Brother and sister, Cliff and Myrtle Jennings, rode an orphan train from New York in 1912. That was the year that Jim Thorpe’s name became
a legend in American and Indian history, the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage and Edgar Rice Burroughs published his book, Tarzan
of the Apes.
These siblings, and probably other children, were accompanied on their long ride by an agent of the Children’s Aid Society, Perry C. (known as P.C.) Morgan.
This story begins with Roscoe Conklin Jennings who was the father of Cliff and Myrtle Jennings. He was born six generations after his ancestors settled in Connecticut in the 1600s. Roscoe married Minnie Luck, the daughter of a German immigrant of the mid 19th century. He
and Minnie had four children: Lincoln Linwood (born in 1896), Walter C;(born in 1897), Clifton Clinton (born in 1899) and Carrie W. (known as Myrtle) who was born in 1901.
Cliff and Myrtle were born in Brooklyn, New York and were off to a great start in prosperous times with their father working as an electrician and their mother a homemaker.
Their grandparents, Richard Lawrence and Carrie McCormick Jennings, were apparently wealthy and lived near their grandchildren. But in 1906, when Myrtle was just 5. tragedy struck. Their father, Roscoe, died. The causeof death listed on the death certificate was “tuberculosis” and might well have been, but family history claims his death was the result of being accidentally electrocuted.
The history of the Jennings children is not clear between the years of 1906 and 1908. Since their mother was apparently not able to support the children, both Cliff and Myrtle were admitted to the Home for the Destitute in Brooklyn, New York. Documents show this to be October, 1908 when Cliff was 8 and Myrtle, 7. A 1910 school census of “inmates,” at a Brooklyn Industrial School shows that Walter, Clifton and Myrtle were in residence
there at that time.
Because boys and girls were housed separately, Clifton and Myrtle visited each other through a hole in a wooden fence. Myrtle did not recall seeing her brother, Walter.
Grandfather Jennings visited the children one Thursday of each month. Cliff recalled being given a note with instructions to contact his grandfather if needed, But one of the other boys squealed on him. The note was confiscated and Cliff was punished. Myrtle recounted other stories of similar punishments.
For more than three years, until they were referred to the Children’s Aid Society, the children lived at the orphanage. A home was found for Cliff and Myrtle in Wheeler, Arkansas. The children started their train ride on February 27, 1912. Although Cliff was nearly 2 years older, he and Myrtle were about the same size. The belief they might be twins kept them from being separated.
The Ben Shreaves family took the Jennings in, and while Ben was kind, he was frequently away working with the railroad, The small farm and children were left in the care of Mrs. Shreaves.
They learned to help with the farm chores, but never having seen a cow, chicken or pig, they had some difficulty mastering the life-style. They also remembered that Mrs. Shreaves had difficulty in accepting them as family. Her own son was younger than Myrtle, and she was quick to punish the older children for any efforts they made. They felt more like unpaid servants than family.
How they left is in question. Either they ran away or got word to P.C. Morgan. An interim couple kept them briefly until a new home was found for them with the Porter family. This new home exemplified love and discipline and welcomed them. Mr. Porter was disabled and was remembered as crawling around the fields on his knees,” When an invitation to return to New York was extended to the children by their grandparents, Clifton bitterly
declined but Myrtle agreed to return. Clifton was a young adult by then, no longer responsible for his little sister, and decided to move. While living with her grandparents, Myrtle was taken to visit her mother, Minnie, by her older brother, Lincoln. Lincoln had not gone to any orphanage. His childhood whereabouts are unclear.
Minnie had started a new life as the wife of John Mott. They had a daughter named Bella. Minnie didn’t recognize her daughter, Myrtle, until she saw the small scar in the middle of her chin. This meeting was not a homecoming for Myrtle. Although her mother was not unfriendly, she also was not warm as Myrtle had hoped. Myrtle wanted more of a relationship and her mother wanted less. This was the only contact they had except for
a few letters exchanged. Minnie died in 1919. Myrtle lost contact with Clifton throughout this time.
Upon her grandfather’s death in 1918, followed shortly by her grandmother’s death, Myrtle stayed with a cousin and his wife, Howard and Adelaide Jennings. The bulk of their grandparents’ estate was left to their oldest and only surviving son, William. A mere $10.00 was left to two of Roscoe Conklin Jennings’ four children. Clifton and Walter received nothing. Myrtle, who was to be a recipient, never received her $10.
In 1918, Myrtle once more rode an orphan train, but this time to make her home with the P.C. Morgan family. Soon after her arrival, P.C.’s son, Paul, came home and on September 7, 1918, he and the 17 year old Myrtle were married. When asked how she “fell in love” so quickly, Myrtle replied, “I don’t know. I was tired of being shuffled around and wanted to establish a home of my own, and Paul was my chance. Wasn’t I lucky?”
During these years, Myrtle and Cliff had little contact with one another. Paul and Myrtle Morgan moved to northeastern Oklahoma to work in mining and farming until the Dust Bowl Days of the 1930s when they moved to California. She and Paul lived together in Bakersfield, California until his death. They were the parents of seven children.
After many years without hearing from Cliff. Myrtle continued to pray for a letter from him. She then received a letter from Cliff saying that he had broken his leg while working in Wichita, Kansas. She thanked God for answering her prayers but then told Him, “But you didn’t have to break his leg to do it!”
Her brother, Clifton, married Lola Caudle in Mounds, Oklahoma in 1929. He worked as a construction contractor in Okmulgee and enjoyed fishing. He died in Tulsa in 1984. He and Lola had two sons: Clifton Caudle Jennings, now living in Tulsa, and Roscoe Kerry Jennings, now living in St. Charles, Missouri.
Mrytie and Clifton were grateful for the opportunities they were given which far outweighed the hardships they encountered. Some documents and records have conflicting dates and confusing entries, but the Jennings family accepts the stories from Cliff and Myrtle as more important than the “facts” especially in regard to emotion
By Clifton Jennings, son of Orphan Train Rider
Vintage Tulsan, June 1997
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