Those who knew Will Walker doubt that it ever occured to him he'd be buried in a factory-made casket, in a church cemetery outside his home valley, and be carried part of the way there by his own special funeral train.
The gently-graded automobile road that goes up Middle Prong of Little River today makes it difficult to realize that the way in and out of Walker Valley could ever have been anything but easy.
But the road follows the former roadbed of a logging railroad, and the railroad hadn't been built yet when Will died, after a stroke, in 1919.
Even the foot trail that linked Walker Valley with the outside world didn't follow the river bottom, which then was an impassable tangle of rhodendron and boulder fields.
The family cemetery is on a knoll across the river from Will's home, on land he had set aside for the purpose. Already there were several graves and most of the coffins were said to have been made by Will.
Will's own factory-made casket is believed to have been the idea of a friend or relative or other benefactor who could afford to provide it.
The casket came by train from a Maryville funeral home to the "Y" above Townsend, where the present-day road into Cades Cove splits off from state highway 73. The "Y" then was the closest railroad point to Walker's Valley and it was from the "Y" that the coffin was hand-carried along the narrow mountainside trail, to the log home where Will's body lay. A Maryville mortician embalmed him there where he died.
A number of people made their way into Walker Valley on the day of the funeral, and some of the younger men volunteered to be pallbearers, to carry Will in his coffin the several miles to his waiting funeral train at the Y.
Although he had been ailing for months before his death he was still a big man and a heavy burden for a two-man carry. There had been a storm that morning, and the river was up and raging, rolling its boulders as big as automobiles along the current and cracking them together so that it sounded like thunder.
Big Will had lived in this valley 60 years, since he and his young wife Nancy had moved here from Tuckaleechee Cove before the Civil War, in 1859. And now he was being carried out by the same trail through the woods that had brought them here, not much wider than it had ever been, and maybe kept that way intentionally, to help guard the bold liberties that let him have big families by women other than Nancy. Nancy didn't go to Will's funeral, it was said by family members that after she moved into Walker Valley with Will in 1859, and had her children she never left the place in all the 63 years she lived there, until her own death in 1922.