My place of birth was near Grinder's Stand where Meriwether Lewis died. Natchez Trace Parkway is a beautiful drive. The best time to travel on this scenic site is late October when all the tree leaves are in rainbow colors.
Origins of the Natchez Trace
Largely following a geologic ridgeline, prehistoric animals followed the dry ground between the salt licks of central Tennessee to grazing lands southward and the Mississippi River. Native Americans used many early footpaths created by the foraging of bison, deer and other large game, who could break paths through undergrowth. In the case of the Trace, bison traveled 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
By 1800 Thomas Jefferson sought to counter growing French influence along the Mississippi Valley. To foster communication with the Southwest, he designated a postal road to be built between Daniel Boone's wilderness road, ending in Tennessee, and the Mississippi River. To emphasize American sovereignty in the area, he decided to call it the Columbian Highway. Treaties were signed with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. In 1801 the United States Army began blazing the trail, performing major work to prepare it as a thoroughfare. The work was first done by soldiers reassigned from West Tennessee, 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 was 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 span of use by Americans, the Trace served an essential function for years. It was the only reliable land link between the eastern States and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen and traders were just a few.
The Mystery of Meriwether Lewis
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. Suffering another bout of manic depression brought on by the state of his financial affairs, disappointment from jilted loves, frustration from editing his journals, and unsatisfied as governor of Louisiana he rested for the evening. 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, once in the head and once in the chest. He lived until the next morning when he cut his own arms and legs open with a razor and bled himself to death.