Natchez Trace

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Once an animal trail, then Indian road, then pioneer lane, the Natchez Trace is now a modern parkway covering over 400 miles in three states. It is also a park. It is one of my frequent areas of study and exploration.

Along the way are many stops to view historical places and natural scenes. One may find a remote woodland trail, a waterfall, an old house or stand, a cemetery, a scenic overlook, or a portion of the original trail.

Newly opened now, is the Devil's Backbone natural area which contains an assortment of walking trails through a dense forest. One is reminded of the dangers that threatened the boatmen when they had to walk from Mississippi back to Nashville. The trail often contained robbers and murderers, snakes, floods, and sometimes hostile Indians.

Some of the places that interest me in particular are listed here. I have explored so far, only the Tennessee portion of the trace.

- Jackson Falls - mile 404 - a steep hike down a well made walkway will bring you to Jackson Falls. It is one of the scenic sites that can be enjoyed on the parkway. The water is usually easing over the rocky slopes during its normal flow. The ground around the falls is rather treacherous, so take great care in walking.

- Meriwether Lewis park - - near mile 386 - about 8 miles east of Hohenwald Tenn - @ Highway 20 - site of the grave of the once famous explorer. He met his mysterious death  here while staying at the Grinder's inn - actually a small cabin with two rooms. A replica of the cabin stands today very close to the original site. - - this park has primitive camping areas, hiking trails, a pioneer graveyard, two scenic overlooks and picnic areas. - -

- Fall Hollow Falls - app mile 391 - near intersection of highway 412 - another falls which can be explored. Four streams come together to form this multi level waterfall. A trail leads to the bottom; and requires a fair amount of physical energy to descend and climb.

- The Gordon House - - app mile 407 at intersection of highway 50 -old ferry site on the Duck River. A trail from the house leads to the riverbank. The house should be opened for viewing soon (as of Jan 2002)

- Napier Iron Mine - mile 381 - Here is the large hole left in place of the hill which once stood over a century ago. There is something of a trail around this pit; but be very cautious. The ground is soft; and there is virtually no fencing for safety. In places, it's a long way down.

- The Phosphate Mine -app mile 392 at intersection of highway 412 - view this gaping hole which was once in busy use for mining blue phosphate. Once can get close to the ground on a hot day and feel the lovely cool cave breeze flow down the hill into the nearby ravine

- Kinderhook -app mile 415 near intersection of highway 7 - the remnants of a small town along the trace. All that is left is a few cemeteries - one of which contains an outhouse and picnic tables - reminding us of a time when families came together to picnic in the graveyards. location off of junction - hi 7 near Fly village. - - - this is not a part of the park system, so take caution when visiting - - -

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The Lewis murder mystery

On October 11, 1809, the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis met his death in a cabin room along the Natchez Trace. He was travelling to Philadelphia Pennsylvania from St. Louis Missouri.

Taking a route to elude the British, he set off along the well known road with James Neeley and a few servants. While camped out, a horse got away. Neeley and the servants were to track the horse, while Lewis was to go ahead.

He arrived at a stand, the home of the Grinders (some say Griners) to spend the night. While staying in his room, two gunshots were heard by Mrs. Grinder. The next morning Lewis was found dead.

Who killed Meriwether Lewis ?

This has been an unanswered question for almost two hundred years. There are many speculations. When one visits the cabin exhibit today, he/she is left with the definite impression that it was suicide. But many different aspects must be considered.

Statements and legends - (more details are added as research allows.)

- statement - - there were numerous thieves on the trace. Many murders and robberies were commited which were never solved. Since so many used the trace for returning north with their earnings from Natchez Miss, it was a gathering place for robbers.

- statement - - It was reported that Lewis had tried to commit suicide twice while on the way to Philadelphia.

- statement - - Mrs. Grinder reported that Lewis ate very little the night of his visit, and paced about.

- statement - - Mrs. Grinder told on one occasion that she heard one shot, on another occasion two.

- statement - - Mrs. Grinder was alone at the time. Mr. Grinder was away. She claims to have entered his room after hearing the shots to see him wounded. On another occasion, she claims that she never left her room out of fear. And again, she claimed to have left her room, only to peek through the logging to see the wounded Lewis as he apparently begged for water.

- statement - - Other reports say that there were Grinder children present, and that they slept in the nearby barn that night.

- statement - - it is reported that soon after the death of Lewis, the Grinder's moved to west Tennessee and purchased a large tract of land, along with slaves.

- statement - - the post commander at Memphis Tennessee, Gilbert Russell, claimed that Lewis was in a state of mental derangement when his party arrived. Several days were spent in his recovery before they could set out again.

- statement - - Lewis was often moody and depressed.

- statement - - Lewis was upset. He was on his way to clear away some political and financial entanglements, and to make some corrections on allegations against him.

- statement - - His last words were reportedly - "I have done the business my good servant give me some water." Another statement was - "I am no coward, but it is hard, so hard to die."

- statement - - Lewis' friend Alexander Wilson visited his friend's grave and talked at length with Mrs. Grinder about a year after the death. He left some money for a fence to be put up around the grave. He was convinced that Lewis had been murdered.

- statement - - in 1848 the monument was installed over the grave. The body was exhumed for positive identification and reburied. It stands today having recently been restored (2001)

- statement - - recently, some have requested that the body be exhumed again to be examined by forensic experts, to see if indeed he was murdered or took his own life.

- theory - - some have offered that the French servant traveling with him robbed and killed him.

- statement - - an official investigation into the death of Lewis was never carried out

- legend - - One can hear Lewis' last words and the sounds of his cup scraping while he sought for water. It is rumored that this can be heard before daylight at the Grinder Site.

There seems to be very little hard evidence to go on. All reports seem to conflict each other. It is said that the possibility of a conspiracy exixts from another official who wanted Lewis killed. Lewis was possibly going to report some evidence on this person. It is highly unlikely that the case will ever be solved. It will remain an intruguing mystery.

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The Grinder site today -

The actual house is gone now. Only a few sunken stones remain where the fireplace once stood. A visitor center now stands next to the location of the house.

The once heavily forested area is now a well maintained lawn with a few large trees remaining. One can only picture what it was like at the late evening approach of the distraught Lewis who sought sustenance and refuge from his worries. A portion of the old trace still runs beside the cabin.

On down the old trail, the broken shaft monument of Meriwether Lewis is in plain view.

The plaque for Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis is buried in a pioneer cemetery which was in use during his day. The stones have all been removed and only small stone markers flush with the ground offer the initials and names of the deceased. The actual locations of the graves are not truly known. The trail passes through the cemetery area where it ends at the park's boundary some half mile away.

Anyone having questions, comments, or more information please feel free to offer this through email. Your information if valid will be added to this page. If you know the answer to the mystery, feel more than free to enlighten us.

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revised Feb 2006

a stand was a usually a home providing a night's meal and stay for the travellers on the trace. Some were elaborate hotels, some were modest homes, while others were little more than a crude shelter. They were spaced apart approximately a day's journey along the trace.