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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa  Orphan Train Riders

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Anna Laura Hill
Letter from Anna Laura Hill

Decorah, Iowa-April 2, 1913.
Dear Mamma,

The days are slipping by so rapidly for me, but I presume you have been reading so much about the floods that it has seemed a long time since you heard from me.

Alice wrote Mate on the way or I should have written before. We certainly had a strenuous trip. All went well until we reached Cleveland and found that city about flooded; from there on to Fort Wayne we had an awful experience. We went from Cleveland to Bellevue on the Nickel Plate, the rail-road we were on from buffalo. There they pulled the train on a side track and said we would wait for orders and might be there for days, for all reports that could be obtained from the West were very discouraging. We waited until two others trains came in from the East, then we took on the passengers from these trains and proceeded westward but over the Baltimore & Ohio for the Nickel Plate was washed out entirely west of Bellevue. While at Bellevue we could see the men and boys going about tow on rafts and many houses entirely surrounded by water. We were in constant danger for twenty six hours and such awful places that we went thru and over, submerged tracks, water on both sides and two terrible rivers. We crossed a river at midnight. They sent a work train and 2 co-workmen ahead of us, they worked about two hours making the bridge more secure. They put in 8 car loads of rock and sand-bags, then took two engines across, and then we went over. It was an anxious time for every one on that train, not a berth was occupied that night. I shall never forget the awful roar of that mighty torrent; just as we were in the center there was a sudden jar. I closed my eyes, I couldn’t look, for I thought it was all over and we were going down.

But GOD continued to look after his helpless little ones as HE has all the years of the past history of the Childrens Aid Society. There was many a prayer offered that night on that train, and by men who had not mentioned God’s name before in many a day.

There were nine houses washed down next to the bridge, that we could see distinctly thru the storm, for to add to the horror the ground was covered with a heavy snow and a terrible sleet storm was falling accompanied by a biting wind. In these houses were people whom the life savers were working desperately to rescue. There was a light in one house. Think what must have been the feelings of those people held prisoners in those awful places. I hope I shall be spared witnessing such a scene again. The train crew were with us 26 hours with no relief.

In all my experience I have never seen train men that would talk about any trouble or accidents, but these men were under such tension for so long they had to relieve them selves by talking with us.

Early that morning (Wednesday), the conductor brought me a paper and talked about it. He said “Do you notice how unnatural the atmosphere seems? There is something awful ahead of us” And I certainly thought of his remark many times in the next twenty four hours that followed.

“We are going to try it now but GOD alone knows the result.” We of course were a day late getting to Decorah, but in spite of that we have done well, but roads are muddy which make the work slow. I wrote to Mr? Brace from Chicago telling him about the flood. I had a letter from him to day saying that my letter was very thrilling and should be printed in Elmira’s best paper. I didn’t realize that I embroidered it any, but I had just gotten out of it and that was rather fresh in my mind.

What do you hear from Harry? Was he in the flood? I have tried to go on the principle that “No news is good news” and feel that he is all-right for I haven’t heard a word from him for a long time. I thought I would hear from him before this. I know you have been busy but Bess could write. Tell me what you did down at Burlington.

I shall be here over Sunday and then go to Kansas. We have taken a three week’s old baby born here and I do not know yet what we will do with her. Will have to wait and help Mrs. Comstock out with it.

Don’t forget that I now have a P. O. Box #26, Topeka, Kansas and will have all mail forwarded from there.

Love to all, and write soon

Anna Laura

(Exact copy of letter written by Anna Laura Hill to her mother)
~ source: Palimpsest, The State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa,  November to December 1979.