Centuries of travel: the Natchez Trace

The Sunken Trace, part of the original Natchez Trace, near Port Gibson, Mississippi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Sunken Trace, part of the original Natchez Trace, near Port Gibson, Mississippi (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

How did Native Americans (the Choctaw and Chickasaw,) traders, and early residents of the US South move back and forth between Mississippi and Tennessee?

You’re looking at it; the dirt path in the photo on the left is part of the original Natchez Trace that ran from Nashville down to Natchez, on the Mississippi River.

This particular section is called the Sunken Trace; it’s one of the only parts left of the original trail.

How did travelers use it?

The National Park Service says that “Kaintucks,” or boatmen….

“Floated merchandise down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from states throughout the Ohio River valley. Agricultural goods, coal, and livestock were among the many products that were floated to markets in Natchez and New Orleans. Once the goods on the boats were sold….the boatmen would begin the long walk home [from Natchez.] Research indicates that more than 10,000 Kaintucks traveled the Old Trace in the year 1810 alone. The 500 mile trip on foot typically took about 35 days. Lucky travelers that rode horses could expect to cover it in 20 to 25 days”.

Today, the 443-mile Natchez Trace Parkway (similar in concept to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the eastern U.S.) winds along over much of the original route. The Sunken Trace section is located at Milepost 41.5, and it is worlds away from the modern, two-lane asphalt Parkway nearby.

It is quiet here, and the canopy of trees and embankment lend a “mists of time” air (especially at sunset, when this photo was taken.)

The picture also does not give you a sense of a slight problem in warmer weather — the aerial bombardment by local mosquitoes. At the time of my visit, I was soaked in Deep Woods Off repellent, and it’s still a miracle that I wasn’t carted away by hundreds of buzzing companions.

To continue exploring the early culture of the area, investigate the seven groups of Native American prehistoric mounds in Mississippi, along the present-day Parkway. Many were constructed 2000 years ago and were occupied as recently as 400 years ago.

Just be sure to carry bug repellent and apply determined swats.

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