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A widow with two sons and no family to help her, Sarah Perkins faced a bleak future remaining in Pennsylvania with her boys in 1809, so she got them passage on a keelboat to Nashville.
From there, they would take the Natchez Trace, which ran from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi and the southwest Mississippi frontier.
“Imagine the courage that took,” said Tony Turnbow, a Williamson County attorney turned historian and author.
Just eight years earlier, in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson sent soldiers to convert the Natchez Trace, an old Indian trail running from Nashville to the busy seaport of Natchez, Mississippi, into a wagon highway. It was one of the first highways built by the federal government.
In his first children’s book, “Fighting the Devil’s Backbone; The Shadow of E.Z.’s Fear,” Turnbow brings that piece of history to life with tales of “cutthroat” bandits, Indian raids and spies who terrorized those traveling along the Natchez Trace, better known as the “Devil’s Backbone.”
Perkins and her boys traveled down the Cumberland River to Nashville, where they disembarked and the boys experienced the first of many new adventures.
After meeting other families heading for the Natchez Trace and a new life, they joined their wagons and continued on to Franklin, staying at Whites Tavern on Margin Street — where the Old, Old Jail, aka the McConnell House, is now located — and waited for a few more families to join them. Meanwhile, the boys had a number of encounters, adventures and learned more about the wilderness they were about to enter.
“The [original] Natchez Trace had several different trails and roads,” Turnbow said. “At that time, it started at Granny White [Pike], and the Indian Trail ran through Franklin to Leiper’s Fork at Garrison Creek and continued southwest from there. This is an early period of our history — a missing part the early history of Franklin.”
In 1809, the southwest frontier offered land and possibilities. Many influential people came through the Williamson County area on their way to New Orleans and other Southern towns, Turnbow said.
In “Fighting Devil’s Backbone,” E.Z. (pronounced “Easy”) and his younger brother, David, find as the “men of the family” they have to quickly learn survival skills to provide for their mother and the community of people with whom they travel the dangerous route.
“The Natchez Trace became the ‘Cradle of Southern Culture,’ where people from the Northeast and East Coast started out heading further southwest to find homes,” Turnbow said. “People wanted the opportunity to own their own land. All the good land had already been purchased in the East.”
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