It’s Wednesday, time to scroll down through my iPhoto and find photos to feature. This time, my finger landed on the Natchez Trace, one of America’s premier drives— or bicycle trips. If you are ever wandering through Mississippi, Alabama or Tennessee, be sure to include it as part of your itinerary.
Large game animals, including buffalo, first used sections of what would become known as the Natchez Trace. Later it served as a major trade route for Native Americans. By the early 1800s, the Trace had been modified by a young United States into a 450-mile transportation corridor between Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. Soldiers, highwaymen and missionaries travelled the route, but Kaintucks were its primary users.
Kaintucks were rough frontiersmen from Kentucky who operated flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. They would load their boats with merchandise in Nashville and then oar down the Mississippi to Natchez where they would sell their goods for a handsome profit. Getting the money home was the challenge. Rowing up the Mississippi was not an option. Kaintucks were faced with the 450-mile hike back up the Trace— and they were faced with a multitude of folks who wanted to separate them from their newfound wealth.
First came the gauntlet of booze, prostitutes, gamblers, and gangsters in ‘Natchez Under the Hill.’ Assuming the Kaintucks got out of town with fortune intact, they became fair game for highwaymen. It was open season on the rivermen and their cash. For this reason, the Natchez Trace became known as the Devil’s Backbone. Today the Trace is a beautiful National Parkway with no commercial traffic. I’ve driven it several times, and once, I bicycled 370 miles of it from Natchez into southern Tennessee.