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Four Corners - A Literary Excursion Across America


THE NATCHEZ TRACE


April 3, 1997 (Thursday) - Day One


I first heard of Bill Schwab a year ago. As a travel editor, I am always looking for well written travel stories. Add to that a live trip, and I am all ears! I have been following Virtual Road Trip every since.

When I discovered that Bill was making a trip to the Natchez Trace (only 10 miles from my home), I thought, "What would happen if two travel writers got together and wrote of the same trip?" It is a question I have been wondering about for years.

If the truth be known, I wanted to meet Pico Iyer in Japan and both of us write of the same experience for two weeks. In my imagination he would tell a story of new technologies, the interwining of a "Rambo Culture," and ladies dancing in the moonlight. I would counter with the discovery that Billy the Kid had really hid in Japan after his alleged death in New Mexico, and fraud and theft at the Sony Corporation. Dream on! Dream on!

After some e-mail correspondence from Bill. For some reason his e-mail was always dated at 4 a.m., and his, "I often work 24 hours at a stretch," we were on for the journey. To prepare for his coming, I checked out every book I could find on the Natchez Trace and began the midnight travail of attempting to capture "the mood of the trace."

Icabod Tiddlebeak was especially enthralled with the idea. "Wow. Meet a real writer," he mumbled late one night after "Are You Being Served" left local channel 8 and the TV went silent.

Bill arrived in his Ford greenish Aerostar Van. It didn't take long to discover that his grandfather, William Griffith, worked for Ford Motor Corporation for over 40 years, as did his dad. Certainly it was a notable occurance. My Grandfather worked for The Southern Railroad for 37 years, and my Dad for the Southern Railroad for 44 years. Just different modes of transportation.

For Bill, it was his Grandfather Griffith who charged him with the world of discovery. His grandfather moved to the United States from Wales in 1924 and the journey had begun for the whole family. Bill has been on the road ever since.


THE CYBERSPACE EQUIPMENT



It didn't take long before we got in the equipment end of the trip. By the "first segmentally constructed bridge in the country," we opened the van to see a vast array of computers (2 laptops), a cellular phone, two digital cameras, a varying array of cables, metal containers, boxes of computer backup disks, cd roms with all of his virtual trips on them, audio tapes by the Thomas Brothers. of the Natchez Trip, and a worn mattress and pillow for those nights when he can't find a motel to sleep in.

The only thing missing was a picture of Cathy, his wife, who stayed in Detroit keeping the Heritage Newspapers going. "She really wishes she was with me," he said of his bride of 3 years.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in animated conversation and picture taking While not saying much, Icabod Tiddlebeak was noticeable upset most of the afternoon. "I never got a chance to talk," he said. And he was being truthful. Never have two people talked as fast as Bill and I. Most of the time we were simultaneously sharing previous adventures.

And the topics were endless. In the short span of one afternoon, we discussed: Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, The Natchez Trace, Hugh Leeper, Chuck Woodbury, Jamie Jensen, Chet Atkins, Mary Chafin Carpenter, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, Colbert's Ferry, Tucumcari, New Mexico and the Blue Swallow Hotel, The Mystery of Monument Valley, Edward Abbey, the Trail of Tears, Janet and Cathy, Ford Motor Company, Ian Frazier, The Beat Poets, Thomas Merton, The Discovery Channel, The Hale-Bopp Comet, Wanderlust, famous photographers, Ian Frazier, Wynnona, Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton, Wales, Grandparents, and Bridges. Those were just the topics remembered. The list was like a machine gun of literary travels.

About 3:30 we stopped in Leiper's Fork for nourishment. I bought a 15 ounce YooHoo Chocolate Drink and Bill captured some ice, cokes, and V-8 juice. I left him in front of Green's Grocery, an old fashioned grocery store where many of the famous musician in the Nashville area got their start.

About 100 yards north was a sign of the birthplace of Thomas Hart Benton, famous United States Senator from Missouri.

As time goes by, I will add to this story. In three or four days I will tell of the exploits of Meriwether Lewis among others, and who knows who will joint the journey next!

Be sure and follow Bill Schwab's Virtual Road Trip to Natchez!

And if you get a chance, check out my Web Surfer Travel Journal, or my online internet travel book FOUR CORNERS - A LITERARY EXCURSION ACROSS AMERICA.


April 4, 1997 (Friday) - Day Two


The Meriwether Lewis National Monument is located at mile marker 390. Several times I have visited the this tomb of Meriwether Lewis. As you may remember, he and William Clark explored the Louisiana Territory for President Thomas Jefferson. Their names are planted across the great Missouri River which they were following to the west coast.

As a reward for his service, Lewis was appointed Governor of the new territory and made his headquarters in Saint Louis in 1808. Soon Lewis was heavily in debt, his health deterioting, and some say, "on the verge of insanity." A Captain Gilbert Russell talked him out of suicide at one point while he was so sick.

When he arrived at Grinder's stand in 1809, he was greeted by the wife of Robert Griner and a slave girl named Malindy. Since Robert Griner was away, his wife became frightened by his deranged behavior. She retired away from him because of her fear.

Later, she heard shots. When she got to his room, he had two horrible wounds, one in the head, the other in his chest. "I have done the business my Good Servant," said Lewis. "Give me some water." He died several hours later. Mrs. Griner, and many of his friends, believed he committed suicide because of the collapse of his personal life. To this day, there are conflicting testimonies of how he died. Some say suicide, others say he was murdered.

"I don't see how it could have been suicide since they say he had 3 bullet holes in his head," says Bill Schwab.

Recently, his grave was dug up again so further testing could be done in an effort to squell the controversy. Oh the mystery of the Natchez Trace.

I am in somewhat of a dilema. For the next two days I will be going to Lake Barclay in Kentucky for a religious retreat, so my next notes for this will be on Sunday Night , April 6. By the way, I will be eating at Patti's Restaurant on Saturday Night. It is my favorite restaurant in all the world. If you would like to know more about Patti's, then read my story about its chief inmate, Calvin Swine. See you Sunday Night.


April 5, 1997 (Saturday) - Day Three


Gone for two days for Fellowship at Barclay. I went up the Land Between the Lakes to Grand Rivers, Ky. and ate at Patti's. While returning to Lake Barclay, I stopped at the Planetarium at the visitors center for the Land Between the Lakes and saw Comet Hale-Bopp through the 12 inch telescope. SPECTACULAR! Then back to Fellowship at Barclay. A link will be added to this later to explain the importance of this visit.


April 6, 1997 (Sunday) - Day Four



SHILOH



Much has been written in the news lately about Shiloh. On Wednesday of this week (April 2), Senator Bill Frist went to Shiloh to inspect problems related to the erosion of the battlefield. Eroding cliffs that threaten 1,500-year-old Indian mounds of hundreds of Civil War graves brought Frist to Shiloh.

Paul Hawke, a National Park Service ranger at Shiloh, told the senator that $4.5 million dollars is needed to repair Shiloh.

After an extensive survey of the area, Frist said , "I believe a case can be made to save it."

U.S. Grant commanded 42,000 Union troops at Shiloh. Beauregard and Johnston led 40,000 Confederate troops. The Battle of Shiloh took place on April 6 and 7, 135 years ago today, in 1862. Confederate troops almost smashed Grant, but he managed to hold his lines. Johnston, the Confederate commander, was killed in battle. This emotional lost, along with the arrival of an additional 20,000 reinforcements from Buell, forced the Confederates to retreat to Corinith.

Many persons urged Lincoln to replace Grant after Shiloh, because of heavy Union losses of 10,000 men. But Lincoln refused, "I can't spare this man - he fights!"

I can see Bill Schwab lined up now. The Matthew Brady of the 20th century, archiving a return to the 18th century. From my side of the fence, I grew up in Georgia. My relatives were all on the Confederate side. As our family name was Davies, it was thought we were kin to Jefferson Davis. After several false starts, I discovered that instead of being kin to Jefferson Davis, we were kin to Lyndon Johnson. What a shock!


ALLEN GINSBERG



As we began this trip, Bill and I discussed some of the Beat Poets. He was especially intrigued by Hunter Thompson. Having met Thompson personally, Bill said, "He is the type of guy you would not want living next door to you."

We also discussed Kerouac and Ginsberg, whom Bill didn't think much of. The reason I mention this is that Allen Ginsberg died yesterday, Saturday, April 5th, at the age of 70. He was considered the poet laureate of the Beat generation, and more famous for his hedonistic sexcapades and drug experiences than at times his poetry. He died of liver cancer, and suffered a fatal heart attack.

In my story, San Francisco-The Poet, I describe my own reactions to the beat poets. But something else is very important.

"Bill," I said. "In many respects, I hate what the beat poets stood for. I hate their drugs, their poetry at times was incoherant, and their life stories not worthy of imitation, but Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD, in spite of everything else, is the reason we are doing what we are doing. Our trips are just another On the Road Adventure, and we owe it all to Kerouac! That's something to think about.

If you wish to know more about Ginsberg go to the Literary Kicks pages. They are worth a visit.

Be sure to check out Virtual Road Trip for this Natchez visit.


April 7, 1997 (Sunday) - Day Five


Noting the Buzzard Roost situation, I am reminded that such places became famous because they offered whiskey for a good rate. For instance, at Colbert Ferry, whiskey was $1.00 a bottle. At Buzzard Roost it was 25 cents a bottle. No wonder Buzzard Roost drew a crowd.

Also, as towns such as Franklin and Columbia, TN. grew larger, they drew many Natchez Trace visitors from the trace to take advantage of the lodging and eating facilities.


April 8- 10, 1997 (Mon - Wed) - Day Six to the finish


I was suddenly called out of town to a funeral in Gadsden, Alabama. I am always amazed at the lack of traffic on I-59 between Chattanooga and Gadsden. Quite a lot less active interstate than many others.

One last Natchez story that I find interesting. During the days that violence ruled the Natchez Trace, a group of outlaws bearing the name of "Murrell's Gang," travelled throughout the trace with the object, according to the Nashville Banner, "to proceed thence, through the principal towns to Natchez, and then on to New Orleans -- murdering all the while men and ugly women -- sparing the handsome ones and makes wives of them -- and plundering and burning as they went."

It was noted also that "a dreadful alarm exists, particularly among the females."

Such was the life on the Natchez Trace. It is a different place today. Serene, quiet, a few cars passing. Bicycles frequently are seen. One is no longer captured by nightmare but by the beauty and silence of a beautiful day in the south.

Bill Schwab, thanks for the journey!




Send any comments about The Natchez Trace via E-mail to Dan Phillips.


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Dan K. Phillips
109 Breckenridge Road
Franklin, TN 37067
Phone: 615-790-7129

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