Whatever happened, it happened in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams, and in Natchez, it was the bitterest winter of them all.
~ Eudora Welty, “First Love”
Hernando de Soto and Meriwether Lewis and Aaron Burr trudged its red dirt paths, knew its mysteries and its misfortunes, canebrakes and swamps coupled with a river that froze only rarely. And when it did, as in Welty’s short story, “First Love,” from her collected stories in The Wide Net, the ice and cold turned the world of the Natchez Trace upside down.
The Trace encapsulates thousands of years of time, and its passage, in North America. Before people populated its landscape, animals carved out the bones of the Trace, migrating north and south, south and north.
All I know now is that tobacco, cotton, and slavery made Natchez one of the richest towns in America once upon a time, more millionaires per square mile than any other place in the country, its antebellum mansions preserved by a wide-eyed and realistic assessment of how the Civil War would come to an end. Union troops left the place relatively unscathed. Financially strapped White women of Natchez, in the 1930s, decided to renovate their ancestral homes and open them to the public. And more history surfaced, as revealed in Richard Grant’s rather gossipy page-turner, The Deepest South of All.
And so a journey soon begins into a place eerily representative of American history.
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