Coon Dog Cemetery, Cherokee, AL Part 2

Coon Dog Cemetery, Cherokee, AL: Click to enlarge.

Coon Dog Cemetery, Cherokee, AL: Click to enlarge.

It was getting late, so I headed to the coon dog cemetery while there was still daylight.  Only bona fide coon hounds are eligible to be buried there and approval is needed from a local authority.  I found rows of well kept gravestones, with the customary profusion of US and Confederate flags.  If not for the signs and inscriptions, the setting could pass for a human cemetery.

Coon Dog Cemetery, Cherokee, AL: Click to enlarge.

Coon Dog Cemetery, Cherokee, AL: Click to enlarge.

As I drove back from the cemetery, Junior flagged me down on the shoulder in front of his ranch.  He wanted to show me a raccoon he’d live-trapped in a shed, the latest of many awaiting relocation a few miles away.  The animal was the size of an average cat, with charcoal gray fur.  It hunkered in one corner of the wire cage looking sad.

By this time a local friend had also stopped to chat, though I never caught his name.  He drove a blue-green Chevy pickup that was perhaps 10 years old.  Dressed in a collared Airgas shirt and jeans, the man was heading home from work.  He had an athletic build and spoke with a thick accent that was distinct from Junior’s.  The three of us passed guns around as Junior showed us his vast personal collection out the back of his truck.  After 20 minutes I made my goodbyes and headed back to the Trace to find a campsite for the night.  “You enjoy your time here,” Junior said as I headed out.

Near my highway exit I noticed the other gentleman driving behind me.  He waved and exited to the Trace in front of me, pulling into the first Park Service turnout.  I parked near him and walked over, thinking I had left something behind.  I didn’t know why else he would have followed me.  “You interested in some fun?” he asked.  “No, I don’t get into that,” I said.  “Are you straight?” he asked.  “I’m as straight as they come,” I replied.  The man immediately appeared very embarrassed and apologized profusely.  As he answered texts from his wife inquiring on his whereabouts, he told me in effect that he was new to being gay.  “I don’t know how to read guys,” he said.  What gave him the wrong idea about me was that I looked at him twice while talking with Junior, which apparently is “the signal.”  “Don’t think nothin’ about it,” he reassured me.  With that he drove home to his wife.  I was not upset, but as I drove up the Trace I began to feel sick to my stomach, and that feeling persisted until I fell asleep.

Junior owns what sounds like a burlesque operation, his Buzzard’s Roost Massage business.  As he describes it, groups of older women come to the ranch for a “girls’ getaway.”  Junior performs massages on them.  With a twinkle in his eye, Junior told me that he keeps KY Warming Jelly on hand.  It is customary for customers to hang their bras on a rack of antlers when they leave.  I did not pursue this topic, as what Junior told me in passing was disturbing enough.

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Mount Locust Inn and Plantation, Mississippi

Corn snake near Mount Locust Inn and Plantation, MS:  Click to enlarge.

Corn snake near Mount Locust Inn and Plantation, MS: Click to enlarge.

Continuing north on the Natchez Trace Parkway, I almost ran over a corn snake warming himself on the road.  I stopped, picked him up, and moved him onto the shoulder.  This was the only snake I saw throughout this trip to the southern states.  He tamed very quickly.

Mount Locust was established as a farm in the late 1770’s and by 1784 grew to be a larger plantation.  The house, with no more than 1600 square feet of floor space, served as an inn for the Mississippi River boatmen walking north from Natchez, MS.  These “Kaintucks” were charged $0.25 per day, meals included.  After 1825 the advent of steamboats and more efficient roads rendered the Trace obsolete for business travelers.  At that point the inn continued to operate as a resort for locals seeking rural solitude.  It was interesting to learn that such rural escapes were in demand even in 1825, when it’s hard to imagine any real cities in existence.  Paulina Chamberlain, the lady of the house from 1784 to 1849, was known as a hard charger who kept the farm and inn running through two husbands who predeceased her.  This was especially noteworthy given women’s typical roles at the time.  Known as “Grandma Polly,” she raised 11 children while operating the plantation.

A few hundred yards behind the inn, at one end of the agricultural field, there are two cemeteries.  The Mount Locust family is buried in the first, with waist-high headstones bearing easily read inscriptions.  The graves are adorned with fresh-looking Confederate flags.  One memorable headstone listed the deceased as a member of the “Jefferson Flying Artillery.”

A few feet away lay the slave cemetery, where over 40 slaves are known to be buried.  Most of the slaves’ identities, however, are uncertain.  The slaves’ graves are marked simply with fist-sized rocks bearing no inscriptions.  This was a sad place.

Historical information on the Mount Locust Inn and Plantation was provided by the National Park Service.