James, age 18, crossed the Atlantic on the ship Henry Ware in 1849, landing at New Orleans. The July 1, 1849 edition of The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star reported that he died of cholera as he ascended the Mississippi but a later edition retracted this statement reporting that he had arrived at Council Bluffs safely. He spent some time with his mother (Ruth) at the Blockhouse Branch in Iowa and then the two of them crossed the plains in time to be counted in the 1850 federal census. Church ordinance records prove that mother and son were in Utah by 12 Oct. 1850. Further research is needed to determine the exact year they crossed the plains and the name of the company with which they traveled.
In 1853, he left for a mission, returning in 1859 with his wife Elizabeth. The two sailed on the ship William Tapscott.