Golden,Victoria: An Orphan Train Survivor

Posted on July 24th, 2018 in American History,Kids by LeGov

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Between 1854 and 1930, it is estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 children were involuntarily put on Orphan Trains, and “placed out” in the southern and western United States. Both protections for the health and safety of these children and record keeping of who they were, where they went and accounts of what happened to them are sketchy at best.

William Delos Vansteenburgh was one of the last of the “placed out” children on an Orphan Train. At age four, he and his slightly older brother with whom he virtually lost contact, were “placed out” from Pennsylvania, after their mother died in 1930. William had clear memories of being loved and treated well until then. After a long train ride he was removed from a station platform in Gallup, New Mexico, by Henry and Eleanor Walters, a childless couple. They gave him their last name, repeatedly abused him and treated him in a most wretched manner for five years. He successfully ran away at age nine and was then free to create a unique adventure and life for himself until he died in Santa Rosa, California, in 2017.

Victoria Golden, ( our guest in this edition of Radio Curious, met William Walters in 2012. Intrigued by his story and keen memory for details, they met most every week for the next four years. Golden recreated his story into a memoir: A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains. Told in the first person, each page of Golden’s book could be a stand-alone short read.

Victoria Golden, also of Ukiah, California, visited the Radio Curious studios on July 24, 2018. We began our conversation when I asked her to describe the kind of person that William Walters was.

The book she recommends is Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover.

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