More Trace photos

Photo by Owen Tyler

Present-Day Terminus

Natchez Trace Parkway near Natchez, Mississippi

In the early days of immigration of Americans into the Mexican Territory known as Texas, some of the immigrants didn't use the newly available steam boats because of fear of explosion—many did explode in those days, or because they couldn't spare the price of the fare.

James A. Michener gives us some insight into the roll of the Natchez Trace in aiding some of the early Texas immigrants in his novel, Texas:

In 1829 Finlay Macnab asks the more experienced Kaintuck,

"Do travelers still use it?"

"They do."

"Is the road still open?"

"It ain't a road. I been tryin' to tell you that, but you won't listen. It's what its names says, a clear-cut trace through the wilderness."

"But it's still open?"

"If'n it could ever be called open. Four hundred and eighty miles through swamp and forest. Never a store, never a town, a few shacks run by half-breed Indians who cut your throat when you're sleepin'."

"Could I walk it? With a seven-year-old boy?"

"My mother walked it with two babies," the Kaintuck said, "down and up. But maybe you ain't the man she was."

Other travelers who had journeyed up the Trace gave such confirming reports that Macnab had pretty well decided to follow that land route, ...

With a loquacious Pittsburgh boatman just back from Natchez, Macnab had this conversation:

"It's grand, driftin' down the rivers, walkin' home along the Trace."

"How many miles can you make a day?" Finlay asked during a leisurely meal at the tavern.

"Driftin' downstream, sixty miles in twenty-four hours, not allowin' time lost when hund up on sandbars, which is a lot. Walkin' back, sixteen miles a day, week after week." Then he added something Finlay found attractive: "Some men can make twenty, steady, but I often like to lie under the trees ... in daylight, so I can watch the birds and the squirrels."

"They told me murderers prowl the Trace."

"That ended twenty years ago. But let's be honest. I do hide my money carefully—four different spots so I can give up a small part if I meet up with a holdup man." With a deft move of his right hand he produced an imaginary purse from his left breast. "And I do feel safer if I travel with others through the lonely parts."

"I wish I could have you as my partner," Finlay said.

"I won't be walkin' the Trace no more. But if you're set on headin' for Texas, that's the cheap way to go, and you bein' a Scotchman ..."

"We call it Scotsman."

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