Orphan Trains – The Rest of the Story

Note From the Editor:  On July 12, 2018, we ran a story about the Orphan Trains that ran from the mid-1800s through the 1929.  After the story, we were contacted by Joyce Darnell Leuthart and learned that her father, Howard Darnell, traveled to Missouri on an Orphan Train when he was three years old.  Here is a follow-up to that story.


Howard Rifenburgh Darnell

Not long after Howard Rifenburgh was born in 1907, his mother died, leaving her husband to raise eight children alone.  Overwhelmed, he reluctantly signed over five of his eight children to an orphanage run by the Children’s Aid Society in New York City.  It was decided by the administration that if these children, and hundreds more, were to have any chance at a happy life, they would find it on the orphan trains headed west.


The trains, which had begun carrying children on October 1, 1854, transported over 400,000 children over a 75-year period.  Although a law was passed in Missouri in 1901 banning the orphan trains, the law was not enforced so the children kept coming.


In 1910, when Howard was only three-years-old, he was put on the train in hopes of finding a forever family.  The trip was heartbreaking for many of the children.  At every stop, the children were inspected by potential foster parents, and eventually separated, each going to different homes.  Little Howard was difficult to place because of his age.  He was too old for families wanting an infant to coo over, but he was too young to work on a farm or help with chores.  One by one, children were chosen, but Howard went on to more stops, alone.


A Gentle Tug

Mr. and Mrs. Darnell needed to do some shopping.  The newlyweds hitched up the horse and wagon and made the trip from their home in Curryville, Missouri to Bowling Green.  While chatting with the pharmacist from the drug store, Mr. Darnell felt a tug on his pant leg.  Standing next to him was a chubby little boy who looked up with winsome eyes and asked, “Won’t you take me home, Mister?”


Mr. Darnell had no idea what an orphan train was or why this little tyke chose him, but he said no and headed back to Curryville.  But as they travelled, he and his wife could not get the vision of that little,  fat boy out of their minds.  After some discussion, they headed back to Bowling Green and agreed to care for him.  Little Howard was the only sibling to be legally adopted, but through the years, he still kept in touch with his brothers and sisters.

Eventually, Howard grew up, married Mattie, and went on to have five children.  Their youngest daughter, Joyce Ann, was just under two years old when Howard died, following complications from surgery.


The Legacy Continues

Although Joyce Ann never really knew her father, she heard his story all of her life.  She spent 40 years as a nurse but orphans and orphanages held a special place in her heart.  In 2011, she was led to work with, and support, an orphanage through the Blood of Jesus Ministry in Uganda under the leadership of Pastor Ronald Lufafa, and in memory of her father, Howard.  Over the years Joyce has raised money to help purchase mosquito netting and building supplies for the children.  In 2016, Joyce and her husband, Butch Leuthart, travelled to Uganda and met with Pastor Lufafa and spent time with the children at the orphanage.  Since then, she has organized many fundraising efforts to help with their needs under Pasture Valley  Children Mission, a non-profit ministry.


Joyce is available to share more about the orphanage in Uganda.  To find out more about her ministry, go to joyciesorphans.org, call 573-368-8685,  or write to her at P.O. Box 114, Lake Spring, MO, 65532.


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