Children's Aid Society, funeral, Governor of North Dakota, Hon. Judge Brady, Mickey Morrell, Omaha Daily Bee, orphan trains, Patsy Biffer, Willie Swiggs
From the March 3, 1895 edition of the Omaha Daily Bee:
Redeeming Street Waifs
Work Accomplished by the Children’s Aid Society of New York.
The Story of Patsy and Mickey
Street Arabs Taken from the City and Placed in Good Homes and Encouraged to Become Good Citizens.
Every six weeks a party of twenty boys is drafted from the ranks of the Newsboys’ lodging houses in New York City, are put in charge of an agent of the Children’s Aid society, and distributed through all parts of the west and south, from the prairie farms of Dakota to the orange groves of Florida.
The man who conducts a company of these sharp-witted, mercurial individuals over 1,000 miles of territory, necessarily leads a life untinged with monotony. Some of the experiences of Mr. B. W. Tice, one of these agents, for many years identified with the emigration department of the society, are better told in his own words.
“Several years ago,” said he, in conversation with the writer, “I started out for the far west with as lively a crowd of boys as it would be possible to find. Most of them were Irish and Canadian, the ones who are always getting into trouble, and who also make best use of their opportunities. Anyone of them would fight at the drop of a hat, and I assure you that it was a difficult undertaking to keep them from annihilating each other on the journey.
Patsy the Biffer.
“The star member of our troupe was an Irish boy, about 16 years old, known as Patsy Biffer, or simply ‘Biffer.’ In addition to this, he had several other names, finding them necessary to use in protecting them against the police, his practice being to give different pseudonyms upon his different contacts with these functionaries, with whom he had extensive acquaintance. Through much practice h had become a very clever boxer, was an Alexandre in his way, and only waited for more worlds to conquer.
“One cold day we arrived at a small town in southern Nebraska, where there was in session, as I remember, a teachers’ county institute. The town had assumed a gala appearance, and the boys, as was the custom, left the hotel in the afternoon, to meander about and see the sights.
“A long time that night we waited supper on the ‘Biffer’ and several of his friends, and fiinally, and about half through the meal, they entered. Patsy presented a sorry sight. His one eye was nearly closed, his hat was rimless and his clothes and tatters. Though unable to conceal his old defiant Bowery swagger, he, nevertheless, looked somewhat askance at me, so I turned to Mickey Morrell, his right-hand man, for the story. Mickey, who was glowing with suppressed excitement, related the events more graphically than lucid.
“‘They couldn’t do Patsy,’ he blurted out; ‘he just hit the big guy a punch in the bugle, and you’d ought ter seen him tumble.’
“It seems that this town was infested with a gang of boys who greatly annoyed the shopkeepers and citizens in general by pilfering, breaking windows, insulting girls and bullying every passerby. They had heard of our New York boys being in the town and had laid in wait for them in front of the town hall, in order to have some sport. But they had run up against the wrong crowd. The town bully, a great hulking fellow, had tackled Patsy Biffer, and, as the bystanders expressed it, ‘he was a sight to see’ when the fight was over. The Biffer had cross-countered heavily on the point of the bully’s chin, and it was some time before he could sit up and take notice.
“The fight was of such a decisive nature that the gang was completely broken up, and to this day has never been reorganized. The citizens of that town wrote a letter, thanking us for the Biffer’s services, and four of the most prominent each took a boy.
“Patsy Biffer is now assistant cashier of the county bank. His foster parents write that he is a terror to evil-doers and is regarded as the official vigilance committee. His last feat was to thrash a man for stealing. He is a fine musician, clever artist, witty conversationalist, has a high sense of honor, but is very lazy except when it comes to boxing. His brush and blacking box are displayed among the curios at the Newsboys’ Lodging house, and are treasured very highly by his quondam mates, who came frequently to look at them and handle them. They generally conclude their inspection by remarking that ‘Patsy was fast with his dukes, but he hadn’t ought ter went way out west, where he’ll never get a chance ter use them.’
“Mickey Morrell has had a career similar to that of his fighting friend. He became quite a favorite in the town and by his quick Irish wit was able to fill several responsible positions. His inherent laziness, however, finally cropped out, and in his last letter he informed us that he was about to start for Denver, where he expected to buy a restaurant and ‘rest for a while.’
Tough, But True
“There is a bond of friendship and sympathy between these homeless and friendless boys, which is truly touching. When large parties are taken to the great west, the ones who have shared and shared alike their meager fares in a Bowery restaurant, who have slept in the same store box, and have fought each other to the bitter end, beg not to be separated, and the agents always make an effort to place them in the same town or neighborhood. This camaraderie is shown very well by the following incident: Some months ago there was found on the steps of a house in Long Island city a poor little waif, emaciated with hunger and cold. The owner of the house brought him to New York and put him in the custody of the Children’s Aid society. At the Newsboys’ Lodging house a fund was subscribed sufficient to buy him a suit of clothes and pay his expenses at the hospital. He was such a frail little fellow that the surgeons feared he would never get well again. But he turned out to have a wiry constitution, and within a month was able to sell papers. His affectionate nature soon gained for him many friends, and his comrades vied with each other in doing him favors. A good stand was procured for him at the entrance to Brooklyn bridge, where he may be seen any day calling out in his shrill treble voice, ‘Extra! Extra Edition! Sporting Extra! Buy a paper, sir?’ and his sales are always large, for his friends zealously prevent any boy from pre-empting the stand.
Tender Hearted Arabs
Another instance of this loyalty was brought out a short time ago, when a bright little fellow, known by the name of Swiggs, had his frail life crushed out by the juggernaut cable car while he was attempting to cross to make a sale. Willie Swiggs had no relatives or friends but his own youthful associates, who tenderly cared for him. When the city authorities came to convey his body to the Potter’s field the bootblacks and newsboys gave thier last money, many of them pawning their clothes, to buy him a plot in a quiet country cemetery which lies along the green banks of the Hudson. Nor did they stop here, for every Sunday some one makes the journey to the little obscure grave and places on it a cheap wreath of leaves or flowers. The papers which he carried when he made his last sale are carefully preserved.
Its Work for Boys.
The Children’s Aid society of New York, which originated this scheme of emigrating these street arabs to the west and south, is the most extensive charitable organization in this country. In the forty-two years of its existence it has reclaimed from the slums of the city 10,000, and placed them in Christian homes. Some of these boys have become famous lawyers, journalists, surgeons and artists, while many of them occupy seats in the various state of legislatures, and one is today governor of North Dakota. Yes, so unpretentious are the methods of the society that never before have these facts been made known to the general public.
Thirty years ago there was picked up in Baxter street a little Irish boy who existed on crusts of bread, which he procured by creeping up on the back roofs of tenement houses and stealing the lead out of the chimneys, which he sold for a few pennies. When caught doing this he was sent to Randall’s Island. That boy was picked up by an agent for the Aid society, and in a short time left with a party for the west. His foster parents gave him a good common school education and then sent him to Yale, where he graduated with honors. In a few years he went to Alaska, where he became a prominent member of the bar, and is now known as Hon. Judge Brady, United States commissioner to Alaska.
Another lad was taken from Randall’s Island about the same time. Though only 8 years of age he had made a reputation as a professional pickpocket, along the wharfs of the East river, underneath which he had always lived. Soon after being put on a western farm he enlisted as a drummer boy in the war of the rebellion, where he served with distinction. After the war he engaged in various enterprises, but finally had his hand badly cut and was compelled to go to school, to which fact he now attributes his success in life. In his letters to the Aid society he always would up by saying that he intended “to be somebody,” and everyone who knows Governor A—— of North Dakota will agree that he has fulfilled his boyish promise.