My recent book release, In His Arms (Book 3 in the Blemished Brides Series) deals with a young woman who is not only facing a physical handicap, but she was also a rider of the orphan train.
There is so much history to be found with the Orphan Train movement, which gave me the creative freedom to come up with my own circumstances for my characters.
The number of orphans or children of poor and destitute families continued to climb from early colonial days well into the nineteenth century. Private charities were established to care for these children, and the New York Orphan Asylum Society was one of the first private children’s charity, formed in 1806. It required that children be placed as soon as they received basic education.
By 1854, the first annual report by the Children’s Aid Society reported that there were at least 10,000 vagrant children in New York. Publicly funded programs failed to adequately deal with these orphans, which gave rise to over 100 private charities between 1850 and 1860. Many of these charities placed these children into indentured servitude for boys by the age of 12 and girls by the age of 14. Due to the lack of jobs in the eastern states, charities began sending the children to rural areas in the west where child labor was needed. This soon became known as the Orphan Train Movement, a phrase first used in 1854.
These children could be placed anywhere, with no geographical restrictions. The participating charities would ask the families who received the children to sign an agreement that the child would be accepted into the family, but there was generally very little enforcement or oversight.
Committees were formed in towns where the orphan trains would stop, and advertisements would be placed in local newspapers announcing the children. Prospective families could specify what child they were looking for ahead of time.
The children were usually placed into two groups - those who were selected for adoption and those who were not. Selected children went home with their families. The others got back on the train and rode to the next stop. Siblings were often separated from each other and, in many cases, never saw each other again.
The orphan train movement ended in 1929, partly due to labor no longer being needed in the west, and railroad expansion in the US was finished and most railroads no longer subsidized the charities for moving the children.
“You didn’t tell me what happened to your leg.”
Grace glanced down, his words taking her off guard. She shook her head slightly.
“It’s an old injury,” she stammered. “A wagon wheel ran over my leg when I was younger. It was never set properly.”
The corners of Levi’s eyes twitched as they narrowed. He looked unsure, as if he wanted to say something, but couldn’t bring himself to say any more than was necessary.
When he finally spoke, it was a low grumble. “I rode the orphan train, too.”
Grace’s eyes widened, and she stared up at him. The cold air around her vanished. Their eyes connected and held, as if some invisible string suddenly wound itself around them, and neither could look away. She shared a connection with this man through the orphan train?
“How’d you and your sister end up in Montana Territory?”
He asked his question before she could open her mouth to find out how he’d ended up in a remote cabin in the mountains. Grace swallowed back the constricting feeling in her throat. How much should she tell him? Not that it mattered. She and Rose were two of so many who had faced a similar plight.
“I only have vague memories of my life on the streets of New York,” she began. “My family was too poor to properly care for me and Rose. To bring home food, I was sent to beg in the streets.” She sniffed, and wiped the back of her hand under her cold nose, and laughed scornfully. “When a vegetable vendor accidentally ran over my leg with his cart, my father had thought it a lucky turn of events. He said that folks would take pity on me, and give me more money.”
“He never took you to get your leg set by a doctor?” A spark of anger blazed in Levi’s eyes.
Grace laughed again. “He would rather spend any money we received on liquor than getting me seen by a doctor.” She sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, letting the mist swirl around her face.
“My mother died in childbirth, along with my baby brother when I was about ten. Soon after, Pa left one morning and never came back. I took care of Rose on my own, until an Alms House picked us up. Years later, we were put on a train and sent out west.” She shrugged to hide her pain, and gazed off into the distance as old memories resurfaced.
How would her life have turned out if she’d stayed in New York? Her hope for a future there had been just as bleak as it had been on the journey west. No one wanted a cripple. No one, until Harlan Randall took a look at her during one of the adoption stops. Why her sister kept getting passed over time and again remained a mystery, but then again, many of the orphans rode the train for years, with no hope of finding a family willing to take them in.
Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series