National Geographic : 1968 Nov
Nowadays the port is unloading steel from Japan, Brazil, and Belgium, and loading lum ber, soybeans, and wood pulp. Since we got the new port facilities, traffic has increased more than fifteen times-just about all the docks can conveniently handle." The store's ship-to-shore radio crackled to life, and Marc penciled an order for supplies to be delivered to a passing towboat in mid stream. "Soft drinks... chap sticks... cough syrup... deodorant... cookies... hand lotion." "What do you suppose the tough old flat boatmen of 150 years ago would say about rivermen who use hand lotion?" Marc asked. "In those days boatmen had calluses like a bear's paw, and anybody who even combed his beard was considered a sissy." Postmen Plagued by Frontier Perils Those old-time raftsmen had to be tough, as did anyone who would travel the rugged Trace. The postriders of the Trace had a par ticularly unhappy lot. After Timothy Picker ing, the Secretary of State, complained that mail took longer to get to Washington from Natchez than it did from Europe, the Trace be came an official post road, and the Army un dertook its improvement. But Army efforts at first went little beyond sawing down trees and slashing away encroaching brush. The post man's ride remained difficult and dangerous. In Natchez in 1800 great excitement at tended the arrival of the first Great Mail, as it was called. A delegation of dignitaries greeted the postrider as he galloped into town, and crowds pressed around as the post master opened the first overland dispatch case at King's Tavern. Inside lay a sodden mass of pulp, all that remained of the mail after weeks of sloshing through swamps and muddy bayous. For years afterward the postmaster often had to an nounce, after awaiting the mail for six weeks, that "the rider is presumed lost," a victim of bandits, drowning, a broken leg in a fall from his horse, or any of a dozen other perils. Despite the dangers and hardships of the Trace, the postriders and pioneers pressed on, wearing down the soft loess of the road so deep in places that a horse and rider could pass unobserved from the normal level of the land above (page 640). As well as the way home for rivermen, the Trace became the main way southwest for settlers beating a path to the Louisiana Purchase. Even today vestiges of the pioneer trail are visible in many stretches as tree-lined depres sions across meadows and along ridgetops. 644 Mississippi matriarch, the Delta Queen churns upriver past the Natchez bluffs. Before the steam boat, flatboatmen floated cargoes to Natchez or New Orleans and tramped home over the Trace. Girls, gaiety, and gambling came to river towns on showboats. These high-school belles do a can can on a museum boat at Vicksburg, Mississippi.