August 14, 1902
Near Irondale, Missouri
A man looking for scrap wood finds a baby in a valise who had been thrown from a train
William Helms (72) was constructing a barn and needed additional scrap lumber. He visited a riverbank near a railroad trestle and noticed a valise (a small suitcase). As he approached it, he heard a squeaking noise so faint he initially suspected it to be from a field mouse. Upon opening the valise he was startled to find an injured infant, approximately 4 to 6 days old. The boy had an injured arm, bruised from where he had struck the ground. He also had a dent in his head.
Helms rushed the baby to his home where he, his wife, and their daughters lived. They took care of the baby, nursing him back to health, while newspapers ran articles in hopes of finding the boy’s mother. In the meantime, the Helms family gave their foundling a name: William Moses Gould Helms (William and Helms after his rescuer, Moses because he was found abandoned near a river in a similar manner to the Biblical Moses, and Gould after Jason Gould who owned the Iron Mountain Railroad).
The young baby’s plight became an immediate sensation, and led to the creation of the song “Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby.” Sales of the song’s sheet music were given to the Helms family to assist in the costs of raising him.
The younger Helms grew up, moved to Texas, married, and had a son of his own who was also named William. He died at the age of 50 on January 31, 1953. His body was transported, as per his wishes, from Texas back to Missouri, coincidentally on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad — the same railroad he was thrown from as an infant. The transportation of his corpse was only the second time he ever rode a train, the first being the fateful journey in which he was hurled from the train.
William Moses Gould Helms as a baby next to the valise in which he was found.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. August 17, 1902