All aboard the orphan train

By Betty Williamson

Local columnist

Since 1998, Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster have been crisscrossing the United States to share a little-known chapter of our country’s history: The saga of an estimated 250,000 orphans who were moved by trains from New York City to homes across the nation between 1854 and 1929.

Moore and Lancaster, who live in Austin, Texas, when they’re not on the road, will be in the meeting room at the Portales Public Library at 5 p.m. today to perform “Riders on the Orphan Train,” a multi-media program for the whole family that includes storytelling, an audio/video presentation and live music.

In their 17-year-long odyssey, Moore told me that she and Lancaster have met and interviewed a number of former riders of the train. While few of those who made the often-harrowing journeys are still living, the pair still occasionally encounters a descendant. They know that orphans ended up at train stations as close to our area as Clayton, and they hold out hope each time they do a program to meet someone with a story they’ve not yet heard.
“The reason this program stays so new,” says Moore, “is that it’s like ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for us. We never know what treasure will be in the audience.”

The presentation is free and made possible by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council.
All aboard.

Betty Williamson believes this evening’s treasure will be the program. You may reach her at