(This is an excerpt from Follow Me to Zion , by Andrew D. Olsen and Jolene S. Allphin.)
The most tragic and difficult day for the Kirkwood family and the Willie company was October 23. Joseph Elder described it as “an awful day. . . . Men, women, and children [were] weakened down by cold and hunger, weeping, crying, and some even dying by the roadside. It was very late before we all got into camp.”
Margaret and Robert had struggled about 16 miles that day, pulling Thomas across Rocky Ridge in a storm of wind and snow. Some families became separated in the struggle, including the Kirkwood family. James and Joseph “were exhausted and [fell] behind the company. They walked in the freezing snow all night to reach camp. Joseph was so young that James carried him on his back. As they arrived the next morning at the campfire, James fell dead due to starvation and exhaustion.” James had given his all to help his little brother get to camp.
Margaret was waiting up for her sons, keeping a small fire burning, but the warmth of the fire was not enough to revive James. He was buried in a common grave with three other children and nine adults later that morning. Margaret wept at the loss of her precious son. Perhaps her tears, combined with the cold and strong wind, contributed to her subsequent blindness. “[Margaret] lost the sight of one eye on account of having been frozen.” (Andrew D. Olsen and Jolene S. Allphin, Follow Me to Zion [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 74).