Reprinted from Volume 5 of Orphan Train Riders: Their Own Stories by Mary Ellen Johnson, Founder of the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America
Andrew Burke was born in 1850, at which time his mother apparently passed away. His father died when Andrew was four years old, and he retained no memory of either parent. Andrew spent some time on the streets of New York City, along with thousands of other orphaned and abandoned children. An act of providence saved Andrew at the age of six when a policeman escorted him to the Nurseries, six buildings made of stone on Randall’s Island in the East River. For three years Andrew lived there along with two thousand other children from four to sixteen years of age. At that time, the institution was a place of cleanliness and order prevailed. Proper instruction was paramount as the old master, Mr. Ripley, made his rounds, inspecting classrooms and halls. He was demanding and stern but somehow convinced us we had an opportunity to better ourselves.
The children housed at the Nurseries enjoyed gymnasiums, playgrounds, and a wholesome environment, including a splendid grove of trees. I stood upon the largest boulder and gazed at very different worlds—on the southern end of the island loomed the Houses of Refuge for delinquent juveniles, across the Harlem Kills was Westchester County, while eastward a myriad of boats with white and billowed sails plied the silver waters of the Sound. What would become of us?
A company of 27 children from the New York Nurseries arrived on August 7, 1859, in Noblesville, Indiana. The boys and girls, all under the age of twelve, had received training and instruction, and were found worthy of good homes. A trial basis of four weeks was allowed. Girls could be placed with a family until the age of 18, the boys until the age of 21. At that time, they were to receive two sets of new clothes and payment to the girls of $50 and $150 to the boys. Mr. J. Macy was the accompanying agent representing the Children’s Aid Society.
The trip west was quite an adventure! The children changed trains five times. The view of the countryside opened up like a book of dazzling photographs never seen before—cattle grazing on rolling hills, golden wheat leaning in the wind, farmers bent in the fields, abundant rivers, pristine streams, and everywhere green!
As the train arrived at the Noblesville station, a large throng of people with noisy horses and carts greeted the group of children. After a large meal, we were arranged by height on a stage in a church basement. Hands and faces scrubbed, dressed in our best clothes, we were ready to be reviewed by prospective parents. No one was left behind that day. Mr. Butler, a man whose gentle look allayed my innermost fears, selected me to join his family. I realized in later years that some orphans endured hardships, but the “placing out” experience served most of us very well. We became a part of our communities, productive citizens with good names. John Brady, who rode on the same train as I, went on to be the Alaska Governor. There was no greater blessing for me than the Children’s Aid Society and I am indebted to its founder, the Reverend Charles Loring Brace.
In 1862 I left home and joined the Union Army, being the youngest to serve in the Seventy-fifth Regiment of the Indiana Infantry at the age of 12. Not old enough to carry a musket, I enlisted as the drummer boy and drew a soldier’s pay of $13 a month. We marched from Louisville to Lebanon where I stood before dawn and summoned all the Regiment into combat for the first time. We pursued General Morgan’s rebel troops for four months and spent several winter weeks camped near Gallatin, Kentucky. My duties were quite mundane most of the time, an errand boy who scrubbed the horses down and scoured pots and pans. I even helped to dig “the sink,” an abysmal latrine trench. After falling ill in December, I received a discharge for disability on New Year’s Day. I slowly recovered while the Seventy-fifth went on to distinguish itself in campaigns at Tullahoma and Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga. The valor of the Indiana Volunteers is duly recorded in Civil War history.
In 1880, Andrew Burke and Carrie Cleveland of Minneapolis were married. They moved to Dakota Territory where Andrew worked as a bookkeeper in a general store and later, a cashier in a bank. Gravitating towards politics, he was elected Treasurer of Cass County in 1884 followed by two additional terms. Andrew and Carried then moved to Fargo where twin daughters Ada and Amy were born.
North Dakota became a state in 1889 and under the aegis of the Republican Party, Andrew was elected governor in 1890. During his tenure, the legislature passed a bill allowing for Presidential electors, two Normal schools and an Agriculture College were established. He vetoed a bill which would have required railroads to lease right of ways to farmers, which incurred the wrath of Populists, the Farmers Alliance, and Independents. He was defeated in 1892 by Eli Shortridge. Shortly after, the Burke family moved to Duluth followed by Kansas City. They also lived in Washington DC where Andrew was an inspector for the U.S. Land Office. In 1911, they relocated to the Territory of New Mexico where he processed applications of citizens who wished to lease federal lands for grazing. President Taft finally signed a proclamation which made New Mexico the forty-seventh state in 1912, 62 years after becoming a territory. Andrew later stated “I cannot overemphasize the positive influences that families of Mexican American heritage have had in Roswell since the 1860’s when they established the first settlement, a place they called “La Plaza de Missouri, just west of the city on the Rio Hondo.”
Carrie passed away in 1917 and Andrew felt as an aging mariner lost at sea without her. He developed a bowel blockage and refused surgery, passing on November 17, 1918. He was buried in Roswell’s South Park Cemetery. He was eulogized as a vital and striking personality, loyal to his country.