Stand Owners & Traders Natchez Trace
By Stacy R. Webb 2007
Presentation and Handout Copies
Redbone Heritage Foundation
Melungeon Heritage Association presentation 2007
Origins of the Natchez Trace
The Old Natchez Trace, one of the oldest roadways in the world, saw its beginnings as a trail cut through the wilderness by herds of buffalo and other animals. It was later used by America’s First People, the native tribes of Mississippi, who connected these series of trails to use as hunting and trade routes. The Natchez Trace was a 440-mile-long path extending from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. It was used extensively by Native Americans and early Caucasian explorers as both a trade and transit route in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Today, the trail has been commemorated with the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway which follows the trail’s approximate path The three major tribes that the Natchez Trace was once home to were the Choctaw, Natchez and the Chickasaw. The Choctaws lived in central Mississippi. The Chickasaws lived in Northern Mississippi, close to Tupelo, MS. Their village consisted of huts (not tepees). The Natchez is an extinct tribe today, but in the 1600’s, they lived in southern Mississippi. After Native Americans first began to settle the land, they began to blaze the trail further, until it became a relatively (for the time) well-worn path traversable by horse in single-file, though it may have been traveled in part before, particularly by famed Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. These tribes continued to use the trail up until the time that the white European settlers of the new United States began forging west to claim the lands. Between 1699, when the French first arrived on the Mississippi gulf coast, to 1733, they had explored the area well enough to draw a map. The map showed an Indian trail running from Natchez to the Choctaw villages near present day Jackson, Mississippi, and then on to the Chickasaw villages in the northeastern part of the state. At this time the southern portion of the Natchez Trace was known as the “Path to the Choctaw Nation”, while the northern part of the Trace was called “Chickasaw Trace”. The first recorded Caucasian to travel the Trace in its entirety was an unnamed Frenchman in 1742, who wrote of the trail and its “miserable conditions.” To Caucasians, who were not conditioned to the rigors of the journey, the assistance of Native Americans—specifically, the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw—was vital. The earliest formal usage of the trail, in fact, was for trade between those three Native American nations through which the trail passed. But these 3 Indian tribes were not the first humans to settle in this region. Archeological evidence has found in the many ceremonial mounds and village sites on the Trace, human habitation and remains which date back as long ago as 8000 years. Indian burial grounds called mounds still exist along the Trace. Indians were buried in these hill shaped graves, often a whole tribe together. Pottery, beads, and weapons were also buried in the graves.
The word “trace” is an old French word which meant a line of footprints or animal tracks. This is the first known use of the word “trace” being used to describe the trail. French traders, missionaries, and soldiers traveled over the old Indian trade route during this time. By the time the French arrived only a remnant of the Mississippian nations survived, and the Chickasaws claimed the Tennessee region along the river. In birch-bark canoes Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet passed by the future state in 1673. Robert Cavelier de La Salle and his men landed near the mouth of the Hatchie in 1682, where they constructed Fort Prudhomme. Following these early explorations, the French settled the middle Mississippi Valley in the early 1700s, trading down river to the French port of New Orleans. Bold and without racial arrogance, the French found the Indians sympathetic and their women attractive. Wherever they journeyed they established liaisons which ripened into marriages, and so was created a type of men who were bred by the fur trade and belonged to the trade and the company. As the trade moved westward, so did the men, and now the brides were no longer Huron but Cree and Chippewa (Salteaux). The hybrid offspring were sometimes known as Bois-Brulés (the people whose skin was like scorched wood) and sometimes as Métis (Mixedblood). Their patois was a French dialect out of Normandy and Picardy to which was added much Algonkian (Cree); the language grew more French as they dealt with outsiders and more Indian around the domestic fire. By the mid-eighteenth century they numbered about 30,000 and were neither Indian nor White, but exhibited the qualities of the hybrid. Not yet a people, a tribe, or a nationality, they shared a common status and an attachment to the fur trade. In the East and on the rivers, they used the canoe and traded in beaver; in the West and on the Great Plains, they hunted bison and developed the Red River Cart, on which they could haul hundreds of pounds of meat and hides. Many followed the Indian custom of having gardens along the river beds, and the European custom of running some livestock in a commons.
In the mid-1700’s, the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and the Natchez Trace were important trade routes. Explorers, shopkeepers, and pioneers transported their goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez, Mississippi. They then used the Natchez Trace to travel back home. This allowed trade to increase because people in the central United States could sell their goods to people in the lower Mississippi region. In 1716, the French established Fort Rosalie at present-day Natchez, Mississippi. This fort was the first European settlement near the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Indians lived near the fort in the Grand Village of the Natchez. By 1743, the French wiped out the Natchez. A settlement near Fort Rosalie took the tribe’s name. Today, this town is called Natchez, Mississippi. Natchez was an important town because it was located on the Mississippi River. First France ruled the town, then Spain, and then Britain. In 1783, the United States gained control after defeating Britain in the American Revolution. On April 7, 1798, the U.S. Congress established the Mississippi Territory, and Natchez became the territory’s capital.
Once Europeans learned of the river, it became the target of diplomatic and territorial battles between the French, Spanish, and English, who viewed the river system as the key to an inland North American empire. In 1763 the Spanish gained control of New Orleans and attempted to assert their rights in the Tennessee region, which was also claimed by England and later the United States. In 1785, in an effort to establish land warrant claims, North Carolina sent Henry Rutherford to survey the “Western District.” Beginning at Key Corner, he laid out land grants on Coal Creek Bluff. In 1795 the Spanish became concerned about American activities in the territory along the Mississippi and sent Don Miguel Gayoso de Lemos to erect Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas near the Chickasaw Bluffs at the mouth of the Wolf River. The struggle for control of the east bank ended with the Treaty of San Lorenzo (1795), and the Spanish dismantled Fort San Fernando in 1797. The United States took control of the Mississippi Valley in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. A brisk traffic in flatboats and keelboats carried Middle Tennessee pork, corn, whiskey, and hides down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where goods and boats were sold; crews returned home by way of the Natchez Trace. The first steamboat on the Mississippi, the New Orleans, passed by Tennessee in December 1811, and the crew witnessed the destructive force of the New Madrid earthquake. By 1816, the continued development of both Memphis and Jackson’s Military Road, a direct line to New Orleans, Louisiana from Nashville, began shifting trade both east and west rich history, filled with brave explorers, dastardly outlaws and daring settlers.
Importance of stands along the Natchez Trace.
Stands gave people a place to eat and rest. Between 1800 and 1820, more than twenty stands were built along the trail. Although the stands were mostly shacks, they gave people a place to eat and rest. Smaller stands served greasy food and provided soggy cots. Travelers preferred to stay in these stands rather than eating nothing and sleeping on the ground.
The best known stands were Doak’s Stand, French Camp, Mount Locust, and Red Bluff. Doak’s Stand later became a stagecoach stop. French Camp was opened by Frenchman Louis Le Fleur in 1810. Mount Locust and Red Bluff were large enough to be called inns. Today, Mount Locust is the only restored stand remaining along the Natchez Trace.
The stands were still a dangerous place because of robbers. Travelers tried to protect themselves by burying their valuables before entering the stands or taking turns sleeping?
Nashville to Natchez
Joshlin’s Stand (TN) 1797
Gordon’s Stand (TN) 1802
Gordon’s Ferry across the Duck River.
Keg Springs Stand (TN) 1812
Sheboss Place (TN)
Dobbin’s Stand (TN) 1808
David Dobbins, Swan Creek
Griner’s Stand (TN) 1808
McLish’s Stand (TN) 1806
William McLish, N/S Buffalo Creek
Young Factor’s Stand (TN) 1805
McGlamery’s Stand (TN)
A modern populated place, on the Natchez Trace just
below Collinwood in Wayne County TN. We have not yet
seen an early date for McGlamery’s Stand.
(Submitted by David Cage.)
Toscomby’s Stand (TN) 1810
Toscomby, an Indian’s name
George Colbert’s Stand (AL) pre 1806
George Colbert, 1/2 Chickasaw
Colbert’s Ferry across the Tennessee River.
Buzzard Roost Stand (AL) 1812
Levi Colbert’s Stand (AL)
Brown’s Stand (MS) 1815
Old Factor’s Stand (MS) 1812
Levi Kemp’s Stand (MS) 1825
James Colbert’s Stand (MS) 1812
Tockshish’s Stand, McIntosh’s Stand, Chickasaw Old Town (MS) 1797
This became the junction with “the Notchey” or so called
West Prong of the Natchez Trace.
Wall’s Stand (MS) 1811
Pigeon Roost Stand (MS) 1800
Mitchell’s Stand (MS) 1806
French Camp, LeFleur’s Stand (MS) 1810 Duke Family
Hawkins’s Stand, Harkin’s Stand (MS) 1811
Shoat’s Stand, Choteau’s Stand (MS) 1811
Anderson’s Stand (MS) 1811
Crowders Stand (MS) 1813
Doak’s Stand (MS) 1810 The Treaty of Doak’s Stand: Signed on October 20, 1820, in Madison County, Mississippi, between Canton and Farmhaven, the treaty gave the Mississippi Choctaw a large western territory in exchange for land sales to settlers. The terms of the treaty became a sore point in latter relations between the tribes and the government. General Andrew Jackson supervised the treaty’s signing.
Ward’s Stand (MS) 1811
Brashear’s Stand (MS) 1806 Turner Brashear The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek: Signed on September 27, 1830, in Noxubee County, Mississippi, near Macon, the treaty gave the Choctaws the option of moving to the western territories in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The government made it clear, however, that the tribe really needed to move and not remain in Mississippi. A few Choctaws stayed in Mississippi (in fact, some stayed on with the Gaines family at Peachwood), but the majority went west over a period of several years.
Ogburn’s Stand (MS) 1810
Hayes’s Stand (MS) 1815
Red Bluff Stand, McRover’s Stand and Smith’s Stand (MS) 1806
Wooldridge’s Stand (MS) 1806
Grindstone Ford (MS) 1797
Port Gibson (MS) (settled by Samuel Gibson )
Coon Box Stand (MS)
In 1818 the Chickasaws relinquished their claims to the Western District, and settlement began in the Mississippi Valley. Towns quickly sprang up on the Tennessee bank of the river, and the steamboat trade flourished. By 1834 some 230 steamboats plied the Mississippi. Memphis emerged as an inland port city and a destination for immigrants arriving in the United States through New Orleans. Towns along the Mississippi tributaries benefited as well. The Forked Deer was navigable for steamboats to Dyersburg, although a few managed to reach Jackson. The Hatchie was navigable for several miles, and some boats went as far as Bolivar, though this area could not as easily engage in shipping despite its rich agricultural land.
One branch went southeast through the Cumberland Gap and was known as the Wilderness Road or Boone’s Trail, while another division swung southwest through Nashville and was called the Natchez Trace, or Boatman’s Trail. The main branch of the Old Miami Trace traveled due north up from the Indian town of Chattanooga on the Tennessee and then connected with the other Indian trails branching off toward the Gulf of Mexico.
As was mentioned, the trail started at Chattanooga, bounded along the west bank of the Tennessee River, branched off at Harriman, Ky., moved up the valley of the Emory River over to the Valley of the Cumberland River. Thence to the Indian settlement at the junction of the north and south forks of the river at Burnside, Ky. It then proceeded to the Indian settlements of Central Kentucky at Danville, Lexington and Paris, where it followed the ridge of the Licking to its mouth; it then it crossed the Ohio to what is now Cincinnati. (The Wyandotte name for Cincinnati was Tu-ent-a-hab-whag-ta, “the place where the road leaves the river.”)
At this point numerous important trails met. From the Ohio northward the trail is called the Old Miami Trail, obviously the name being taken from the powerful Indian tribe, the Miamis, who occupied this region. The old trail was sometimes called the Fort Miami Trail, simply because it led to old Fort Miami, the oldest fortification in the State of Ohio. This fort was built under the direction of Fontenac, Governor of Canada, in 1680, as a military trading post. Its location was about fifteen miles up the Maumee from Lake Erie. The French later moved it farther up the river; the English, in 1785, rebuilt it. The Native Americans followed certain routes for both trade and warfare. The water courses and the ridges along the watersheds were used as their earthworks now show. Both the Indians and the whites followed these same trails and used the same sites for their towns,
In the decades prior to the American Civil War, market places where enslaved Africans were bought and sold could be found in every town of any size in Mississippi. Natchez was unquestionably the state’s most active slave trading city, although substantial slave markets existed at Aberdeen, Crystal Springs, Vicksburg, Woodville, and Jackson. Natchez played a significant role in the southward movement of the existing slave population to the waiting cotton plantations of the Deep South. Slave sales at Natchez were held in a number of locations, but one market place soon eclipsed the others in the number of sales. This was the market known as “The Forks of the Road,” located at the busy intersection of Liberty Road and Washington Road about one mile east of downtown Natchez. (Today, Washington Road is named “D’Evereux Drive,” which changes to “St. Catherine Street” at the Liberty Road intersection.) The market site occupied a prominent knoll, straddling what was then the city’s eastern corporation line.
Washington Road connected Natchez with the nearby town of Washington and with the Natchez Trace, a vital interstate route extending northeast into northern Alabama and Tennessee. Liberty Road, also known as “Old Courthouse Road” or “Second Creek Road,” linked Natchez with points to the east and southeast, and ultimately with the southern reaches of Alabama and Georgia. Although the Forks of the Road became best known as a slave market, livestock and other items were also sold there.
The Forks of the Road intersection appears in maps of the Natchez area as early as 1808. The earliest known map illustrating slave markets at that location is a plat of St. Catherine Street drawn in 1853 (see map). In the 1853 map, two “Negro Marts” are shown at the Forks of the Road intersection: one inside the angle of the fork and another across Old Courthouse Road (Liberty Road) to the southwest. The map also shows the City of Natchez “Corporation Line,” which intersected both slave markets and provides a way to accurately locate the market sites today.
The importance of the Forks of the Road as a slave market increased dramatically when Isaac Franklin of Tennessee rented property there in 1833. Franklin and his business partner, John Armfield of Virginia, were soon to become the most active slave traders in the United States. Franklin and Armfield were among the first professional slave traders to take advantage of the relatively low prices for slaves in the Virginia–Maryland area, and the profit potential offered by the growing market for slaves in the Deep South.
Armfield managed the firm’s slave pen in Alexandria, Virginia, while Franklin established and ran the firm’s markets at Natchez and New Orleans. By the 1830s, they were sending more than 1,000 slaves annually from Alexandria to their Natchez and New Orleans markets to help meet the demand for slaves in Mississippi and surrounding states.
When our country was formed by treaty in 1783, the western boundary was the Mississippi River and the southern boundary was the 31st Parallel. By then, Fort Natchez, located on the Mississippi River as a well established trading post in the Great Wild South West of this young country. Some old Indian trading trails were the only way by land to get from what became Nashville, Tennessee to Fort Natchez. As the new farmers west of the
Allegheny Mountains grew their crops of cotton, tobacco, corn, wheat, they needed a place to sell it. Fort Natchez became the place to trade. In the fall, farmers would load their crops on flat boats, float down the Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland to the Mississippi and then to Fort Natchez, later to just Natchez. Here the farmers sold their crops and even the flat boat they came on for gold or various forms of paper money. Then, they walked more than 400
miles back to their homes by using the Indian foot path to what is now Nashville, Tennessee and then on to their home. This foot path became known as the Natchez Trace. Some called it The Devil’s Backbone because of the crime committed on it, robbing and killing the farmers/traders for their money. In spite of this, it became a trail of commerce, the main mail route to the southwest, and a vital trail in development of the great southwest of the young USA between 1790 and about 1830.
The Hudson’s Bay Company differed in certain important particulars in both organization and operations from its American rivals. The fortified trading post was common to both systems; the rendezvous was peculiarly an American institution; the company’s trapping brigade contained several important elements that were foreign to the typical American trapping party. The usual American fur-trading expedition, for example, consisted almost exclusively of men; a Hudson’s Bay Company brigade contained fifteen or twenty whites, fifty or more French-Canadian, Indian, or half-breed trappers, and a multitude of women and children.
This large and heterogeneous personnel necessitated the use of much larger supply trains and many more horses than the American system required; so that a fur brigade, bound for a distant hunt of eighteen months’ or two years’ duration, resembled a small-scale tribal migration. The women of the brigade did the work of the camp, dressed the pelts, tanned the skins for shirts and moccasins, and relieved the men of innumerable other essential details. They and the children became a liability only when the brigade suffered major disaster, such as epidemic, serious shortage of food, or defeat at the hands of hostile Indians.
Over the past century, considerable attention has been paid to the political history of the aspiring Metis nation but the processes by which Metis identity was formed, the content of Metis culture, and the mechanisms by which it was transmitted intergenerational still remain obscure. Perhaps this is because, despite Louis Riel’s impassioned declaration of Metis consciousness “that we honor our mothers as well as our fathers,” 3 the native women who mothered and nourished the growth of a Metis society have been overshadowed by their white male partners and fathers.
This essay does not hope to answer the larger questions of Metis identity and culture formation but instead explores the motivations prompting native females to marry whites in the early stages of fur trade expansion south and west of the Great Lakes, and seeks to resolve an apparent anomaly with regard to the role of women in subsequent Metis cultural development. On the one hand, as Jennifer S. H. Brown has noted in a path-breaking article, native women were both center and symbol in the emergence of Metis communities. 4 Since Metis daughters of Indian-white marriages were more likely than Metis sons to remain in the West and to maintain close ties with native mothers and kin, they were the primary contributors via their own marriages to incoming whites and Metis males to the rapid growth of a Metis population in the fur trading zone. It is not surprising, therefore, that Metis life appears to have been characterized by matriorganization, with the female and native side exercising the predominant influences over residence and community, behavioral roles, and ethnic filiation. Ultimately, to be Metis was to claim descent from, and the rights of, a native mother, rather than of a white father.
On the other hand, a core denominator of persistent Metis identity has been a strong attachment to Christianity. Especially among French-speaking Metis, Catholic belief and practice did, and often still does, act as the demarcator between themselves and their Indian relatives. Simply put, Metis attend Mass, not the Sun Dance. But if Metis life was matricentered and native women and their female descendants were the transmitters and translators of Metis culture and identity, what are we to make of the prominence of an intrusive European belief system? How are we to reconcile the apparently mutual influences of strong-minded, perhaps exceptional native women and the religious ideology of the colonizer? What role did Christianity play, if any, in propelling native women toward white males and why did certain women chose, or so it would seem, to abandon the traditions and lifeways of their own people?
The term certain women is deliberate. It may be fairly assumed that the majority, or even the preponderance, of tribal women did not take white husbands or succumb to the appeals of Christian missionaries at any time during the early contact phase in North America. Carol Devens has argued that among the “domiciled” Indian groups of New France, women led the resistance against missionary efforts at conversion. 5 It may also be assumed, thanks to the remarkable portrait of “women in between” painted by Sylvia Van Kirk and to Jennifer S. H. Brown’s seminal ethnohistorical analysis of fur trade families, that the native wives of fur traders and their Metis daughters were neither degraded drudges, commodities to be bought or sold, or the casual purveyors of sexual favors, stereotypes best buried with the likes of Walter O’Meara’s Daughters of the Country. 6
Van Kirk, in particular, has ably illustrated the intelligence and forceful personalities of a number of wives of fur traders, women capable of exerting considerable influence within both native and fur trade circles. Although her sources tend to favor the native wives and daughters of men of rank, or women who aroused comment, the women she describes had their counterparts throughout fur trade country, on both sides of the international boundary. 7 In the western Great Lakes region alone, women such as Madame Cadotte, Susan Johnston, Sally Ainse, Madame LaFramboise, Therese Schindler, Marinette Chevalier, Domitille Langlade, and Sophia Mitchell achieved prominence as traders, church founders and patrons, and leaders of fur trade communities, while their Metis daughters and granddaughters perpetuated many of these traditions, adding the roles of teacher, translator, and interpreter. 8
Van Kirk and Brown have pointed to a number of factors that may have persuaded native women to marry white traders, among them heightened material comfort and physical security, access to trade goods, and personal role expansion. Other factors — the demographic pressure caused by a possible female surplus among hunting tribes, the benefits to kin of an alliance with whites, the appeal of a more permissive sexual code, a preference for monogamous marriage, and the influence of Christianization
Such a process of expansion was general in the nation during the 1750s and 1760s, but in the late 1760s the outbreak of the Creek wars checked it in the east and south. Romans, on entering the nation from the east in 1771, had to pass through the deserted towns of Osapa issa and Itokchako before he reached the first inhabited settlement, East Abeka, and he later mentioned deserted towns along the Tombigbee. The end of the Creek wars, in turn, opened the way for renewed expansion particularly in the south and east. The Spanish census of 1784, the first detailed enumeration of towns since Romans’s list of 1771, revealed four new settlements in the south, two in the east, and two in the west. 12
According to John Stuart, the Creeks possessed “the most extensive hunting-ground of any nation to the southward.” 8 Large ranges were necessary, for one deer requires approximately one hundred acres for sustenance. 9 Muscogulge hunters could travel freely anywhere under Creek jurisdiction in search of game. Still, it seems that most hunters tended to range in fairly well-defined areas over which their town or tribe had some claim through long occupation, assimilation, or conquest. 10 Hunters from Coweta and neighboring towns tended to stalk game to the east and north, where Creek lands adjoined Cherokee and Georgia lands, and especially along the Oconee and Ogeechee rivers. According to Alexander McGillivray, this area was among the most valuable Creek hunting grounds and produced over three thousand deerskins annually. 11 Hunters from the southernmost Lower Creek Towns moved south and west into the Florida peninsula. The Tallapooses and Abeikas ranged in what is today northern Alabama and central Tennessee, even crossing into non-Creek territory beyond the Tennessee River. Alabama tribesmen pressed westward toward the Tombigbee River, which was the boundary with Choctaw lands, and southward along the Alabama River and toward Pensacola in their search for deer. 12 The fertile forests along the Tensaw and Escambia rivers were highly prized hunting grounds for all Creeks. 13 Creek hunters from Chehaw and Tallassee ventured into the Okefenokee Swamp in search of deer, bear, and alligator. 14 The Latchoways and other East Florida villagers hunted all along the Florida peninsula, even as far south as the cape. 15 During the long winter huntingseason, Creek hunting parties could be found from Tampa Bay to the Cumberland River valley, and they trekked as far west as the Trinity River in Texas. 16
The Choctaws continued to settle new towns in the 1790s and the early nineteenth century, but at that time the direction of settlement shifted considerably. Of the towns appearing for the first time in the censuses and treaty conferences between 1794 and 1804, fourteen were in the northeast, five were in the west, and only one was in the south. The creation of new towns in the south during the late 1770s and early 1780s probably represented the dispersal of people previously confined by the Creek wars. The south, bordered by pinelands and with less arable land than any other district, reached its environmental limits relatively quickly, however. In the 1790s and early 1800s its people would not take up new lands within the district except within the established towns; instead, they migrated across the Mississippi to settle new villages where game was still abundant and the old economy could be reestablished in toto. 13
In the northeastern and western districts, however, no such environmental constraints existed. Their borderlands were not pinelands but rich loessal and prairie soils. Still, the mere existence of these lands explains nothing. Northeastern and western Choctaws faced the same crippling of the subsistence cycle as the southern Choctaws; more fertile farmland could not stop droughts and could not bring the deer back. They needed more than rich land if they were to escape continued dependence. People still devoted to the traditional hunting and farming economy did not move into the borderlands in great numbers; they moved west of the river.
Bushwhackers, Bibles and Boats
Despite its brief lifespan, the Trace served an essential function in the years it was in existence. It was the only reliable and most expedient link between the goods of the North and the trading ports of Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen and traders were just a few.
The circuit preachers were some of the most notable of the lot. Unlike its physical development, the “spiritual development” of the Trace started from the Natchez end up: several Methodist preachers began working a circuit along the Trace as early as 1800, and claimed a membership of 1,067 Caucasians and 267 African-Americans in 1812. The Methodists were soon joined in Natchez by other Protestant religions, including the Baptists and Presbyterians. The Presbyterians and their offshoot, the Cumberland Presbyterians, were more active than the Methodists or Baptists in procuring converts along the Trace itself, including the Native American population—the Presbyterians starting from the south, the Cumberland Presbyterians from the north. As with much of the unsettled West, the Trace was also a hotbed for banditry. Much of it centered around Natchez Under-The-Hill, as compared with its more tame sister city at Natchez On-The-Hill. Under-the-Hill, where the port to the Mississippi was located, was a hotbed for gamblers, prostitutes and drunkenness. The rowdiest of them all were the Kaintucks, the wild frontiersmen from upriver who came in on the steamboats and flatboats loaded with goods, left them in Natchez in exchange for pockets full of cash, and summarily treated Natchez Under-the-Hill as what could be generously called an early 1800s Las Vegas, Nevada or Amsterdam. Still worse dangers lurked in the wilderness outside the city boundaries on the Trace itself. Highwaymen such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason terrorized travelers along the road, and operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based American organized crime.
The following claims were originally derived from Stewart’s “History of the Detection, Conviction, Life, and Designs of John A. Murel….” (see above):
• He was known as a ‘land-pirate,’ using the Mississippi River as a base for his operations. He used a network of anywhere from 300 (Stewart estimate) to 1,000 (as quoted in Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi) to 2,500 (as some newspaper reports claimed) fellow bandits collectively known as the Mystic Clan to pull off his escapades. Many of these were members of cultural/ethnic groups such as the Melungeons and the Redbones. He was also known as a bushwhacker along the Natchez Trace.
• To cover up his misdeeds, he played the persona of a traveling preacher. Twain’s work and others say he would preach to a congregation while his gang stole the horses outside. However, the accounts are unanimous that Murrell’s horse was always left behind.
• Just before he was apprehended, he was about to spearhead a slave revolt in New Orleans in an attempt to take over the city and install himself as a sort of potentate of Louisiana.
• The disputed details about Murrell are more numerous and controversial than the known facts. Even today, his place of birth is in question: Some sources claim Williamson County, Tennessee, others say Jackson, Tennessee. In any case, it is clear that he grew up in Williamson County, Tennessee, just south of Franklin.
• Even more in debate is the location of his hideout and operations base. Once again, Jackson or Madison County are bandied about, but other places include Natchez, Mississippi in an odd depression on a bluff called Devil’s Punch Bowl, Tunica County, Mississippi, the Neutral Ground in Louisiana, and even the tiny Island 37, part of Tipton County, Tennessee. One record, a genealogical note, even places him as far east as Georgia; in fact Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett makes it clear there was a lawless district in that town named for him, “Murrell’s Row” in the 1840s. Because Murrell has come to symbolize Natchez Trace lawlessness in the antebellum period, it’s understandable that his “hideouts” (whether there were any hideouts or not) have been said to have been located at most of the well-known areas of particular lawlessness along the Natchez Trace.
• Some say he began to plot his takeover of New Orleans in 1841, although he was in the sixth year of a ten year sentence in the prison at Nashville at the time, and Stewart had already published his account of Murrell’s plot in 1835. Others say he was in operation from 1835 to 1857; he was in prison for ten of those years, and died of tuberculosis in 1845 shortly after leaving prison and taking up a quiet life as a Christian and blacksmith.
• A river feature in Chicot County, Arkansas called Whiskey Chute is named for his raid on a whiskey-carrying steamboat that was sunk after it was pillaged. It was named such in 1855. However, he is also claimed to have been born in 1791 . We know from Record Group 25, “Prison Records for the Main Prison at Nashville, Tennessee, 1831-1922,” that Murrell was born in 1806, most likely in Williamson County, Tennessee.
The traders also introduced the Indians of North America to distilled liquor. Very early they discovered that the Indians had no cultural resistance to the pleasures of rum or whiskey, and that these constituted the ideal means for lubricating the trade of furs or the sale of land. All that the Whites required, beyond the liquor, was caution (or a stout fort), for the drunken Indian men usually went on a wild emotional spree, fighting, shooting, and even killing. President Jefferson secured from Congress authority to prevent the sale of liquor to Indians, and 30 years later Congress passed further legislation to restrain this traffic. But, as with the later attempt at general Prohibition, the law was difficult to enforce; the Indian desire for liquor was too strong and the profit from conveying it to them was fantastic. The American Fur Company, the creature of John Jacob Astor, was repeatedly accused of violating liquor regulations, and smuggling into Indian territory great quantities of whiskey and rum, which its agents then exchanged for furs at the most outrageous rates. The Indian agent at Camp Leavenworth estimated that from 1815 to 1830 the fur trade on the Missouri had totaled over $3 million, and that half of this was clear profit. About the same time, William B. Astor was acknowledging that the operation of the fur company was yielding even larger returns, namely $500,000 per year ( Myers, 1909, Vol. I, p. 124). Livestock became important only in the context of this larger economic and social breakdown. Those people who first moved into the borderlands were not traditionalists. The pioneers of this new settlement were the intermarried whites and the mixed-bloods, and they came not to reestablish the old economy but to raise cattle as Franchimastabe predicted the whole nation must do. Many full-blood Choctaws settled with them in the borderlands, and gradually the way of life and the interests of these people would diverge from their kinsman in the old towns. White men had first settled extensively among the Choctaws and intermarried with them in the years preceding the Revolution. These men, who were French, American, and English, largely traders and ex-traders, recognized in the borderlands surrounding them an excellent cattle range. The prairies, the open forests with their grassy floors, and the canebrakes all promised abundant forage. Intermarried whites first introduced cattle among the Choctaws sometime around 1770, but initially the animals seem to have reThe Choctaw herds fueled this expansion and then symbiotically grew because of it. By 1805 John Pitchlynn’s property consisted mainly of livestock. His children and other mixed-bloods grew to adulthood not as hunters but herdsmen; their earliest duty was watching their parents’ cattle and horse herds. The full-bloods’ herds, stocked in part with animals stolen from the Americans who had settled along the Mobile and lower Tombigbee rivers, and in part with animals acquired from the herds of intermarried traders, grew at a considerably slower rate. 19 Greenwood Leflore born of a French father, Louis LeFleur, and Choctaw mother, Rebecca Cravat, niece of Chief Pushmataha, he had adopted the language and culture of both. At the age of twelve his father, by then a successful tavern keeper in the Choctaw Nation, had allowed him to go to Nashville with Major James Donly, who had a government contract to carry the mails between Nashville and Natchez on the Natchez Trace, a road made possible by the Treaty of Fort Adams in 1801. Leflore was educated in Nashville, at seventeen married the fifteen-year-old daughter of his benefactor, returned to the Choctaw Nation, and at twenty-two was elected chief of the Western District. Though never popular with many of the full-blood tribesmen, he became aIn a later conversation with Samuel James Wells, a historian whose Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Southern Mississippi had been “Choctaw Mixed Bloods and the Advent of Removal, ” I learned that the Brashears family was well known in the Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes. They were widely scattered, and the given name “Turner” was common. One Turner Brashears furnished liquor to the Chickasaws at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in the early 1790s. Another Turner Brashears, or the same one, had a trading stand northeast of what is now Jackson, Mississippi. Another, or the same one, helped the Spanish with maps and treaties, and a Turner Brashears went to Washington with the Choctaw chiefs as interpreter in 1804. Any one of these things might have been enough to entitle him to the land which was to become Providence. Still, the treaty stated that a Turner Brashears lived on Section Thirteen in 1830. It is not likely that a mixed or full-blooded Choctaw of such accomplishments would have been living on the edge of these remote bluffs in 1830 when he had access to land along the Tennessee River in Alabama, a trading post on the Natchez Trace, or even a spread in northern Florida. So what am I to conclude about the Turner Brashears who was given Section Thirteen under the terms of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek? Did he join his brother Bolokta in Oklahoma? Did he become William McKendree Gwin. Then I discovered such lettering did not become fashionable until around the turn of the century. I located many examples of the same pattern in front of fashionable Jackson homes built about that time. It was during that search that I first came across the name “Providence” referring to Section Thirteen and the surrounding area. It had to do with a famous outlaw band of the 1820s–40s known as the Murrell Gang. Operating out of a cave near Tchula, they carried on a slave and horse-stealing traffic and were notorious for their violence. Often victims were robbed and then murdered along the Natchez Trace. Slaves and horses were stolen under cover of darkness and hidden in the swamps of the Big Black River until they could be taken to a distant market, where they were sold. I had heard the stories of how Murrell was captured by a farm woman and her husband named Nevels. In a bicentennial edition of the Durant, Mississippi, Plaindealer, published in 1976, I found a story that described the capture of John Murrell, leader of the gang. Having assigned his highwaymen and thieves to other chores, Murrell was in the Delta region alone. In early morning he stopped at the Nevels’s home and demanded that Mrs. Nevels fix him breakfast. Pretending to go to the smokehouse for meat, she alerted her husband of Murrell’s presence. The husband waited until Murrell sat down to eat, then, seeing the outlaw’s gun carelessly leaned against an outside door, Nevels grabbed the gun, captured Murrell with no resistance, and took him to Vicksburg for trial. The article stated, “Tradition holds that Murrell was captured at Providence Plantation near Tchula at the home of the Nevels family.” Although there was a sizeable reward offered for Murrell’s capture, Nevels declined to accept it, insisting he had only done his civic duty.
The trail led up the river to Natchez, and this far, through the Spanish territory, it was tolerably policed. Leaving Natchez, however, the road plunged straight through the wilderness, swampridden, Indian-infested. “The road from Nashville to Natchez was estimated to be five hundred and fifty miles. The road was a mere trace or bridle-way through the woods and cane-brake.” This road was the Natchez Trace. “Kentuckians and Tennesseeians took boats laden with produce down the river, which they sold at Natchez or New Orleans, and then returned to their homes by this route, carrying their money, which was sewn in raw hides. . . .” For years, the Natchez Trace had a bloody history–of robbery, of ambush, of murder–as the bandits prowled there. Toward the close of the century, a Government mail route had been established, linking the American settlements and the Spanish province: from 1796 until about 1810 he was one of its messengers. His memoirs give a graphic picture of the conditions at the time. The mail consisted of “a few letters and government dispatches, with a few newspapers”: beside his mail-pouch, he carried “one-half bushel of corn for his horse, provender for himself, an overcoat or a blanket, and a tin trumpet.” It took him ten days for the trip to Natchez.
“He would leave Nashville on Saturday night at eight o’clock”; he would go clattering down Market Street from William Tab’s store where the postoffice was located, and so out through the cabins of the town, already darkened for the night.
Toward midnight, he would reach the Big Branch of the Harpeth River: here lay Tom Davis’ cabin and clearing. Davis’ dogs would bark at his galloping passing; Swaney would answer with a hailing cry. This was the last white man’s dwelling: beyond lay the wilderness.
“Sunday morning he would get to Gordon’s Ferry on the Duck River, 51 miles from Nashville, which was then the line between Tennessee and the Choc taw Nation. There he fed his horse and ate breakfast.
“He had then to ride 80 miles to Colbert’s Ferry, on the Tennessee River, before night set in, where the Indians would set him across.” This was a hard day’s riding, after a night in the saddle, but he had to make it. “The Indians were contrary, and would not come across the river for him if he failed to get to the landing before bed-time.”
This ferry was operated under the auspices of old James Colbert, chief of the Chickasaws; on the opposite shore they maintained a kind of inn, where Swaney stayed the night. It afforded the rudest kind of shelter, and its hospitality was colored by native superstition. Mrs. Thomas Martin, following the Trace, spent a night there and described it: the Indians were very agreeable to them–gave them a supper of venison, potatoes and coffee, while “Mrs. Colbert,” wife of the old chieftain, paraded about, wearing a Paris hat, but barefoot–but would not let them sleep in the house: “They assigned us to another, where slept not less than fifty Indians, many of them drunk, while my husband and others sat up all night. It is not their custom to let strangers sleep in the house with their families.”
Leaving here, Swaney pushed on deeper into the wilderness: “He would have to go to the Chickasaw Agency, 120 miles, before he would see a house, or even an Indian wigwam, and would have to lie out one night in the woods or cane brake. . . .” At the Chickasaw Agency he encountered the first white men since leaving Nashville. Even these were, in a certain sense, outlaws. “The Chickasaw Agency was kept by McGee, who was the agent, with Jim Allen as interpreter. Allen was a man of fine address, and was a lawyer who came from Nashville, but failing in business, went off among the Indians. . . .”
Two hundred miles farther on lay the Choctaw Agency: “The route was entirely through Indian country”: compared to this, the first half of the journey had been populous. One hundred miles farther still, and he entered Natchez. It was here, in this three hundred mile wide strip of canebrake, swamp and desolation ruled by the Chickasaws and Choctaws, that the danger to travelers lay. The danger was not in the Indians, or rarely. Occasionally a wandering band of Creeks-“great warriors”–cut through the land, but the others were “kind and peaceable. The Chickasaws always boasted that they had never shed the blood of a white man in anger. Allen often told Mr. Swaney that the Chickasaws and Choctaws were the happiest and best people he had ever known. They could not say anything in their native tongue worse than ‘skena’ (bad) and ‘pulla’ (mean) and in all his knowledge he never heard of the crime of adultery being committed but once. The punishment in such a case was to cut off the end of the nose of the woman. . . .
Happy Jim Allen! He had lived but a year among these pleasant savages, when his eye grew desirous of one of their virtuous maidens. “The manner of choosing a wife among the Chickasaw Indians was for the swain to make his desire toward a particular maiden known to the chief, and having gained his consent, the suitor would return to his wigwam and there wait until his lady love should be sent to him.” In Allen’s case the matter had certain complications: his choice had fallen upon no less a person than Susie, daughter of the chief, James Colbert himself. Many braves had been her suitors. Allen, however, paid formal visit to the potentate, made his plea. He then, as custom demanded, retired to his wigwam, closed its flaps and waited there in the darkness while the elders of the tribe debated his request. “He waited until nearly dark, when Susie Colbert made her appearance at his door with a blanket drawn closely around her head, leaving only space enough for her to find her way, and in response to his invitation, walked in and took a seat. This was Jim Allen’s courtship and marriage.” The union thus formed was fruitful, of a daughter: her name was Peggy Allen. In Swaney’s time she had grown into young girlhood: he reported that she was “the prettiest woman he ever saw,” and in those days, in the womanless West the fame of a lovely girl spread all through the territory: men would come traveling hundreds of miles, like zealots on a pilgrimage, to settle their longings and look upon her. “Mr. Swaney said it was almost incredible the number of travelers and boatmen who stopped at the Agency to see her, attracted alone by her reputation. She was known to all the boatmen as a great beauty.” But she was wilful. Allen’s brother, a substantial man, came out from North Carolina to visit them; he tried to persuade Peggy to come east with him; he offered to school her, and launch her out as a belle in eastern society. She refused. Sam Mitchell, the agent in the Choctaw territory, fell madly in love with her. He found no favor with her but he did gain the support of her grandmother, old Chief Colbert’s wife. With craft, this beldame invited the girl to visit her in the Indian encampments: she immediately dispatched her, perforce, to Mitchell’s cabin, “with eight or ten negroes and as many ponies as dowry.” Here was danger of an involuntary bridal, but Peg still showed her spirit. She told Sam Mitchell “she would never marry a drunken white man or an Indian”; she locked the doors of the man’s own cabin against him. Baffled, after two weeks Mitchell sent her home again. Allen was proud, but he was also sensible. They were alone in the wilderness. If Mitchell chose to seek vengeance through his Choctaws they had no defense among the Chickasaws: in fact his greater fear was that Grandma Colbert, more spiteful still, might be moved to savage reprisals. But Peggy had another suitor, young Simon Burney, the son of a Natchez planter. She had dallied Simon for years but now, in the uncertainty, she grew more lenient toward him. “He would almost give his life for you,” her father told her. So they were married; Peg was whisked downriver to Natchez, away from the dark threat the wilderness had conjured to oppose her beauty. They settled at Natchez; their fate was happy: “Birney amassed a large fortune, and raised and educated a nice family.”
The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace. Contributors: Robert M. Coates – author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of Publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication Year: 1986. Page Number: *.
Title: Indian Americans: Unity and Diversity. Contributors: Murray L. Wax – author. Publisher: Prentice Hall. Place of Publication: Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Publication Year: 1971. Page Number: 51.
This Reckless Breed of Men
The Trappers and Fur Traders of the Southwest BY ROBERT GLASS CLELAND 1963 NEW YORK ALFRED A. KNOPF
Western Women: Their Land, Their Lives. Contributors: Janice Monk – editor, Vicki L. Ruiz – editor, Lillian Schlissel – editor. Publisher: University of New Mexico Press. Place of Publication: Albuquerque. Publication Year: 1988
Studies in American Indian Literature Series 2 Volume 11, Number 1 Spring 1999 http://oncampus.richmond.edu/faculty/ASAIL/SAIL2/111.html
Stands and Travel Accommodations
on the Natchez Trace by Dawson Phelps in the Journal of Mississippi
History, Jan 1949
The Cumberland River is an important waterway in the southern United States. It is 687 miles (1,106 km) long. It starts in Letcher County in eastern Kentucky on the Cumberland Plateau, flows through southeastern Kentucky before crossing into northern Tennessee, and then curves back up into western Kentucky before draining into the Ohio River at Smithland, Kentucky. The native American name for the Cumberland River was the Warrito.
In 1748, Dr. Thomas Walker led a party of hunters across the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia. Walker, a Virginian, was an explorer and surveyor of renown. He gave the name “Cumberland” to the lofty range of mountains his party crossed, in honor of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland whose name became popular in America after the Battle of Culloden (Stewart, 1967
John Murrell (also spelled as Murel and Murrel), a near-legendary bandit operating in the United States along the Mississippi River in the mid-1800s.