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During the era of the orphan trains, up to a quarter of a million orphaned, neglected or abandoned children were removed mostly from larger populations and dispersed throughout the country. The lucky ones were adopted into well intentioned families, some were indentured, enslaved and terribly abused. What is it about the human spirit that allows some of those subjected to such treatment to rise above and succeed in spite their condition? The Orphan Train ran from 1854 until 1929, according to records at the Monroe County Library in Sparta, Wisconsin, the train stopped taking children from the Sparta facility in 1933. In 1878 Wisconsin built the ‘State School for Orphan and Dependent Children’ at Sparta Wisconsin. The facility was built near the railroad station to take advantage of the practice of shipping orphans to western states. On Tuesdays, children from the Sparta orphanage were added to others already on the train and sent west. The Orphan Train idea was born in New York which had about 30,000 street orphans in 1854. It is estimated, from 150,000 to 250,000 children were sent on trains all over the nation and Canada during the years the train was in existence. In the late 1800’s a parent or a guardian could merely drop an unwanted child off at the Sparta, Wisconsin center. The center would attempt to find a local home, if adoption, or indenture of those over twelve years old, did not occur, the child was put on the train. The train made stops from town to town, children would change into their ‘good’ or ‘show’ clothes and would be put on display. People wanting a child would have them sing or say a poem; they would push, pull, turn, check their teeth, squeeze their arms to check for muscle and otherwise jostle the orphans about to inspect and make selections. At the end of the train run, if nobody chose the child, the child was put back on the train and returned to New York. Some children over twelve were old enough to be indentured, in that case the family receiving the indentured child was supposed to educate them, provide food, clothing and a place to sleep. At the conclusion of the indenture, at eighteen years old, the child could be brought back to Sparta, in which case the family would be charged a fifty dollar fee. I have include stories of orphans adopted into good families and stories of children literally used like slaves, there are stories of the rejected and disenfranchised. The following stories are fictional, the basis for much of the writing was taken from actual occurrences. The first story is set late in the 1870s. The last story, “The Orphan Train Twins, and their White Horse Dream,” started in 1885. Unlike the lives of many of the orphans, in this story and most of the stories I write, everything turns out well in the end. One of the most difficult things to do while trying to write about the orphans is relate their feelings. It is difficult to communicate how the child would feel, in some instances it is heartbreaking just to attempt to ‘go there.’ In the final analysis, I’ll probably fail miserably in regard to portraying the joy or the heartbreak.
While some recognized their duty and went to fight in the war between the North and South, others intended to make a profit by staying behind. As fifteen year-old Amy grabbed Lance’s sleeve she knew she was heading off a fight between him and four of the Keating boys. That night after the dance, Lance would be heading south to fight in the war for the Union Army, Amy figured he didn’t need to start off fighting with four of the no-account Keating bunch. She had secretly loved Lance for some time. He knew he was going off to war and realized he may never make it back. Before he rode out, she blurted out her love for him. Lance recalled what his mother had taught them both; love happens when there is honesty and trust. He spoke of no promises for the future, without illusion he was going to fight in a war. While Lance is fighting a war with confederates and renegade Indians in the Territory of New Mexico, another battle is waging back home with those taking advantage of a weakened community. Lance becomes battle tested and finds love in Maria, daughter at the Valesquez hacienda. With the war coming to an end, Lance begins to realize the lack of trust or honesty he has with Maria. He decides to make the long trek home to Wyoming and upon his arrival finds that his battles are not yet over. The small town he calls home is not the same as he left it. Along with the few good folks left in Buford, Lance will attempt to set things right and find the trust and honesty he has been seeking all along.
Spirit Mountain is a collection of three short books. Conway, in “Spirit Mountain,” runs away as a child and is captured by Indians who then give him to a mountain man. In the story “Knife,” he is abducted as a child, raised by a paid keeper, sold to pirates with orders to kill; he escapes and ends up in the hands of the Comanche. Lance Roman in “The Peacemaker” goes off to fight with the British, returns to find his love is married with children, devastated he heads west to trap in order to get away. Introduction to “Spirit Mountain.” Conway is a precocious seven-year-old whose has a strong desire to be part of his father’s western quest for gold. Conway demonstrates his creative resiliency when he is captured by the Sioux and frustrates his captors into his release. The Sioux are relieved when they turn Conway over to a reclusive mountain man, who the Indians look upon as a spirit. The mountain becomes Conway’s playground as he grows up under the watchful eye of the old mountain man. For several years he attends to the old mountain man while dashing about the mountain; meanwhile tales of the mountain-boy spirit grow. Conway’s life changes when company arrives in the form of a family as they take up land at the base of the mountain. Even from hiding, Conway, now the mountain ‘spirit,’ his life changes when he feels companionship for the first time. In secret, he supports the family during their times of trial. When another family arrives, Conway discovers new feelings that must be controlled. Feelings of jealousy and anger, fighting for the first time, he wants to maim. When the mountain man, who raised Conway, dies, Conway is suddenly on his own, all these new feelings he’ll have to deal with on his own. Introduction to “Knife.” The nightmare of his abduction as a two-year-old is the only connection he had with his past. Taken as a child, he cannot even recall his given name. After ten years he is casually given to pirates as a cabin boy with strict orders to kill him. Drifting ashore in southern Texas, he is then captured by Comanche; with a pirate’s knife he gains a Comanche name. He continues to be tossed about until a Texas Ranger examines his plight. With Knife’s testimony, the pirates crew is tried, Knife earns the reward money and a possible hint as to his origin. Introduction to “The Peacemaker.” For three years Lance Roman fought with the British in India, he was kept alive by the thought of returning to the shores of the Mississippi, marrying his betrothed and settling down. Upon his return the disillusioned, decorated sharpshooter was informed that his intended was married and already had two children. Devastated, unable to drive out the pain, he decided to get away. Once an avid trapper on the shores of the Mississippi, he decided to head west to trap in the mountains, as far away from his pain as possible. Before his first day of travel is over he has a travel companion, a half Indian from the Spirit Lake band of Sioux. What follows is a run in with the sheriff of Bannack, an uprising by the Sioux and the massacre of New Ulm, Minnesota. With hatred of Indians rampant in Minnesota and a twenty-five dollar bounty on Indians, will the half Indian, once branded a peacemaker, be able to return?
The Orphan Train ran from 1854 until 1929, according to records at the Monroe County Library in Sparta, Wisconsin, the train stopped taking children from the Sparta facility in 1933. The Orphan Train idea was born in New York which had about 30,000 street orphans in 1854. It is estimated, from 150,000 to 250,000 children from large cities east of the Mississippi were sent west and south on trains to be adopted or indentured. In the late 1800’s a parent or a guardian could merely drop an unwanted child off at state institutions such as the one at Sparta, Wisconsin. The centers would attempt to find a local home, if adoption, or indenture of those over thirteen years old did not occur, the child was put on the orphan train. The train made stops from town to town, children would change into their ‘good’ or ‘show’ clothes and would be put on display. People wanting a child would have them sing or say a poem; they would push, pull, turn, check their teeth, squeeze their arms to check for muscle and otherwise jostle the orphans about to inspect and make selections. At the end of the train run, if nobody chose the child, the child was put back on the train and returned to New York. Some children over twelve were old enough to be indentured, in that case the family receiving the indentured child was supposed to educate them, provide food, clothing and a place to sleep. At the conclusion of the indenture, at eighteen years old the child was free and was on his/her own hook. I have written stories of orphans adopted into good families and stories of children literally used like slaves. As a society we must recall there are actual stories of rejected and disenfranchised children that must be a part of the conscience of a nation such as ours. The four stories in this book are fictional although the basis for much of my writing is taken from actual occurrences. In all four of the stories the lad is somehow orphaned and then indentured. The ‘Orphan Train Ruffian,’ found a way to exist on the streets but is whisked away to be indentured twice into situations worse than slavery. In ‘The Pariah’ a son’s hatred nearly kills the indenture. The indentures luck comes from an acquired ability to accept life as it comes and roll with the punch. In ‘The Wagon Train,’ the indenture has escaped and builds a niche on the train because of his skills. Because of his skills, his keepers want him back at all costs. Intervention comes from an unlikely befriending of an Indian boy. ‘The Painted Bowl’ has a child taken from his mother at birth, for twenty years his life is a turmoil, given his background, his sense of humor and charity seem out of place. Unlike the lives of many of the orphan train children, in these stories and most of the stories I write, everything turns out well in the end. One of the most difficult things to do while trying to write about the orphans is to relate their feelings. It is difficult to communicate how the child would feel, in some instances it is heartbreaking just to attempt to ‘go there.’ Although I’ve had experience in this regard living at the Wisconsin Child Center at Sparta, Wisconsin for nearly six years; in the final analysis, I’ll still probably fail miserably in regard to portraying the joy or the heartbreak of the riders of the Orphan Train.
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