Working with Orphan Train Riders is a roller coaster of emotions. I cannot imagine a little boy or girl just 5 or 6 years old, standing on the platform of the train station having adults look them over like cattle–some wanting to be accepted by a family and some just wanting to go home. The families wanting farm help, or care givers or children they never could have.
This is a short story of Harry Bittner’s short life, just one of the 35 boys who got on that train in New York, traveled to Hamilton County, Iowa in August of 1890. 
In that year, the Children’s Aid Society made three stops in Hamilton County, Iowa, to distribute children, in August, October and November. The program was based on the idea that children without parental care would benefit from the bucolic rural life in the Midwest. Many of these children had living parents.
Harry was in the group of 18 children, 14 boys and 4 girls who arrived in Webster City, Iowa in August. The town had been anticipating their arrival for a couple of weeks and had formed a committee of townspeople to accept applications for the children, of which more than 60 were received. Hiram Olmstead and his wife was probably one of the applicant families. Whether they had made a “reservation” for a child ahead of arrival or if Harry was selected randomly on that August day is not known.
Hiram Olmstead (b. 1826) and his wife, Lucy, had migrated from New York where they were born, to Illinois and finally resided in Hamilton County, Iowa by 1880. In 1890, advancing in years and with children of their own mostly grown, the couple received the boy, Harry Bittner, age 4. Things must not have gone as anticipated. Harry was very young, the Olmsteads were elderly. After about 18 months, Harry Bittner found another home with Charles and Harriet Young, also of Hamilton County.
There he resided until his death in February 1900 at age 14. We know little about his short life. The Youngs were obligated to send him to school and to give him room and board. We assume they did. We don’t know the chores Harry was supposed to perform. We do know the family was Baptist and Harry became confirmed and accepted the Baptist faith just prior to his death.
Harry appeared in one census, the 1895 Iowa state census as a 9 year old.
Three newspaper articles outline his death and provide an obituary of his life.
“…For a few days he had been feeling poorly, but was usually very rugged and healthy. In the night he arose and was walking the floor, and a member of the family gave him medicine, but a few moments prior to his death.”
The story of the Orphan Train Rider Harry Bittner is just one of the 34 stories I am researching.
What I have done since the last post: I am a believer in DIY context. As I was researching an Orphan Train Rider (OTR) who was adopted into my family, I was impressed with the amount of newspaper coverage of their arrival and their lives but the lack of identification. Small town newspapers believed that everything was news! I wanted to know what happened to this little ones removed from an urban existence and thrown into rural Iowa. There is much I cannot find documentation for; however, I can tell the stories of those that appear in the records in Iowa.
1 Iowa Genweb, “Orphan Trains to Hamiliton County,” http://iagenweb.org/hamilton/misc/orphantrains.html;
2 “E. Trott of the Children’s Aid Society…,” The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa), 3 September 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. The article says the train arrived “last Friday,” making the date of arrival 29 August 1890. Also, “Ten boys and three girls…”, The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa),15 October 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. Date calculated to 9 October 1890. Also, “The third and last party…” The Freeman (Webster City, Iowa),21 November 1890, p. 5, col. 3; Kendell Young Library, Webster City, Iowa. Date calculated to 20 November 1890.
3 Ron Grossman, “The Orphan Train: A NobleIdea that Went Off the Rails.” Chicago Tribune, 19 July 2018. https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-flashback-orphan-train-children-separated-immigrants-0722-20180718-story.html
4 “Boys Wanting Homes,” Webster City [IA] Freeman, 24 August 1890, p. 4, col. 5.
5 1880 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Iowa, population schedule, Webster Township, ED 104, page 3, household 26, dwelling 28, Hiram Olmstead household; NARA T9, roll 342.
6 “Obituary,” Daily Freeman Tribune, (Webster City IA) 28 Feb 1900, p. 8, col. 3.
8 Iowa State Census, 1895,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org, accessed 20 December 2020), Hamilton County > image 311 of 681, Charles Young household; citing State Historical Society, Des Moines.
9 “Harry Bittner who has been making his home…,” Daily Freedom Tribune (Webster City, Iowa), 26 February 1900, p. 8, col. 3.