The Story of the
"Iron Mountain Baby"
St. Louis Iron Mountain &
Southern Railway
Jackson, Missouri

Frisco Steam Train at Ellsinore, Missouri Train Station (cir. 1900-1905)
Frisco Steam Train at Ellsinore, Missouri Train Station
(cir. 1900-1905)
Photos ©Copyright -St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway

"Iron Mountain Baby"

Railroad folklore includes disasters, heroes, stories of hobos, and incidents of all kinds.  This area has it's own folklore, the tale of the Iron Mountain Baby.

For any train fan, hearing the legend of the Iron Mountain Baby is a must.  The story began in the mid-afternoon of August 14, 1902.  A 72-year-old Civil War veteran and farmer was returning to a spot near the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad in Washington County, Missouri.  Over the course of his journey, he saw a northbound train, the Iron Mountain's Number 4, speed by.  He had stopped near the Irondale rail trestle to let his horse drink from the Big River.  He was then going to pick up some lumber, from a local mill, for a log barn that he was building.  Moments later, a strange muffled cry caught his attention.  At first he thought it to be field mice squeaking.

William Helms at age of 21To the great surprise of William Helms, he found an old fashioned telescopic shaped valise.  Picking up the valise and quickly unbuckling the straps, Helms discovered a baby boy, along with some extra garments and a spool of black thread.  He had concluded that the infant had been tossed off of the train.  (However, the reason why still remains a mystery to this very day.)  With the baby in one arm and the valise in another, Helms raced home.

The Helms and their neighbors debated how old the child was and how long he could have been in the valise.  They all seemed to agree that he couldn't have been more than five days old when he was found, but no general agreement was made about how long he could have been in the valise.  Common sense made it seem likely that the child could have only have survived half an hour in the valise, however, a local doctor suggested "the child might have been brought in the valise from as far as 500 miles.  Local theory determined that the person, who threw the baby from the train, boarded the Iron Mountain at Irondale while the Number 4 was side-tracked.

When William Helms discovered the valise, it had been torn and the baby was badly injured.  No one knew for sure if the child was going to live.  He had a dent in his head and his left arm and leg were also hurt.  Due to the loving kindness of the Helms family, finally, four months later, the baby's life was out of danger.

The baby boy was given the name, William Moses Gould Helms.  William-for his rescuer; Moses-for being found by the river; Gould-for the owner of the railroad; and Helms-for the family who found him.

The Helms were so concerned about finding out who this child had belonged to, that the story had spread from coast to coast.  The saga brought many women that claimed that they were the baby's mother.  Publicity and funds to raise the child were gained, in part, from John T. Barton's "Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby."

When young William was six, the Helms decided that they loved him to much to let him leave.  They became his legal parents through adoption.

When his Father died, William moved with his mother to Salem, Missouri, where he graduated from high school.  He then attended Braughon's University and Southwest State Teachers College at Springfield, Missouri.  His entire schooling was financed by the Iron Mountain Railroad, which later became the Missouri Pacific Line.  In college, he learned the printers' trade which he practiced for most of his life.  He was married on August 5, 1933 in St. Louis.  He then moved with his wife1, Sally, to Texas.  He had one son, who was also named William.

It was said that the Iron Mountain Baby did not like all of the fame that his remarkable story had brought him.  It is rumored that his son didn't even know about his past.  Helms died on January 31, 1953 at the age of 51.  He was brought back on the same Iron Mountain Railway for his burial in Hopewell, Missouri.  It was only the second time in his whole life that William Moses Gould Helms rode on a train.  It was a small family service that received no publicity.  Later, it was thought that his son died at the age of 14 and his wife1 had gotten sick and moved back to St. Louis. However, no one is for certain if she died from her illness.  But the fact remains that his wife and child are not buried beside him.

While the legend of the Iron Mountain Baby is a remarkable story, its ending is just as mysterious as its beginning.  The fame of the found baby had received so much attention that a song had been written in remembrance of that fateful August day.  It is said that hill folks still sing the ballad about William.  The song is also used as caution for parents to not neglect their children or the devil will snatch them away!  Even though the tale of the Iron Mountain Baby is an old story, the mystery still remains unsolved of who the baby really was.

Just a bit of info to pass on to you.  After I read and enjoyed your homepage and the story of the Iron Mountain Baby - I obviously had to do a little research.  By the way - great job!!

Here is what I found from the on-line Social Security Death Index.
Sallie Helms born:  Sep 17, 1904 (which matches the date on his tombstone listing his wife's name and birthdate) died:  Sep 1987 in Racine, Racine County, Wisconsin.
A simple search of Racine's local newspaper for her obituary will probably provide some further info on her and her children if any.
Best of luck,
Bob Behnen, Kirksville, MO

"Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby"
by John T. Barton

I have a song, I would like to sing,
It's awful, but it's true,
About a babe, thrown from a train,
By a mother, I know not who.

This little babe, but a few days old,
Was in a satchel lain,
Its clothes around it folded,
And thrown from the train.

The train was running at full speed,
The north-bound No. 4,
And as it crossed the big River bridge,
They cast it from the door.

A mother unkind, a father untrue,
But this I am bound to say,
It must have grieved the mother's heart,
To cast her babe away.

It bruised its head and hurt its arm,
The fall upon the ground,

A kind old man lived on a farm,
And this poor, little baby found.

The valise was fourteen inches long,
In which this child was found,
six inches wide, five inches deep,
And was very closely bound.

It was Bill Helms who found this child,
And heard its helpless cry,
And he took it to his loving wife,
She would not let it die.

They washed and bathed its little head,
And soon the hushed its cry,
May god bless them while they live,
God bless them when they die.

This little babe, bless its heart,
I cannot tell its name,
Has a mother to take its part,
A father just the same.

This Article, "Iron Mountain Baby," was written by Sandra Braggs and Heather Click for the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. Edited for this web page. 
Photo:  Frisco steam train at Ellsinore, Missouri train station - (cir. 1900-1905).  Conductor was Quincy Adams Gray of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  He is the one standing at the back of the engine cab with his left arm on the grab bar.  Notice the ghost dog on the platform.  The punch hole in the lower left-center of the photo was from the hole-puncher he used when working passenger trains.  He was the Grandfather
of Danny Farrow of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Photo found in Grandma's trunk.  Photos ©Copyright -St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway

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