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One of my uncles came from a large Catholic family of German descent. His grandparents and great grandparents settled in Shoal Creek, Arkansas in a German Catholic "colony" promoted by the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad to increase settlements in western Arkansas. In addition to the Benedictine Convent a Benedictine monastery was located in Subiaco.

As I began researching Uncle Tommy's German roots, he asked me more than once if I could find out what happened to Happy Heim, who was adopted by Uncle Tommy's maternal grandparents, and who left Logan County as a very young man for Chicago. Aside from one visit Happy made as an adult, Uncle Tommy did not know what happened to him.

I knew Happy had been a young rider on an orphan train. Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 or more homeless and orphaned children were sent west from eastern cities, accompanied by agents. The purpose was to find families that would take in children in a "free-home-placing-out" program instituted by the Children's Aid Society of New York City, NY. The children were sent in groups of twenty-five to 100 on trains, making stops along the way where they might be chosen by some family who wanted a child or needed extra help.

The Sisters of Charity from the New York Foundling Hospital indentured Catholic children and arranged placements for them; several hundred arrived in Arkansas under the guidance of priests in the state. These children were indentured only to Catholic families. Arrangements were made in advance through correspondence among various priests (mostly at Subiaco Abbey), their parishioners, and the Sisters of Charity. Families could request a particular type of child; skin, hair, and eye color; and the sex of the child. Source: Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

George Kasper Nelson was born on 13 Oct 1901 in New York City, NY and placed in the New York Foundling Hospital as an infant. On 27 Jan 1904, he was placed by the New York Foundling Hospital with the family of George Michal and Elizabeth (Raible) Heim, and rode to Arkansas on an Orphan Train. While living with his adoptive family, George was known as "Happy" Heim.

I lucked out on a visit to the Arkansas History Commission, where I found several of the books published by the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc. (OTHSAA), originally founded in Springdale, AR.

In the pages of one of the books that transcribed interviews with Orphan Train riders, I found that as a young adult, George moved to Chicago, where he owned and operated 7 taverns and speakeasies during Prohibition in the Chicago area. Among his patrons were Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and Clark Gable.

George Kasper Nelson, behind the bar

After selling his taverns, George relocated to Illinois, and from there, moved to Indiana with a very special family. When that family moved to Texas in 1976, George chose to stay in Indiana. He was using his birth surname of Nelson.

The article about George said that he had gotten his records from the New York Foundling Hospital, but had lost them in a fire, which severely damaged his home and injured him.

George Kasper Nelson died on 8 May 1988 in New Washington, Clark Co., IN, and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.

I was finally able to answer Uncle Tommy's questions about what happened to Happy Heim, just a few months before Tommy died on 19 Aug 2010.

This one is for you, Uncle Tommy. See you on the other side.

Thank you

Date: 2010-12-25 04:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

What a great blog. You did indeed make Dad very happy to learn this information about Happy Heim. He talked about him often through the years and always wondered what became of him. He said they gave him the nick name "Happy" because he was always smiling. Thank you so much for this blog for Dad. He loved you very much.


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Dee Burris Blakley

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