The Natchez Trace is a barren pathway that runs diagonally across the Mideastern United States. The Natchez Trace National Parkway commemorates the old Natchez Trace trail that was originally formed by bison and other grazing game that followed the Cumberland Plateau. Native Americans improved the path while following the game in search of food. Spanning over four hundred miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, many portions of the original path are still visible today and the path it still mostly undeveloped and unspoiled.
Devoted in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson, the pathway was one of the most dangerous in America. Rogue Native Americans and outlaws commonly raided and killed unsuspecting travelers. Not only is the path one filled with a rich history of our early nation, it is filled with gruesome stories of death and the residual hauntings left behind.
Entering the park is a sign placed by the National Park Service indicating “Witch Dance”. Legend has it that witches gathered to dance in the area. Anywhere their feet touched, the grass withered and died, never to grow again. Native Americans warned people never to enter that path. Areas of barren, ugly land are still visible today.
One of the places with the most activity is Under the Hill. It is an old river bank area with a shocking number of ghosts. From the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, the area served as the landing site for the Natchez Trail. Called the Devil’s Backbone due to commonly being frequented by gamblers, pirates, and prostitutes, their ghosts continue to call the area home. Proof that disputes sometimes never die, an American spy who imparted secrets to the Spanish is also said to reside in the area, along with the ghosts of Spanish soldiers. During its prime, the area was a dangerous one to travelers passing through.
The Devil’s Backbone isn’t the only sinister spot in Natchez. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a giant depression in the bluffs overlooking the River. The geological abnormality has no explanation. Past stories involve treasure hunting in the center by pirates and outlaws who were on the prowl for buried gold. The Devil’s Backbone also served as a hideout of Natchez Trace pirate gangs.
Another haunted hangout is the King’s Tavern. A family home in the 1760s to a young girl, Madeline, the home was converted into a tavern in 1789. Richard King bought the tavern and Madeline was his mistress and serving girl. In the 1930s, after Madeline’s mysterious disappearance, three bodies were found in the cellar. Two were men and the third was thought to be sixteen year old Madeline. She had a jeweled dagger next to her body and her mischievous ghost has continued to haunt the old home.
Many local homes still house the ghosts of their pasts on the Natchez Trail. Glenburnie is a haunted plantation manor house. Its ghost is a woman who was murdered by the owner of the Glenwood Old Plantation ruins. The murderer haunts his own Glenwood home. The Dunleith home is haunted by its past owner, a broken hearted harp player. Another local home, is haunted by the Linden family. The Nutts currently appear in their unfinished Longwood mansion. Thomas Henderson never left his bed, even after his passing at the Magnolia Hall. The twenty five room inn, Manmouth Plantation is haunted by its past guests, as well as Stanton Hall.
One of the Natchez Trail’s most famous hauntings is that by Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A friend to then President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis was made his personal secretary. After some time, Lewis became bored with the position and was put in charge of the expedition. The expedition left from St. Louis, Missouri on May 14, 1804. In September of 1809, Lewis was preparing for his last journey to Washington, DC. He was traveling through the Natchez Trace and ended up at Grinder’s Stand for the evening. The inn was maintained by the Grinder family. Mrs. Grinder made Lewis a meal and he shut himself up in his room for the evening.
Two gunshots were heard in the middle of the night. Mrs. Grinder sent a servant up to check on Meriwether Lewis. His body was found with a gunshot to the head and one to the chest on October 11, 1809. His death, at just thirty five, was ruled a suicide. Investigations were difficult however as both Mrs. Grinder and the servant’s stories differed. The servant indicated seeing stab wounds on the body and hearing cries for help. She indicated seeing the word coward engraved into Mr. Lewis’ forehead. Mrs. Grinder indicated also seeing the stab wounds but thought they may have been self inflicted.
It appears no one will ever know what happened to Meriwether Lewis. Shortly after the incident Lewis was buried nearby, where a monument with a broken beam marks his short, but prominent life. The Grinders left and were never seen again. Some questioned how they came into the money to be able to leave. Mysteriously, it seemed many things had disappeared from Mr. Lewis’ possession the night he stayed at the Grinder’s Inn. People still claim to see apparitions near the still standing cabin. Some even indicate hearing cries for help. Perhaps Lewis is trying to find closure for the fateful night on the Natchez Trace.