by Alethea Williams
My dad’s uncle wrote a little family history booklet called Our Home on the Prairie. His parents, who lived near Liberty, married in 1887 and moved to western Kansas in 1906. At that time they had adopted a boy named Johnie, who was about three years old when they went to live in their soddy on the Kansas prairie. There was no explanation of where they got this boy.
When I first started writing Walls for the Wind, there wasn’t much on the Internet or elsewhere about orphan trains. In the years between the writing of the book and its sale, there has been an explosion of interest in these children, who were scooped off the streets and shipped out in the hundreds of thousands between 1854 and 1929. There are now many pages of books on orphan trains on Amazon, a PBS documentary available online, and a museum and research center devoted to them at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas. The first to organize orphan trains to alleviate the problem of untended immigrant children roaming the streets of big Eastern cities was the founder of the Children’s Aid Society, Charles Loring Brace. But soon many religious organizations were following his example. I would be willing to bet that poor Johnie, who died of a rattlesnake bite at twelve years old, was an orphan placed by the nuns of a New York religious society with a devout German Catholic immigrant family residing on the Kansas plains.
I write about Wyoming, so that’s where my fictional orphan train headed. The building of the transcontinental railroad has always fascinated me, as has the ephemeral nature of the Hell on Wheels town that followed the building of the road. My fictional orphans make it all the way to Cheyenne, Dakota Territory, although few actual orphan train children ended up in Wyoming.
Here is a short synopsis of Walls for the Wind:
Can an angel survive Hell on Wheels? When Kit Calhoun leaves New York City with a train car full of foundlings from the Immigrant Children’s Home, she has no clue she might end up as adoptive mother to four of them in rip-roaring Cheyenne, Wyoming. Kit has spent her life in the Children’s Home and now she rides the Orphan Trains, distributing homeless children to the young nation’s farmers as fast as the rails are laid.
The first time handsome Patrick Kelley spies Kit in Julesburg, Colorado Territory, he wants her. But circumstances, and a spectral-looking demented gambler as well as Kit’s certainty no one in his right mind would want her cobbled-together family, conspire to keep them apart. As Patrick and Kit and her brood ride Hell on Wheels into their destiny, they’re all forced to leave behind everything they knew and forge new lives in the raw American West.
Western history has been the great interest of my adult life. I’ve lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Oregon. Although an amateur historian, I am happiest researching different times and places in the historical West. And while staying true to history, I try not to let the facts overwhelm my stories. Story always comes first in my novels, and plot arises from the relationships between my characters. I’m always open to reader response to my writing.
Twitter: @ActuallyAlethea https://twitter.com/actuallyalethea
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Alethea-Williams/e/B0077CD2HW/
The Romance Reviews author page: http://www.theromancereviews.com/ActuallyAlethea