2-10-2014 Natchez Jewel, Part 2

Carthage, Missouri: Big Red Barn RV Park: Clear and 46F going down to 30F tonight

Natchez_019_01There was so much to see in Natchez, and with Abby along, our plan was to return to the campground, take a bit of rest, and then drive back to town to explore more at our leisure, then possibly drive back to town again for the 8PM performance.  Common sense won out, and once back home and moved to our lovely new campsite, we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine, the silence and the birds.

Laurie mentioned so many things about Mississippi that we will not have the opportunity to experience on this trip.  I only managed to see her comment on the phone while we were driving around town, because unlike the screaming fast Verizon reception up at Loop A, here in B we have not a lick of internet and not a bar of telephone either. 

downtown NatchezI would love to experience Mississippi food, but we had the third helping of our fabulous fish from our McGuire’s dinner in Pensacola waiting for last night’s supper and eating out with the dog along isn’t always easy. 

Looking at our map, I can see that we are only touching a very small portion of southern Mississippi before we travel north along 80 miles of the Trace towards Vicksburg.  The rest of this beautiful state, and its great food and the Mississippi Blues Trail will have to wait for another visit. 

Even the side trip to Natchez and the Trace were a bonus, however, because for a time we thought the weather was going to keep us south on our same route along I-10 through Louisiana that we have traveled a few times.  Still listening to the critter calls as I write, I am so glad we didn’t have to do that.

trail depotWe left for town early enough to spend some time exploring more of Natchez before dark.  Especially delightful are the town trails, numbered 1 to 5, with colored markers imbedded in the sidewalks and plaques showing photos and stories of the history of town in that particular place.  With darkness falling and our performance time approaching, we didn’t have time to walk much of that trail system, something I would highly recommend doing if you are in Natchez.

We did find the road leading to the City Cemetery, north of town along the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  With 300 years of history and 300 years of burials, this cemetery was among the largest I have ever seen.  It is worth a visit of its own, and needs much more than the 45 minutes or so we spent exploring.  After much wandering on extremely narrow roads, I finally found the “angel” just in time for sunset.

Natchez_015_01There is an event in November called “Angels on the Bluff” where guides lead groups from grave to grave where local actors, dressed in period costumes, tell stories about the lives and deaths of some of the people buried there. Again, it shows how proud the local people are of their historic town and its stories.

under-the-hill-trolley-blue-catWe walked to the bluff overlooking the river and the bridge and the lights just beginning to twinkle in the “Under-the-Hill” area along Silver Street.  Earlier in the day as we explored the town by car, we drove down the hill and wished for time and a place to park to walk along the river and read about the colorful history of this area of town.

This area was one of the first settlements on the Mississippi River, and was a wild and rowdy place.  Taverns, gambling halls, and brothels lined the streets.  The river traffic was dominated in the early 18th century by boatmen with keelboats who would brings their good downriver and then return on foot via the Natchez Trace.  Of course, after their long river run, and before their long trek back to Kentucky and places north, they felt entitled to play.

Natchez_040So much more time is needed to explore all the facets of this small but amazing historical place on the Mississippi River.

When I was searching the internet for information about the city, I found gorgeous images of magnolias in full bloom, wisteria vines dripping with purple blossoms, soft green leaves and grass, flowers everywhere, dogwoods in pink and white glory.  I am not sure if the season is just terribly late due to the Polar Vortex winter we have had, or if we were just too early.  If I were to visit Natchez again, I would come in April to experience the glory of spring in this old southern town.

 I especially would have liked more time to explore the beautiful cathedral and some of the many centuries old churches that are in the city.  We drove by a huge Baptist church several times that was established in the very early 1800’s.

Natchez_028_01The performance of the Historical Tableaux was…interesting? fun? fascinating? I can’t find a word.  It is put on twice a year during the fall and spring Pilgrimage by more than 300 volunteers, mainly the women of the garden clubs and their families.  Instead of the slick theater performance I somehow expected, it was more like a small down home high school play. 

Being only the third performance of the season, we were treated to some glitches where a few people forgot their lines and the violin player who may have needed a bit more practice.

Natchez_033_01The portrayal was an incredibly romanticized version of  Natchez History, but still fascinating, with tableaux from the first Na-Chee Indians, through the French, Spanish, English, and American times to the Civil War.  In addition to a lovely black ballet dancer, there was one lone black man in the performance, and something tells me that his part of the show was added in later years to try to represent at least something related to the African American experience in Natchez. 

Natchez_058_01The orator made a single sentence comment about how the plantations that made Natchez wealthy also made life for some people hard.  So hard that they sang songs that would become the roots of the only true American music.  Then the lone black man represented in this version of Natchez history sang, “Old Man River”.  Best performance of the night, in my opinion.

We were treated to lots of kids in silks and satins dancing the maypole, and many women dressed in the great hoop skirts of the time that looked lovely until I started seeing twirling lampshades.  The final tableaux depicted the Confederate boys going to war, with the Confederate flag and Rebel yell resounding through the auditorium.  At the end, the rebel flag was lowered as they raised the American flag and we all stood to sing the National Anthem.  The tableaux is a unique Natchez experience.Natchez_048_01

On a different note: as I continue to read about the South, and slavery, I have discovered a subtle shift in language, and with a bit of research, discovered that it is deliberate.  It is the shift from a noun – “slave”, to using an adjective – “enslaved” people.  Using the adjective doesn’t take away from the personhood of the human being discussed, it merely shows their condition. 

I don’t always pay attention to being politically correct, but in this case, I think I will. Hmm….”Twelve Years an Enslaved Person”? I haven’t seen the movie yet, but just writing the title makes it extremely clear how powerful words can be. 

We are on our way north to Missouri, and our route will take us out of Mississippi into Arkansas this evening.  We are looking forward to our short time on the Natchez Trace and a visit to Vicksburg along the way.  I can see how Mississippi could be a destination rather than an afterthought, but unlike full-timers who can linger, we are part timers who are on our way home.Natchez_083

Next: Our little piece of the Natchez Trace, and feeling the Civil War at Vicksburg

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Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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