By JB Clark
PONTOTOC COUNTY – Willis McGregor and his pregnant wife, Nettie, left Warren County, Tenn., with their two young children in 1835 for what became Pontotoc County the following year.
McGregor’s great-great-great-grandson Bill Williams memorialized the pilgrimage this month, 178 years later.
Williams, the former Saltillo mayor who now lives in Huntsville, Ala., left the Myrna Cemetery, where McGregor’s father is buried in Warren County, Tenn., on June 15, the day after his 57th birthday. He walked for 21 days, often accompanied by his grandson, 6-year-old Isaiah McGregor Page, to Guinn Cemetery in Pontotoc County, where McGregor is buried.
“I’m just in awe of that kind of frontier spirit and wanderlust that would cause a man with small children to pick up and embark on such a journey,” Williams said. “I thought that sort of vision and tenacity needs to be recognized.”
Since McGregor arrived the year before Pontotoc County was established, there aren’t records of his original land purchases, but Williams speculates he purchased land from the Native Americans who were being forced out. There are records of McGregor later selling land near Guinn Cemetery.
The 276-mile journey took Williams 21 days, with breaks in between. His wife, Carol, followed him and they would drive to a hotel, home or to a friend’s house each night. He estimated the journey took 648,269 steps.
“They had an ox cart with all their worldly goods and two small children,” he said. “My journey was exactly 276 miles, but a lot of those roads had the hills flattened and curves straightened out. When you think about his journey, it was probably closer to 300 miles.”
Williams estimates McGregor’s trip took a little over three months at a pace of three miles a day.
“I believe Willis is a Christian man and that he is in heaven today and I believe that when I get to heaven we will sit under heaven’s big red oak tree and I want to hear about his trip in 1835 and I’ll tell him about mine in 2013,” he said.
Carol Williams said her husband’s idea of a 276-mile walk was far-fetched but once he was two days in, “I knew he was gone.”
The trip was in advance of the memorial held at Guinn Cemetery every third Sunday in August in which descendants of the people buried in the cemetery gather and remember the history of the community.
They said it is a memory Isaiah will take with him the rest of his life.