Weak from hunger and exhaustion, members of the Willie company started from the base of Rocky Ridge early on the morning of October 23. William and Jane James, along with their children, started a little bit later because William and his oldest son, 14-year-old Reuben, helped bury two people who had died the previous day. Soon after the burial service, daughter Sarah James, age 19, led five younger siblings ahead to catch up with the rest of the company. They pulled the family’s lighter handcart.
When the burial work was finished, William, Jane, and Reuben set out, with Jane and Reuben pulling the family’s heavier cart. As William tried to follow, he collapsed in the snow. For the previous several weeks, he had been in declining health.
With Jane’s help, he tried to raise himself up but couldn’t do it. William assured Jane that he just needed to rest and asked her to go ahead and catch up with their children, so she left Reuben with his father and continued forward.
Eventually, Jane met up with her children on the bank of an icy creek. When Jane and her children reached camp that night, they asked if anyone knew about William and Reuben. No one did. At about midnight, some of the rescuers went back on the trail to help those who lagged behind. “We felt that they would come with the next group,” Sarah wrote. “All night we waited for word.” Mary Ann, a younger sister, remembered. “We watched and listened for their coming, hoping and praying for the best.”