I’VE TOUCHED ON THE “ORPHAN TRAIN” IN PAST COLUMNS AND ITS IMPACT ON THIS AREA. Recently, while doing a bit of research on the Ponca area in Adeline Gnirk’s “Saga of Ponca Land” I stumbled on a story entitled “The Hitchcock Industrial Home for Children.” It is a piece of history that I was completely unaware that existed.
The”Orphan Train” originated in New York City and was designed to give homeless children a new lease on life. Homeless children, ophans, or children of poverty stricken parents in the east were put on trains and sent out west and put with willing families on the frontier to begin a new life by the Children’s Home Society. Many of these children were recent immigrants from Europe whole mother or father or both parents had died, or parents who were unable to secure work to take care of their children or children of unwed mothers. Unloved and uncared for these children most often simply roamed the streets striving to exist finding shelter where they could, begged for food or lived out of garbage cans. It was truly a sad chapter in American History.
Seventeen of these orphans found their way to Jamison, Nebraska where Willie and Minnie Hitchcock opened their home for them.
The Hitchcock’s had no children of their own and their home became the “Industrial Home for Children,” and a haven for seventeen children for seventeen years. Arthur, Anna, Henry, Clarence, Garland, Harry and Myrtle Nelson along with Ralph, Leroy and twins Dora and Nora Neuman, George and Victor Erdhardt, Allen, Marie and Lillian Kendall and Edward Beels journed west to join the Willie and Minnie Hitchcock in their home.
Willie Hitchcock and his brother, Fred, worked with the boys teaching them farming, ranching, dairying, and farm duties. Minnie Hitchcock along with help of her sister Eunice Johnson cared for the children. Fred Hitchcock’s wife, Euphemia, cooked and fed the children in her large home nearby. The girls were taught homemaking skills and lived in a homelike atmosphere. The Hitchcock children called the orphans “their cousins.” Willie and Minnie were teachers and the children attended school at the Spotted Tail School along with church at the Jamison Methodist Church.
The children were loved and protected atin their foster home and once again become children no longer being forced to be grown up before their time. When of age they left the Hitchcock Industrial home, having now grown up in a loving and caring environment to become successful adults. Willie, Minnie, Fred and Euphenia Hitchcock along with the Johnson’s had to be amazing folks! What a nice and refreshing chapter in our area’s history! See you next week!
Author Jack Broome, originally published in the Burke Gazette on November 26, 2019.