Friday, December 30, 2011
A heartwarming story was reported by the Cass County Juvenile Court Commissioner in his annual report on this day in 1922. Too often, the Commissioner’s reports were filled with heartbreak rather than happy endings. However, for one small boy, the Christmas of 1922 proved to be the happiest in his young memory, as he reunited with his lost family. The story of “Billy” became known in Fargo as early as 1919. Although Billy was not the boy’s real name, it became the pseudonym that the papers chose to call him.
Billy began his life in Wisconsin. His was an unhappy family, and his father left his mother destitute shortly after the boy’s birth. Her choice to marry had led to the estrangement of her own family, and so the woman and her infant son were alone in the world. They lived in poverty and hunger until the mother succumbed to illness and passed away. Billy, then only a toddler, was placed in a Wisconsin orphanage until authorities learned that the boy’s father was alive, remarried, and living in Moorhead, Minnesota. They quickly sent Billy to live with his father. The second wife, however, was unaware of the first wife or son, and soon left the man. Billy’s father blamed the boy for his misfortune, and began to beat him. Finally, he was told to leave the home. Not knowing where to go or who he could possibly turn to, Billy crawled inside a Fargo sewer pipe to take refuge from the cold. One night, his sobs attracted the attention of a nearby resident. Freezing, bloodstained, dirty, and hungry, nine-year old Billy was coaxed out of the pipe, and he became a ward of the county court. For three years after, Billy lived in two foster homes.
One day at school, a flash came across Billy’s face – while listening to children discuss upcoming plans for Christmas, Billy had suddenly remembered his mother’s maiden name, a name he had forgotten. Within days, his maternal uncle and grandmother were found living on a farm outside of Eau Claire. The Juvenile Court Commissioner placed Billy on the next train out of Fargo, and the boy reached his new home in time to celebrate Christmas with his own family. As for the Commissioner, he was glad to report that Fargo’s famous orphan had finally found a home.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Saturday, December 30, 1922 (Evening ed.):