Place

Buzzard Roost Springs, Milepost 320.3

Water comes out of the ground with exposed rocks behind spring site. Trees shade entire area
The spring located at Buzzard Roost Spring at Milepost at 320.3 near Cherokee, Alabama

NPS Photo

Quick Facts

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information Kiosk/Bulletin Board, Parking - Auto, Parking - Bus/RV, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Trailhead

Near the bubbling waters of Buzzard Roost Spring, Levi Colbert (Itawamba Minko, "Bench Chief") built one of the many inns, called stands, along the Natchez Trace. Trace travelers no doubt talked about Levi's stand. It was nicer than most, and offered respite from the miles of footsteps that defined a Trace journey. Inns, or stands, provided occasional shelter for travelers along the Natchez Trace from the 1790s to the 1840s. These stands offered food to eat and food for thought: local news, information, and ideas. The ever-changing mix of diverse people – whites, American Indians, African Americans – interacted at the stands on a regular basis.

It was Colbert's negotiating and language skills that sustained him as a tribal leader. Bilingual, with a Scottish father and Chickasaw Mother, he took advantage of the opportunities in both cultures. Across several decades, Colbert sat among the Chickasaw during treaty talks. Using his knowledge of both white and Chickasaw society, he protected both the Chickasaw homeland and his own interests. 

A dogged negotiator, at the time of his death in 1834, Colbert was trying to amend an 1832 treaty to gain better terms his the Chickasaw people.

Unfortunately there are no remnants of Levi Colbert's stand visible at the site except for where the spring comes out of the ground. A short trail leads to the Buzzard Roost Spring where it is easy to picture how precious the small spring was to trace travelers. A short decent on steep steps will reveal a quiet haven set in a cool and shady glen, the perfect retreat for a hot summer day.  

Why were the stands along the Natchez Trace?
The need for stands appeared when the US government wanted to improve the Natchez Trace into a post road to deliver mail from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS. In 1800 most of the Natchez Trace ran through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands. A limited number of homesteads offered provisions on Chickasaw land.

As trade and travel increased down the Mississippi River so did stands along the Natchez Trace. Many of these stands were owned by frontiersmen and their American Indian wives. While the United States did not recognize women’s rights to own land many American Indian nations-including the Chickasaw and Choctaw-did. Tribes preferred to manage their own businesses on tribal land. During this time stands generally bore the last name of the owners: Brashears Stand, for example.

What were the stands like?
The stands along the Natchez Trace varied widely in size and services offered. Many stands offered very basic food along with meager accommodations. Advertisements by stand owners in Natchez newspapers focused on the travelers’ diet along the Natchez Trace. The highlights included ground coffee, sugar, biscuits, bacon, and whiskey. Corn was a staple served to Natchez Trace travelers. It usually took the form of hominy, a dish prepared by soaking the corn in lye. Lucky travelers would have the option to sleep on a crude bed, but a cleared spot on the floor was what they expected. Due to cramped and dirty conditions inside the stands, many travelers chose to sleep outside on the porch or yard under the stars.

Slavery along the Natchez Trace
Each decade from the 1820s through the Civil War, roughly 200,000 enslaved people were forcibly moved from the upper south to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Many of these roughly 1 million enslaved people traveled the Natchez Trace on foot. Many stands along the Natchez Trace were home to enslaved people; they worked for the profit of stand owners and served travelers. Mount Locust, Colbert Ferry, the Gordon House, and numerous other stands relied on the labor of enslaved people to prosper. Some plantation owners, including Turner Brashears of Brashears Stand, became wealthy as traders of enslaved people.

What happened to the stands?
Travel on the Natchez Trace declined as travelers used steamboats more and more for transportation to and from market towns such as Natchez, MS and New Orleans. Many stand owners relocated to more active trade routes or closed their doors. For decades after, however, settlers relied on sections of the Natchez Trace for local travel. With the establishment of the Natchez Trace Parkway many of the stands live on only in our history.

See Stands along the Old Natchez Trace for additional information.

Last updated: April 26, 2021