A Strong Woman
Sometimes it is well to be reminded just how hard some people have had it for the Gospel’s sake.
October 23, 1856, William James was asked to help bury the dead that morning before beginning the ascent of Rocky Ridge, Wyoming. William and his family were a part of the Willie Handcart Company and snow had caught them ill-prepared on one of the most exposed portions of the trail. William and his 13 year-old son Reuben remained behind to complete their grim duty. Once finished, the James children raced ahead to catch up with the company, while Jane picked up the cart and with Reuben began to pull.
They did not go far when William collapsed in the snow. He tried several times to get up but was unable. Mary Ann James, just 11 years-old recorded the following. “Mother was placed in an awful position, her husband unable to go any farther, and her little children far ahead, hungry and freezing; what can she do? Father said, ‘Go to the children; we will get in if we can.’”
While Reuben remained with his father, Jane pushed on and found her children huddled against the bank of the Sweetwater River, too frightened and tired to cross alone. Daughter Sarah wrote, “We had forded this river before many times, but it had never seemed so far across. It was about 40 feet to the other bank. Mother soon had us on our way.”
Some time that night, Jane James and her children reached camp at Rock Creek and anxiously turned their faces back up the trail in anticipation. With each group that came in they expected to see Father and Reuben. All night they waited. Finally, towards morning some of the captains who had gone out to bring in the stragglers, came into camp carrying the dead body of William James and the badly frozen Reuben. Reuben would live, though his injuries were so bad he would suffer with them the rest of his life.
William was among the 13 buried in the mass grave at Rock Creek.
As a fire was built over the new grave to kill the scent and keep the wolves away, the children sat and watched their mother. Sarah said, “I can see my mother’s face as she sat looking at the partly conscious Reuben. Her eyes looked so dead that I was afraid.”
Daughter Mary Ann said, “Imagine, if you can, my mother, only a young woman of forty-one, her husband lying dead in a frozen wilderness, with seven little children, starved and freezing, crying for comfort.”
Indeed, can you imagine.
Sarah records what happened next. “She didn’t sit long….my mother was never one to cry. When it was time to move out, mother had her family ready to go. She put her invalid son in the cart with her baby, and we joined the train. Our mother was a strong woman, and she would see us through anything.” And Mary Ann added, “Her physical and mental endurance was nothing short of miraculous.”
Andrew D. Olsen, The Price We Paid, p. 148-49
Artwork by Julie Rogers