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Men head to West Memphis on horses

Thursday, October 20, 2005

(Photo)
Cowboy up: Vernon Griggs (right) and his brother, Will Griggs, start their journey on horseback to West Memphis Oct. 13 on Highway 62/412 in Salem. Photo/Jared
Will Griggs is missing part of his leg, and his brother, 60-year-old Vernon Griggs, has a bad shoulder and artificial knee.

Despite their handicaps, both Griggses left Moko in northern Fulton County Oct. 13 and headed for West Memphis -- on horseback.

"We're riding to give our kids and grandkids something to talk about," said Vernon. "It may be the last big adventure we have with one another."

Will, 54, said it took him and his brother four days on horseback to make the 172-mile trip to West Memphis.

What's astonishing is that neither Griggs is able to mount a horse from the ground.

"We have to climb up on something like a creek bank to get mounted," Vernon said.

Will said the two began planning their trip a year ago. Vernon, who lives in Long Beach, Wash., rode on a Greyhound bus for three days to get to Salem.

The Griggses' mother, Ellen Griggs of Moko, did not approve of her sons' adventure.

"She thinks we're crazy," Will said. "She's afraid something will happen too us, but we don't care."

Bone cancer was the culprit when Will had the lower half of his right leg amputated in 1986.

"They think all the cancer is gone, but I don't know," Will said. "I was a truck driver for most of my life and now I can't even drive a car."

But he can ride a horse.

Vernon said the two have been riding horses since they were 7 or 8 years old. He said both have been avid outdoorsmen throughout their lives.

"It's the cowboy way or no way," Vernon said.

During their trip to West Memphis and back the Griggses camp next to creeks and rivers. Will said they will stop at feed stores along the way to buy oats for his horses, Midnight and Dixie.

Why West Memphis?

Vernon said they were born and raised there. He said he moved to Washington State and spent 37 years working as a merchant seaman.

Will and his ex-wife moved to Salem in the 1980s. She filed for a divorce in January.

"She left me because I'm disabled," Will said. The couples' children, Billy Griggs and Shelley Dalyrmple, no longer speak to him, Will said. He said he thinks they won't talk to him out of loyalty to their mother.

"I'm hoping they'll see this in the paper and it'll let them know I'm out here thinking about them," he said.

Both of his children live in Fulton County, Will said.

Vernon's wife, Mary "Joy" Griggs, thinks the trip is a worthwhile adventure, he said.

"'Go for it.' That's all she told me," Vernon said. Joy and Vernon have three daughters, Gina Alyward, Lacy Bapista and Rachel Rice.

The brothers plan to spend this week visiting friends in West Memphis and family before returning to Fulton County.

Both brothers hope their trip will send a message to other handicapped people in the area -- don't give up on life.

"Just because you're handicapped doesn't mean you have to roll over and die," Vernon said. "That's not something we could do."

If this trip ends without major problems the Griggses said they may ride their horses to Memphis again next year.

Will said they have three other brothers and he hopes one or all them will join him and Vernon next year.

"It would be lots of fun," Vernon said.



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