Noah's note: I was born and raised within miles of where Meriwether Lewis died.
Many early footpaths were created by the wanderings of bison, deer and other game. In the case of the Trace, bison travelled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area. After Native Americans first began to settle the land, they began to blaze the trail further, until it became a relatively (for the time) well-worn path traversable by horse in single-file.
Development and Disappearance of the Trace
d Disappearance It was not until 1801, when the United States Armed Forces began blazing the trail for use as a postal route, that major work was performed on the Trace to prepare it as a thoroughfare for travelers. Treaties were signed with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, and work began. First it was done by soldiers reassigned from West Tennessee, and then later by civilian contract. By 1809, the trail was fully navigable by wagon. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route were the development of inns and trading posts, referred to at the time as "stands." For the most part, the stands developed southbound from the head of the trail in Nashville.
Bushwhackers, Bibles, and Boats
Despite its brief lifespan, the Trace served an essential function in the years it was in existence. It was the only reliable and most expedient link between the goods of the North and the trading ports of Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen and traders were just a few.
Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition fame, met his mysterious end while traveling on the Trace. Lewis had stopped at Grinder's Stand near current-day Hohenwald, Tennessee for rest. Extremely depressed by the state of his financial affairs (he was deeply in debt), he became drunk as he had many times during the trip. He asked the owner of the stand for gunpowder. Intimidated by his behavior, she gave it to him. A few hours later, two shots rang out in the night -- Lewis had apparently shot himself twice (highly improbable, given the difficulty of [re]loading muzzle-loading firearms, especially after being wounded), once in the head and once in the chest. He lived until the next morning.