Most stories about the Orphan Trains seem to have pleasant endings with children finding forever families and living happily ever after. Our story did not go so well.
In the early part of the 20th century my grandfather's Uncle John Campbell and his wife, Aunt Henrietta, moved from Franklin County half way across the state to the small lead mining town of Aurora, MO. Uncle Johnney was a foreman at the mine and made decent money. He and Aunt Etta had a small acreage, a decent house and in the way of things at that time, they raised chickens, gardened, had a cow for milk and a sow with piglets to sell and/or slaughter in the fall.
They were hard working people and if Uncle Johnney drank a bit too much, well, it was a palliative for the lead mine's side effects. Aunt Etta was downright upright, working from dawn to dusk, never letting up. She was a founding member and chief fund raiser for Aurora's First Christian Church. The imposing brick building was and is located a block down from the Court House on Pleasant Ave. Following WWII my father became pastor there. I have no idea if the lingering memory of the Campbells influenced this, but it might be.
John & Etta had no children, whether God's decision, a side effect of the drinking or the lead mine is hard to know, but when the Orphan trains began to run they decided to get themselves a son to care for them in their old age. They would set a good Christian example for the world. A bit of help around the farm wouldn't hurt either.
They adopted a young boy and began training him up in the right way. The rod was not spared. My mother's family met him once, I believe. Was he blonde and blue eyed? She thought maybe so, but wasn't certain. He was thin to the point of emaciation and seemed cowed and dodged when anyone moved a bit too quick. Not long afterward he ran off.
Many years later Aunt Hazel traced him to Texas and she and my mother placed a phone call to his family home. He refused to speak to them. How could he know they came from the good and gentle side of the family?
I do not even know his name. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.