Wednesday, June 12, 2013

More Orphan Train Stories

An Orphan Train
A little girl stood on a train platform with a group of other children, managing to position herself close to two younger boys.  Adults milled around the children, resembling nothing more than shoppers selecting merchandise.  In a way, they actually were shopping, for the children had just disembarked from an orphan train and the adults were prospective guardians, deciding which children they wished to select.  Because farm families often had in mind gaining help on their farms, boys were often selected first, and the two little boys standing near that girl were quickly chosen.  The adults who had come to look the children over were beginning to wander away, and the chaperones were directing the children who had not been chosen back to the train, preparing to resume the journey to other towns where potential foster parents might be waiting.
Robert Morgan & Lyn with portrait of the Reed children
Suddenly the little girl burst out of the group of children being urged back on the train.  She grabbed the hands of the two little boys near whom she had positioned herself and refused to let them go.  Although she was only eight years old, she felt responsible for her little brothers, for the rest of their family had drowned in Lake Ontario when their wagon broke through the ice on which they were crossing the frozen lake.  She refused to release her brothers' hands, insisting that the three of them were not going to be separated by distance, even if they were selected by different families in the same town.  If no one in the town were willing to take her, then all three of them were getting back on the train.
Display at Orphan Train Museum
The family who had chosen her youngest brother, Howard, who was only three, finally committed to take her, not for themselves but rather to be responsible for finding a family for her.  It was through the determination of this 8-year-old girl that the three Reed siblings remained in close enough proximity that they did not lose touch with one another, as so many other siblings did when they were separated while riding the orphan trains.
Morgan-Dowell Research Center
This story was told to me by Robert Morgan, the son of little Clara Reed, who kept her family together the best that she could.  The three-year-old brother was adopted by the Dowell family, and the generosity of descendants of these three children resulted in the building of the Morgan-Dowell Research Center adjacent to the Orphan Train Museum. 
My husband and I traveled to Concordia for the 2013 Orphan Train & Depot Days Celebration.  After registering, we had a delicious lunch at Jitters Coffee House and visited a music store and an antique shop before returning to the Orphan Train Complex to hear Friday afternoon's speaker, Doug Brush, author of "Northern KS Div'n MO Pacific Lines, Originally Cent. Branch Union Pacific RR."  Later, we visited the museum before enjoying Heavy's BBQ prior to attending a concert in the park by NCK Jazz Band, a pleasant ending to our day.
Speakers' panel at 2013 Orphan Train Celebration  
Saturday morning I was honored to be asked to join the speakers' panel which included, from left:  descendant Shirley Andrews, writer & early keeper of orphan train history Evelyn Trickel, descendant Robert Morgan, descendant Margaret Webb, myself, and moderator Holly Andrews.  I shared Shirley Jorns Fast's story contributed as a comment to my blog of 1/31/2013 about the Orphan Trains, and the audience appreciated it very much.  Thank you, Shirley!  (You may also visit my blog of 2/2/2013 for more orphan stories shared by followers of my blog.)
Descendants of Howard & Nora Reed Dowell
Last year was the first year that no riders attended the celebration.  Most of the riders are now deceased or have reached the age when travel is challenging.  However, many descendants of riders were in attendance.  At Saturday's luncheon I met the descendants of  Howard Reed Dowell, the little brother of Clara and James Reed.  Those descendants graciously posed for a family photograph:  the orphan rider's son, Harold Reed Dowell, 2nd from left; grandson, Donald Reed Dowell, far right; great grandchildren, Nicholas & Kim,  far left and holding little Nora.  Howard took the surname of his adoptive parents, but he retained his original surname of Reed as his middle name, and the men in the family have continued the use of Reed as their middle names.  Nora carries on the name of Howard's wife, her great-great grandmother.  (Another great-great-grandchild, Nicholas' son Easton Reed Dowell, was not present.)
Sculptures outside museum donated by Mr. & Mrs. R. Morgan
Board President Susan Sutton, other members of the Board, Curator Amanda Wahlmeier, staff, volunteers, descendants and their families, and people of Concordia that we met made us feel very welcome.  Thank you to everyone.  I urge anyone who reads this to consider a visit to Concordia, especially on a Tuesday-Saturday when the Orphan Train Museum  is open. 

Whether Isaac ever met someone who came West on an Orphan Train I do not know.  I do know that many children were brought to IL and KS, states where he lived, so it is possible that he knew a family that adopted a child from an orphan train.  If you know stories about orphan train riders, please share them with me.  I would especially love to know if any children came to Stafford County, Kansas!

Imagine parting at the depot to start a new life in a strange place with strangers

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

This makes me think of orphans being created daily in other parts of the world. I can only hope that there are people there to look after them and help them find new families, too.