Many of the children of the belated 1856 pioneer companies wrote of looking to their mothers’ faith for the strength and courage to continue their trek under the most trying circumstances. Jane Haynes James was one of those mothers.
In 1856, Jane and William James brought their eight children to America to join with the Willie Handcart Company in crossing the plains to their Zion in Utah. Their eight-month-old baby, also named Jane, died while crossing the ocean and was buried at sea. William suffered from rheumatism and did not have robust health, but did all he could to assist Jane and the children.
The handcart company traveled their first 300 miles from Iowa City, Iowa, to Florence, Nebraska, and then held a meeting to determine whether the Saints should continue on so late in the season. Sub-captain Levi Savage spoke against continuing on at this meeting. 16-year-old Emma James records looking to her mother to see what their family would do: I can remember that when [Levi Savage] finished there was a long time of silence. I was frightened. Father looked pale and sick. I turned to Mother to see what she was thinking and all I saw was her old determined look. She was ready to go on tomorrow. There were many others like her. We really didn’t have much choice. There was no work here for us to keep ourselves through the winter, and our family had to live. “We must put our trust in the Lord, as we have always done,” said Mother and that was that.
19-year-old Sarah James also wrote of her mother’s strength when her father died: The day we [ascended Rocky Ridge] I’ll never forget as long as I live. It was a bitter cold morning in October as we broke camp. As usual, there were dead to be buried before we could go on. Father and Reuben were on the burial detail. Mother, who was helping to pull the heaviest cart, had stayed behind until they could finish their sad work. After a short service, we, with my cart, ran ahead to catch the rest of the Company, and Mother and Reuben started to follow. Father collapsed and fell in the snow. He tried two or three times to get up with Mother’s help, then finally he asked her to go on, and when he felt rested he would come later.
Mother knew in her heart that he had given out, but, perhaps, she said, in a few minutes with some rest he could come on. She took the cart and hurried to follow us. She found us on the riverbank, we were too frightened and tired to cross alone . . . Mother soon had us on our way. The water was icy and soon our clothing was frozen to our bodies. Our feet were frozen numb.
Toward morning some of the Captains who had gone out to gather up the stragglers came into camp bearing the dead body of my Father, and the badly frozen body of my brother, Reuben. . . . When morning came, Father’s body, along with others who had died during the night, were buried in a deep hole . . . 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. She didn’t sit long, however, for 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 the baby and we joined the train. Our Mother was a strong woman, and she would see us through anything.
Alma 56: 48: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.