Orphan Train Children

Bowling Green Times
Bowling Green, Mo
March 1910

B.W. Tice and Miss Anna Hill accompanied 13 orphans from New York. 12 children were placed in Pike Co. and a thirteen year old, George Owens, was taken to Riley, Kansas where he will be placed.


Name Age Where they were placed:
Florence Woods 11 S.S. Ray, near Cyrene
Marvin Miller 5 Miss Fanny Burkholder, Cyrene
Oscar Fougner 11 Dr. Eugene Barrymore, Ashley
Mabel Parmalee 13 John H. Morris, Ashley
Howard Rivenburgh 3 W.P. Darnell, Curryville
Nelson Rivenburgh 6 George Howard, west of Bowling Green
Virgil Rivenburgh 10 Mrs. R.J. Burkholder, Bowling Green
Lucy Rivenburgh 14 Jas. McCormick, Bowling Green
Charles Voelp 8 Alfred Phillips, west of Bowling Green
Jacob Voelp 11 Allen Boston, south west of Bowling Green
Tera Fougner 5 Nellie M. Cafer, near Bowling Green
Joseph Hellwich 5 L.R. Caven, near Bowling Green
The Rivenburgh children are all from one family. Oscar Fougner and Tera Fougner are also of the same family.
If you have information regarding the Voelp boys, please contact Cathy L. 


From the Hannibal Courier Post
Web Posted November 14, 2005
'Mister, won't you take me?'

Of the Courier-Post 

BOWLING GREEN - From the mid-1850s until 1929, trains rolled through the Midwest stopping at nearly every town that had railroad tracks, leaving part of its precious cargo in each rural area and farm community - a few children in one small town and a few in another until they were all gone.

Pictured are four of the Rifenburg children who came on the 1910 orphan train to Bowling Green. The two adults in the back are Children's Aid Society agents, Anna Laura Hill and B. W. Tice. First child farthest left is Virgil Rifenburg. The child in the middle of the adults is Lucy Rifenburg and to her right is Steve Rifenburg. Nelson Rifenburg is the second child to the right holding his hat. (Photo submitted by Marvin Darnell)

Ed Lawson of Bowling Green, recently researched the orphan trains that carried trainloads of homeless children shipped out from the slums of New York City, N.Y., after discovering that his friend's father, Howard Darnell, was one of the orphans on the train that stopped in Bowling Green in 1910.

"I make history speeches to clubs and churches," said Lawson. "I thought this subject would be interesting, especially since a friend, Marvin Darnell, was the son of one of the children who came to Bowling Green on the orphan train."

According to Lawson, in 1830, 30,000 abandoned and orphaned children, referred to as "street arabs," were living on the streets in the slums of New York City. That number increased rapidly in later years until 1914. In that time period 35 million immigrants entered into the United States. The orphanages were also overflowing.

The living conditions for these children were deplorable and they were suffering horribly. Many sold matches, rags or newspapers to survive. Others had to beg for food or steal to get by. Many were eating out of garbage cans and sleeping in doorways.

In 1853, a Methodist minister, Charles Loring Brace, 26, a true humanitarian, found his calling to help the plight of the homeless and cast-off children of New York City. He eventually founded the Children's Aid Society of New York.

In 1869, the Sisters of Mercy started the New York Foundling Hospital and soon the Catholic group was also sending its own trains west. Although numbers vary, some researchers estimate 150,000 to 400,000 orphans were sent west. As many as 100,000 may have been placed in Missouri. There are records for more than 6,000, according to Stephanie Haiar, curator of the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America Inc.

"In every American community, especially in a western one, there are many spare places at the table of life," Brace wrote. "There is no harassing struggle for existence. They have enough for themselves and the stranger too."

Brace's plan was to send notices to Midwest towns, announcing the time and date a train load of orphans would be arriving. The trains would leave New York City carrying the children and two adult agents from the society.

Handbills were distributed around each scheduled town describing the children as being of various ages and of both sexes, having been thrown friendless upon the world. The citizens of each community were asked to assist the agents in finding good homes for them.

As the train made its stop, the children would be paraded in front of the crowd of onlookers. Inspection sometimes involved poking and prodding in an attempt to ascertain their value as workers on farms or in local shops and businesses. Children that were not selected were returned to the train to travel on to the next stop.

Most people really wanted to give the child a good home, but in some cases the experience was unsuccessful - they didn't get a good home. There were instances of abuse and neglect, forced labor and little food, leaving bad memories of cruelty among the stories of kindness and hope.

Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Darnell pictured with Howard shortly after taking him into their home in 1910. Howard was 3 years and 9 months old. (Photo submitted by Marvin Darnell)

"Stories of child abuse, marriages between orphans of unknown parentage and locally born residents caused the Missouri State Legislature to pass a bill in 1901, forbidding orphan trains to stop in Missouri," said Lawson. "Apparently, the law was never enforced because the trains continued coming for another 28 years."


In 1910 the orphan train made a scheduled stop at Bowling Green.

According to an article written by Mattie Darnell Stroker, wife of the late Howard (Rifenburg) Darnell, in 1970, her husband, age 3, and four of his siblings were on board, including Lucy, 14; Virgil, 9; and Nelson, 5. Steve, 11, was adopted by a family in Laclede County and stayed there. Three older siblings remained in New York.

Eight other children who were on the train, but not related to the Rifenburgs were left at Bowling Green and placed in foster homes that same day.

"My father was taken in by Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Darnell," said Marvin Darnell, son of Howard. "He was treated like a prince and I don't believe he remembered his life in New York. Uncle Nelson was in three or four different homes and was treated worse than a dog. They took him away from several homes because he was mistreated and had to sleep in chicken houses. The last one to keep him was Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Ray where he stayed. He took the Ray last name. But my dad was special and was treated good. My grandpa and grandma Darnell didn't have any other children."

Howard was born to Stephen and Eva Rifenburg near rural Middleburgh, N.Y. When he was 2 years old, his mother died at age 44, leaving five small children. Eventually the father placed the children in an orphanage, the Overseer of the Poor in Schoharie County.

In later years, Nelson described the terror, heartbreak and loneliness of being separated from his brothers and sisters. After the children grew up, some became reunited again.

"Dad was a quiet person and didn't say much," said Marvin. "He thought the world of his parents and he never tried to get in touch with his real father. I remember dad getting a letter one time from his father asking him for money. He told my mom if he had any money he would give it to the only father he ever knew - not him. Uncle Nelson said the day the kids were taken away, his father just put an axe over his shoulder and walked off into the woods."

The couple that raised Howard, lived in Curryville and happened to be in Bowling Green the day the train arrived. They visited a local druggist who explained what the orphan train was. Curiosity took over and they went to the courthouse where the children were.

While at the courthouse, Howard came up to Mr. Darnell, hugged his leg and said, "Mister won't you take me?" Since they had not planned to take any children, they left without Howard. But later in the day reconsidered, returned to the courthouse and told the officials they would take the 'little fat boy' if he was still left, but none of the others. He was eventually adopted - the only orphan from the orphan train in Missouri to be legally adopted.

In 1925, Howard was married to Mattie Holman. They had five children and eventually purchased a farm in the New Hartford area.

"He and his dad farmed in Curryville for many years, until he bought the other farm in 1940," said Marvin. "He farmed all of his life. After I grew up and opened a business in Bowling Green (Marvin's Garage), I met a lot of people who knew him. You couldn't help but like him. He was the best at everything he did and had very good manners. He was a good baseball player and all-around athlete."

Marvin Darnell, left, and Ed Lawson are shown at Marvin's Garage in Bowling Green. Marvin is the son of Howard Darnell, who was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Darnell, after traveling from New York City on the Orphan Train. After researching the effort to find homes for children from New York, Lawson found out that Marvin's father had been on the Orphan Train. (C-P photo/Amanda Stratford)

Howard died in 1949, at age 43, when Marvin was 9 years old. Mattie died in 2000. In 1970, only two of the five Rifenburg orphan train children were still living.

For more information on the orphan trains, a book, "Orphan Trains to Missouri," by Michael D. Patrick and Evelyn Goodrich Trickel is available from the University of Missouri Press. Orphans can keep in touch with each other through the Orphan Train Heritage Society based in Fayetteville, Ark., and the Children's Aid Society, New York. Additional information is on Web site http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphan-trains.

Copyright 2005 The Hannibal Courier-Post and Morris Digital Works.
Reprinted with permission.


Orphan Trains
by Christine Sweet-Hart, CG, Contributing Editor


Overcrowding in orphanages, hardships in immigrant families, and the inability or unwillingness of families to take care of their children started the trend in the North East United States to provide their children a better way of life with Midwestern farm families.  Set up by orphanages such as the New York Juvenile Asylum, the Children's Aid Society of New York, and the New York Foundling Hospital, a Roman Catholic organization set up by the Sisters of Mercy in response to Catholic children being placed in Protestant homes, the orphan trains resulted in a large child migration out of the Northeast United States to the Midwest.  Many ended up in Illinois and Missouri.

An estimated 150,000 to 400,000 street children of New York's orphanages were teens when they were shipped out west.  Although there were some success stories in the placements, many were separated from their siblings and mistreated by the families who took them in.

According to the website at www.outfitters.com/~melissa/ot/ot.html, the orphan trains ran from about 1850 to the early twentieth century when the social programs of the 1930s made them unnecessary.  A 1901 Missouri law banning them was never enforced.

Records Availability/For Further Reading:

The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America
614 East Ema Ave., Suite 115
Springdale, AR  72764

Orphan Train Riders

Orphan Train - An Iowa GenWeb Special Project

Orphan Trains  - Kansas

Orphan Trains - GeneaLinks

Orphan Trains - Nebraska State Historical Society

They Rode the Orphan Trains

Lists of Orphanages in the U.S.

How to Research U.S., British, and Canadian Orphans

Cyndi's List - extensive list of resources

Orphan Train Heritage Society

Archives of Orphan Train Information


Previously published in the USGenWeb Newsletter
June 2007, Volume 4, Number 5


Related Links:





2000 Rhonda Stolte Darnell