On the Road: The Natchez Trace, Friendly People, and a Touching Meeting

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m on the road traveling to promote Spring House and research for Adam’s Daughters, the first and second books in The Westward Sagas. The Westward Sagas, though fiction, are the historically accurate stories of my Mitchell ancestors.

Since I also plan to write the stories of my Bowles ancestors, I wanted to take advantage of a chance to do some research on them while in the area. I’d found information that the Bowles family came from Byway, in Choctaw County Mississippi, along the Natchez Trace.

The Natchez Trace – the ancient trail through Mississippi, across a corner of Alabama, and into the center of Tennessee – was used heavily in the early 1800s and is now a 444-mile national parkway. You can take a photo tour at Explore the Natchez Trace. I traveled the parkway from Clinton, MS to Tupelo, MS. It’s beautiful and well-marked, no trucks allowed but lots of historical markers and sights – I highly recommend taking the drive.

When I reached Choctaw County, I set out to find Byway, which I had been told was a thriving community until 1870 when the post office closed. After driving around all day, I still hadn’t found anything, and the people I asked, though friendly, couldn’t help me. That evening, I was exhausted and couldn’t find an RV Park so I spent the night in the parking lot of the Choctaw County Courthouse in Ackerman, MS.

The next morning, I searched out a local restaurant for coffee and breakfast. I overheard a conversation and recognized the people talking were community leaders and long-time residents. I’d found the local hangout like every community has. I asked them if they could give me directions to Byway, and they laughed. Turns out the name of the community wasn’t Byway – it was Bywy – and apparently the folks I’d asked the day before didn’t make the connection because they couldn’t understand my Texas accent!

The group all tried to give me directions and tell me about the community at the same time and could see I was getting more confused. One of the men, Mr. Felt Montgomery, offered to take me to meet Dennis Dobbs, part of the Bowles family and a direct descendant of Rev. Silas Dobbs who founded the community. Dennis Dobbs has his breakfast and early morning chats at another restaurant across town.

Mr. Montgomery took me to the restaurant to introduce me to Mr. Dobbs, but he didn’t have to point out my distant relative. As soon as we walked through the door, I saw an elderly man who looked like a smaller version of my dad, who died a couple of years ago. I choked up as I realized this man came from the same bloodline as my father four generations ago.

Dennis Dobbs, who Mr. Montgomery had told me is 83 years old and recently lost his wife, said he’d be glad to show me the graveyard and Bowles home place. However, he had to be back soon to tend to business in Ackerman, MS, where he had been an attorney for more than 50 years.

We went to the Bowles Cemetery, which is about halfway between Clinton and Tupelo at Milepost 193 on the Natchez Trace. He shared information and many stories about the family and showed me the grave of Nancy Estes Cockerham, one of our earliest ancestors. I’ll tell her fascinating story in a future post. All too soon, Mr. Dobbs had to return to town. Our time together was short but I learned so much and experienced such deep emotions that it made a big impact to me.

Call it coincidence, fate, destiny, a God thing – whatever led me to Dennis Dobbs on September 7th – our meeting made a difference to him also. At the end of our visit, he told me that day would have been his and his recently deceased wife’s 57th anniversary. Sharing family stories and showing me around made the day easier for him.

That evening, I had dinner with Mr. Montgomery and another local. Mr. Montgomery was an all-star football player for Mississippi State University and played professional football in 1942. He said he was never hurt – and the players didn’t even wear face masks.

My hosts introduced me to a Mississippi State professor, Dr. Mike Ballard. I enjoyed the nice, long visit with Dr. Ballard, who has written several books and countless articles on the Civil War.

All in all,  a very satisfying day!

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