Just as the Willie handcart company was facing their darkest hour to that point, four men rode up from the west. “Such a shout as was raised in camp I never before heard,” Joseph Elder said. These men were express riders who had been sent ahead from the rescue team five days earlier. Joseph Elder called them “saviors coming to our relief.” They reported that wagons loaded with flour and clothing were only a day or two away.
The express riders were not carrying enough provisions to feed the people, but William Woodward said the news that wagons were nearby “inspired our company with fresh spirits.” After Staying briefly and giving encouragement, these men hurried east to search for the Martin company, which was stranded 100 miles farther back on the trail.
In desperate circumstances, James Willie decided that rather than wait for the rescuers, he would go find them and urge them to hurry forward. He asked Joseph Elder to accompany him.
With each mile James traveled, questions weighted more heavily on his mind. Would they be able to find the rescuers? Had they somehow missed them? Were the rescuers even farther behind? If so, how far could he and Joseph Elder go and still survive?
As evening descended, James Willie and Joseph Elder reached a creek and saw a signboard that pointed to the rescuers’ camp, which was off the trail. Rescuer Harvey Cluff had placed the sign just a short time earlier, making a heroic effort that was providential in its timing. “The signboard had done the work of salvation,” he later wrote. “Had Captain Willie and his fellow traveler…continued on the road, they certainly would have perished.”
Not knowing how utterly destitute the Willie company was, and that they were just a day’s journey away, the rescuers had stopped at this camp the previous day to seek protection from the storm. Early the next morning they hitched up their wagons, and James Willie and Joseph Elder led them to the Willie camp, retracing the same grueling miles over Rocky Ridge that they had traveled the previous day. “The depth of the snow made traveling extremely difficult,” Harvey Cluff said.