The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1853 and 1929, relocating about 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children.

Two charitable institutions, the Children’s Aid Society (established by Charles Loring Brace) and later, the Catholic New York Foundling Hospital, endeavored to help these children. The two institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850s,[1] in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled “orphan trains” or “baby trains”. This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America.

Further reading

Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad

Migrant family pulling belongings in carts and wagons.

Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. June 1938.

photo Dorothea Lange

Between 1931 and 1933, 10 percent of Oklahoma farmers lost their land to foreclosure, and tenant farmers (who comprised more than 60 percent of Oklahoma farmers in the 1930s) had little incentive to endure poor crops and low prices year after year. Mechanization of farming began to consolidate small farms into larger ones. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s policy of paying farmers to not raise crops often resulted in landowners taking tenants’ land out of production. Moreover, many tenants and small land-holding farmers, especially in southeastern Oklahoma, simply had a migratory habit. They had come to Oklahoma for opportunity and continued their pattern of seeking greater opportunities farther west. Finally, many left because relatives and friends, already in California, beckoned them to a land of better prospects.

Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Arrived in California

 Says the mother: ‘We’re making it all right here, all but for the schooling, ‘cause that boy of mine, he wants to go to the University’.” June 1936.

Little Julia 1911

tending the baby at home.

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

All the older ones are shucking at Alabama Canning Co.,

Photo by Lewis Hine

A migrant woman and small child.

Oskaloosa, Kansas. October 1938

photo John Vachon

 ”If you lose your pluck you lose the most there is in you – all you’ve got to live with.”

Eighty year old woman living in squatters’ camp

Bakersfield, California. 1936

Photo Dorothea Lange.

Faro Caudill and Family

eating dinner in their dugout.

Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940.

Homesteader 

New Mexico Fair.

Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940.

Lizbeth’s Journal 1847
along the Oregon trail 
November 18
left indiana in april now my husbnd jon is sick
it rains and snows
i carry my babe mud and water almost to my knees
so cold and numb i could not tell i had any feet at all-
the wagon crawls ahead
November 30
rain this mornng rain all day impossible to cook or keep warm or dry
froze my feet so that  i cant wear shoes
have to go round in the cold water barefoot
December 8
rain all day he coughs nd sleeps
December 21
rain all day jon has a fever cant go any furthur
what little money we had i spent on a room-a small leaky concern
with 2 families already in it -cant write any more
January 15
Jon is still alive but very sick.
there is no medicine here or money to buy it
February 1
rain all day
this day my dear husband
my last remaining friend died
February 2
today buried my earthly companion
I know what widows know-how comfortless left in a strange land
no money or friends and the care of of a child
cloudy
February 10
I have not told half what we suffered
not adequate to the task and my education limited
June 16
the baby walked today

Lizbeth’s Journal 1847

along the Oregon trail 

November 18

left indiana in april now my husbnd jon is sick

it rains and snows

i carry my babe mud and water almost to my knees

so cold and numb i could not tell i had any feet at all-

the wagon crawls ahead

November 30

rain this mornng rain all day impossible to cook or keep warm or dry

froze my feet so that  i cant wear shoes

have to go round in the cold water barefoot

December 8

rain all day he coughs nd sleeps

December 21

rain all day jon has a fever cant go any furthur

what little money we had i spent on a room-a small leaky concern

with 2 families already in it -cant write any more

January 15

Jon is still alive but very sick.

there is no medicine here or money to buy it

February 1

rain all day

this day my dear husband

my last remaining friend died

February 2

today buried my earthly companion

I know what widows know-how comfortless left in a strange land

no money or friends and the care of of a child

cloudy

February 10

I have not told half what we suffered

not adequate to the task and my education limited

June 16

the baby walked today

Log house of William H. Nutter, Sr.

The oldest house in Buffalo County, Nebraska

photo by Solomon Butcher c. 1889

click here to view this home and family in amazing detail

The David Hilton Family

near Weissert, Nebraska 1887

Mrs. F. E. Howland identified those pictured as, from left to right: George Leonard Hilton, the eldest son of David. Born 17 March 1881 at Weissert, Nebraska; David Hilton, born 26 September 1846 at Manchester England; Emma Rhoda Hilton Campbell (daughter of David), born 13 March 1876 in Seneca, Wisconsin; Lydia Hilton Pickett, born 7 June 1879 at York, Nebraska; Leonard George Hilton, born 16 July 1883 at Weissert, Nebraska; Isabell Hilton Chapman, born 1 December 1853 at Steubenville, Ohio. Another daughter, Frances Hilton Pennington, was born in 1889, after this picture was taken. David Hilton was the youngest of four boys and at the age of 25 in 1871 was the only one to set off to America. En route to Nebraska he visited his uncle at Seneca, Wisconsin but never returned to England and the family he left behind. 

Larger image

photo:Solomon D. Butcher (Solomon Devore), 1856-1927

The Smith family

Father just putters around. Don’t work steady’

May 1911. West Point, Mississippi.  ”Three girls (in front) work in the textile mill. This boy and others work uptown. Came from an Alabama farm six months ago. Smallest spinner runs two sides. ‘Father just putters around. Don’t work steady’; ‘We all like the mill work better’n the hot sun on farm.’ House barren and run down.” 

Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine

Dinner

Family of Mrs. A.J. Young, Tifton, Georgia

January 22, 1909.  

Captured by the Arapaho, 1875

W
alter Glazier was born near Albany in upstate New York. He joined the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and was captured by Confederate troops in October 1863. Over the next year, Glazier was moved from prison to prison throughout the South until he was able to make an escape in November of 1864. His freedom was short-lived, however, as he was soon recaptured.

Following the war, Glazier wrote a book recounting his experiences that became a bestseller. His experiences during the war not only brought him financial independence but imbued him with a wanderlust that inspired a plan to travel America from coast to coast on horseback. In early May 1875, Glazier mounted his horse in Boston and headed west. His journey ended on November 26 when he waded in the waters of the Pacific near San Francisco. The time in between was filled with adventure that resulted in another book published in 1896.

Captured:

We join Glazier’s story as he leaves the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming in the company of two horse herders. Glazier describes his fellow travelers as “rough men and plain of speech, but apparently reliable and trustworthy.” They are escorting a group of mustangs to Salt Lake City for sale. As the travelers clear a rise in an area known as “Skull Rocks” about thirty miles west of Cheyenne, trouble appears on the horizon:

read on: Captured by the Arapaho, 1875