Anna Miller Bassett

  • Sumo

Those were the days when Whitewright had seven
grocers, two cotton gins, three drug stores, two banks and
two train depots – the Katy and the Cotton Belt.

“When the train stopped in Whitewright, there were 21
little faces anxiously looking out the windows,” said Anna
Bassett of Whitewright.

For 75 years, approximately 150,000 orphaned,
abandoned, homeless children and a few poor families
were brought to the South and Midwest in hopes of finding
a fresh start. This era from 1854 to 1929 was known as
the Orphans Train Era.

In 1918 and again in 1920, an orphan train stopped in Whitewright, bringing children ready for adoption and eager for a new life.

“I think I was taken to the orphanage by a relative when I was three – I have never wanted to know more,” said Mrs. Bassett, who has no brothers or sisters.

“The orphanage I lived at was in New York City. I was well-treated. I remember a room with 25 or 30 little white, iron beds. We each had a locker. I stayed there a while and then moved upstairs to another room with half-beds for everyone,” said Mrs. Bassett.

“The orphanage was sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, and we paid weekly visits to a beautiful cathedral with stain glass windows and pipe organ music,” said Mrs. Bassett.

The last Christmas before leaving for Texas, we all hung stockings on the foot of our bed
and waited for Santa. I got some fruit and a celluloid doll. That doll came on the orphan train with me,” said Mrs. Bassett.

There were two sponsors, Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Peterson, who rode with 21 children from New York. “All I know about them is that they came down the Hudson River on a ship to Grand Central Station to ride the train with us.”

Mrs. Bassett said she does not know how many days the journey took that cold January in
1918 and doesn’t remember any stops until the stop at the Katy Depot in Whitewright.

There were several children younger than Mrs. Bassett and at least one set of twins who
were 2-years-old.

“We were taught manners and were well disciplined,” Mrs. Bassett said. “Of course, with
that many children, you have to have discipline. Yes, I had excellent manners by the time I
got to Texas.”

“The first night was spent in the Smith Hotel next to the Katy Depot,” Mrs. Bassett said.
“We each had our own suitcase with a few changes of clothes and our belongings. Early the
next morning, we were up and dressed, hoping to meet our new parents. We went to the
city hall, where there were quite a few people gathered to see us.”

“There was one man I noticed with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile on his face. He kept
looking at me. I wasn’t shy, so soon I started talking and dancing for Mr. J.R. Pennington.
Pretty soon, he said he had to go get his wife who hadn’t been able to come that morning.”

“No, I wasn’t worried about not finding parents, there were several who showed an interest
in me that day.”

After Mrs. Pennington saw little Miss Anna Miller, the Penningtons went home to think
about what adopting a child would mean to their lives. The Penningtons were nearly 50 and childless, but evidently, they decided Anna was the daughter for them. Mr. Pennington was a land dealer. “It seemed a little voice, was whispering to them, ‘Please be my mother and father,'” Mrs. Bassett said.

The next morning, they returned to the city hall to talk with Anna’s sponsor, and that
afternoon, the Penningtons proudly escorted their new 5-year-old, brown haired and brown eyed, dancing and singing daughter to their home in Whitewright.

“I was never spanked. It never dawned on me they might send me back. I just always felt I
was special.”

“Some people who are adopted want to go back and dig things up, but I have always been
so happy and comfortable. You can understand why I never wanted to go back.”

Mrs. Bassett attended high school in Whitewright and began college at East Texas State
University. But as a freshman in 1932, she met Floyd Bassett, a senior and “fell madly in
love, and that was the end of college.” Mr. Bassett died in 1983.

The Bassetts have three children: Beverly Herrera who lives in Columbus, Ohio; Dixie
Bassett of Sherman; and Jim Bassett of Corpus Christi, Texas. Mrs. Bassett, who now
lives in her childhood home, said she was writing her life story for her children, six
grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

“After I developed this arthritis condition in my hands, I got where I couldn’t play the piano.  But I never was a quitter. I decided I’d learn to paint,” said Mrs. Bassett. Mrs. Bassett’s home is decorated with the results of those found artistic abilities.

Recently, the few remaining orphan train veterans had reunion in Granberry. “I had
wondered where I learned to sing and dance. At the reunion there was a rider who had been in the same dormitory with me. She was older and remembered that those of us who
showed some ability were taken to music lessons once a week.”

“I have always felt I was special because Dick and Jenny Pennington adopted me. I only
hope I brought them as much pleasure as they gave me.”