We launched from the Lauderdale County, Tennessee courthouse in the morning.

Mayor Gaines passed by and waved as we went through our morning routine – hydrating, starting up our electronics, and confirming exchange points. As the Mayor went into work, Robbie, Susan and her husband Tracy gathered to see us off. Fort Pillow State Historic Park, here we come.

The road conditions were good, even on the heavily travelled US Highway 51 – although the armadillos would probably disagree . . .

It was plenty hot as we made our way along Illinois Route 87 along the cotton fields and past the prison complex. Our route took us into Fort Pillow on the north end. Victoria’s run went directly through the trail system to the museum and I had to circle back in the van to take the long way around. We arrived, toweled off and went inside for lunch and some good conversation.

Robbie asked everyone to introduce themselves, so we went round the room—Susan Worlds with the Chamber, Tracy Worlds, the Fire Chief, The Fire Department Chaplain was also present, Liz Moore, Tammy, Kacie, Charlie Russell, Deena Gonzalez, Rachel Irwin, Stacy Manley, Erica Snipes, and Rachel Howell.

We took a break to grab plates of lunch—sandwiches, chips, gatorade—much welcome snacks, and then we reconvened. The conversation somehow got started on the topic of guns, hunting, handguns, and protection. But eventually we moved passed firearm conversation to hearing the story of the Lauderdale Fire Department Chaplain. He says he’s been blessed with the job since 2016, coming from Nutbush, Tennessee. He sold insurance before, but had an opportunity to become a minister in the church. His life changed. In speaking about growing up, he explained that he was an adult before he was a child. His wife changed him – wife and marriage, her parents became his parents. His wife is from around here.

He’s also a member of the Tennessee Federation of Fire Chaplains. The most compelling work he’s done in this role has been when he was at an Industry Conference in Houston. Just by chance, when he was there, it happened to rain, and it rained, and rained, and rained. The chaplains were mobilized to help. Being there when the disaster took place was different than arriving in the aftermath. An amazing experience…

Not only the chaplain is moved to be involved, though. Around here, everybody knows everybody. Community is special. Everyone “rallies to a cause”. Susan Worlds said this yesterday and today. Even the young single mother who joined us today at Fort Pillow, who says the churches turned their backs on her when she was in need, she is still involved in the community herself, she still believes and has hope for tomorrow.

When the question of Fort Pillow finally arose, the massacre versus a more polite story, Robby readily chimed in. Seems there are competing narratives, and it’s very sensitive on all sides. They’ve moved to a “living history” account of things over “reenactments” of the battle, and Robby himself tries to walk the line between sides of who feels what happened when and where and how and why. The civic war has become a harder and harder thing to talk about, even in the South, of late. Especially in Tennessee, close to Memphis, where Confederate statues are being taken down. From an outsider perspective, the history being presented at Fort Pillow Historic State Park is pretty objective. It’s actually a welcome change to some of the stories we’ve previously heard about the civil war, and an understanding—from Robby—that needing to respect ALL people’s heritage is important.

Leaving the center at Fort Pillow, we came across a baby Squirrel that seemed a bit displaced. So friendly, willing to hop in anyone’s hands and climb upon a shoulder. Any one of us—Susan or I—were ready to take the squirrel home! Yet we knew it was better off in the wild, although hopefully a bit further away from the rattlesnake den that Robby recently discovered!… to be continued…

Robby set us up in a camper out in the newly developed campgrounds and we settled in. We did a bit of work on the computers before setting out for a hike to the overlook toward the cemetery on the blue trail. I did a dance along the way back—it was humid and the bugs were emerging, but the landscape was impeccable! Thick foliage and kudzu overgrowth.

A bunch of folks from the Friends of Fort Pillow joined us for a super grill out, bringing all the fixings. Kevin, Tyson, Tammy, et al. Tom close out the night with a tour around the ground with Tyson, learning the trees and what not—Shagbark Hickory, Red and White Oak, Sassafras’s, Kentucky Dogwood, Hop Hornbeam, Cypress, Black Locust, etc. I had to coax him back in the camper, truly. He was lost in the woods.

We did finally settle in for the night and get a sleep in, but it took some time! The trees were so enchanting. Hard to escape the charms of Fort Pillow Historic State Park.