  At one site, when the leader of the tribe died it

seemed that all his attendants were killed and buried with him.

Often they were killed by strangulation.  Likewise, when a parent

died sometimes the rest of the family would be strangled and

buried with the parent.  As I pondered all this back at the

campground -- in the pretty setting sun -- it occurred to me that even though lots of people have concerns about individual rights in

our culture today, at least we don't do that.

After we left the Natchez Trace Parkway we headed west and

north towards Arkansas.  I was dozing when suddenly Mark

said, "Look, Kermit the Frog...!"  I woke up just in time to see a

billboard for the Jim Henson museum.  We spent a very happy

hour at this little outpost in Leland, Mississippi that is a

charming museum of Jim Henson memorabilia.  It is run as a

labor of love by a woman who raised her children watching

Sesame Street.

I remember when that television show first aired in 1969.  As a

nine-year-old its alphabet and numbers lessons were a little

juvenile, but I remember loving the gentle humor and I

watched it for many hours with my younger sister.

Mark knew the show from raising his kids watching it.  He had been a

teenager when it first aired, so he never saw the episodes I did.  It was

amusing standing around with the proprietor and realizing that all three

of us had watched it during different eras and we remembered different

things -- even different muppet characters.

This little stop in Leland rounded out a delightful visit to Mississippi.

From there it was on to the Ozarks in Arkansas.