We loved Tennessee, but it is time to keep moving. We will definitely return—hopefully once we are off the road and can go down for a night on the town without worrying about Jolene too much. Tennessee is lovely. Bob and Bonnie, as I mentioned, were wonderful hosts when we were south of Nashville. And the Natchez Trace. Oh, boy. The Trace. What a road. What a ride.
I’ve long loved the slow meandering backroads. Ever since I could drive, I preferred the two laners to the four laners. I like sipping down the scenery rather than gulping the vapid slurpie offered by the interstates. And nowhere will you find more majestic roads than the federal parkways. The Blue Ridge, of course, tops my list (I’m a mountain guy, I guess). But the Natchez Trace is also beautiful and slow and chock full of history.
We stayed at one of the free campgrounds along the Trace, located in the Meriweather Lewis Monument. You may know Lewis from the adventures of Lewis and Clark and their charting of the Northwest Passage at direction of Thomas Jefferson. But, if your history classes, like my Catholic education, favored the grandiosity of American figures over fact, then you might not know much more than their expedition. As it turns out, Lewis was a tragic figure. He came out of exploring and ended up the governor of the new North Louisiana Territory. For someone like him, it was a desk job. Meanwhile his financial woes mounted as many other politicos targeted his expenditures whilst out exploring North America and it looked as if he might have to repay the government. Oh, and he never charted the Northwest Passage as he was supposed to. And all the trade networks he and Clark set up on their journey fell apart even before they came off the trail. In short, he was sort of the Peter Bogdonavich of his day.
I digress. This is a backroad of history, folks, where America actually lives. Forget the billboards of the powder-wigged dudes and the fast food history from your whitewashed history book. Lewis died at this place where we were staying. In fact, it was noted on nearly every sign, no matter their proximity to the last sign. It was like a Barbasol ad of death where repetition is key. Meriweather Lewis met an untimely death nearby/down the road/at this exact spot on October 11, 1809. He was 32. That’s it. That’s what the signs say.
Of course Miracle and I wonder how this guy died at such a young age. One sign even said mysterious death. A brochure said tragic end. But nowhere in this park does it actually say what happened to him (though, granted the reconstructed inn where he died was not open when we were there). Ever the librarian, Miracle looked it up.
Meriweather Lewis likely committed suicide. Two gunshot wounds and some deep lacerations from a razor blade. A few scholars think it may have been murder by the innkeeper’s husband. Some more fringe historians say it could have been assassination. No one really knows for sure and there’s a movement to exhume his body and figure out what happened on October 11, 1809. A monument—a broken pillar for a life cut short—stands over his grave. Lewis died miserable and alone, a prisoner of his celebrity status. It’s a far cry from the history books from my childhood.
For other uplifting stories about America’s participation in genocide, you can also follow the Trace and take in the Trail of Tears.
Anyway, the scenery is nice and from here we head into Alabama and then into Mississippi where I am sure the history will not be so macabre…