My Experience and Why I Became Involved . . .

My own ignorance on this topic was shamefully apparent. Sharing the following experience, I keenly realize how helpless one feels not knowing the signs to look for and what to do. I am not leading any “charge” as there are numerous folks who have the education and experience with whom to connect (see Resource Links). This is strictly for information-sharing purposes.

Early November 2020, my husband, Mike, and I took our two Rottweilers over to Franklin, TN with the intent of driving the Natchez Trace Parkway to Meriwether Lewis Memorial. Doing this was a trial run for driving the entire Trace down to Mississippi in the spring. The drive proved to be exquisite. There were so few cars on the Parkway, we virtually had the entire drive to ourselves!

We had lodged overnight at the Hyatt House in Franklin on 11/7 – a hotel graciously accommodating our dogs on the lower level next to a large courtyard. We left the next morning, eventually landing on the Parkway after a couple of wrong turns. A rest stop was available several miles in and we pulled over to an immaculate building with well-kept grounds and an inviting trail leading off behind it. There was what appeared to be a park maintenance vehicle parked in front. Never heard any noise of cleaning . . . The only other vehicle parked in the parking lot was a newer red pickup truck with a single man inside . . . just sitting there. The women’s restroom was roped off ostensibly for cleaning, so my husband stood guard while I used the men’s facilities after him. The pickup driver was still waiting as we drove away.

Continuing our drive, we pulled over at a historical monument down the road. Oddly enough in retrospect, there was a compact grey sedan occupied by a single man . . . just waiting. We didn’t pay much attention, but it was sort of odd to see two men. In cars. By themselves just observing the scenery? (Note #1: Hindsight)

Meriwether Lewis National Monument was our destination and next stop. As someone who spent her youth in the Pacific Northwest learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition, the history behind this adventurer/explorer was intriguing to me, shrouded in deep mystery as there was never an explanation for how he died. His monument is quite spectacular, heading up a settler’s graveyard over a wide plot of land. I got out and asked Mike to meet me the other side as I walked amongst the gravestones of this hallowed place.

Again, nature called and we went to the restrooms serving this large Monument area. I went inside, used the immaculate facilities and a woman came in to use the adjoining stall. I came out and was washing up as she came out. The first thing noted was that she had a good half-inch deep triangular indentation in the center of her forehead; an old scarred wound. She had blondish red stringy hair, was shabbily dressed, but quite friendly and sweet, commenting on what a beautiful day it was and that they had driven up the Trace and this was the first available restroom they had been able to find that wasn’t under maintenance. She left and when I came outside, she was standing alongside an older sedan as if waiting for someone to unlock the door for entry. As I got in our car, I mentioned my brief encounter to Mike who said that the black man she was travelling with looked like a “REALLY rough dude.” He was still in the restroom when we left. (See Note #2: Hindsight)

Leaving the Natchez Trace – a place we will again return this spring – I was puzzled by our encounters. Nothing happens without a reason. I began to wonder if this parkway that starts in Natchez MS and goes all the way to Nashville could be part of a human smuggling route . . . Knowing virtually nothing on the subject, I was determined to know more, hence have been doing some searching and supporting a couple of shelters that help these desperate victims.

Shortly after our experience, my friend Melanie related that their “problem” neighbors who rent a trailer and have a number of children who are often left outside to fend for themselves, had one of their young teen boys running down their rural road almost naked early December, screaming for help. One of their other neighbors called the sheriff who as I recall got in touch with DCS. My original version until corrected by my friend said the boy was kept overnight -- he was not kept overnight, but returned that same day to the people from whom he had fled!! DO NOT EVER TRUST LOCAL RESOURCES, INCLUDING #911, WITHOUT FOLLOWUP!!! My friend has called numerous times over the years to report instances of possible abuse to the sheriff and DCS. The authorities have shown up on numerous occasions, but stand down at the bottom of dirt and gravel driveway and will not go onto the property to investigate. It’s a family matter, they say. Period. Full stop. Melanie also said that there have also been numerous 18-wheeler truck cabs that back into the driveway and leave their motors running for hours. (See Note #3: Hindsight) 

Note #1 Hindsight: These days, to see men just sitting alone in their vehicles in what is obviously a very scenic area, would be a red flag to me. Not worth getting overly excited to call a Hotline, but worth noting the model, make of vehicle, license #, time of day and location . . . and a photo if possible. DO NOT PUT YOU OR OTHERS IN HARMS WAY, PERIOD!!! Do only what you can . . . safely.

Note #2 Hindsight: If I had known what I now know, I would have engaged the young woman with direct eye contact and as asked if she was okay, asking what had happened to her forehead. She may have well sloughed it off with the fear her “companion” would abuse her further. I would also have ready a printed card with human smuggling information of which she might be able to use at some point. After I learned about the rough dude she was travelling with, I would have taken down the description of the car and photographed the license plate to send to the HOTLINE.

Note #3 Hindsight: Early on, this should have been reported to the HOTLINE, not the sheriff. The Hotline can move things along much more quickly with authorities than a report from a neighbor.The truck’s license plate should have been photographed with the date and time sent to the HOTLINE. Sadly, there is only so much one can do without adequate information . . . After the incident with the teen boy, Melanie called the HOTLINE. For the first time ever, she actually was able to get some help and they gave her a case # to follow up!!