Iron Mountain Baby

Tale of The Iron Mountain Baby

two stories about this famous baby

This story reprinted from the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway ALL ABOARD Vol.16

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. He had stopped near the Irondale rail trestle where he wanted to pick up some lumber for a barn he was building. Over the course of his journey, he saw a northbound train, Number Four, speed by. Moments later, he heard what he thought to be field mice squeaking.

To the great surprise of William Helms, he found an old-fashioned telescope valise containing a small infant. He concluded that the infant had been tossed off the train; however, the reason why still remains a mystery to this very day. Some thought the baby may have traveled over 500 miles in that valise. When Helms discovered the valise, it had been torn and the baby was badly bruised and injured. No one knew for sure if the child was going to live. It had a dent in its head and its left arm and leg were also hurt.

Due to the loving kindness of the Helms family, the baby pulled through. The community concluded that the baby was no older than five days old when the horrible incident occurred. 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. The family was 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 who claimed they were the baby's mother. However, when young William was 6, the Helms' decided that they loved him too 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 Braughton's University and Southwest State Teachers College at Springfield, MO. His schooling was financed by the Iron Mountain Railroad, which later became the Missouri-Pacific Line. In college, he learned the printer's trade which he practiced most of his life. He was married August 5, 1933 in St. Louis. He then moved with his wife, Sally, to Texas. They had one son also named William.

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

The Washington County, MO burial records list 'Sallie' Helms, 17 Sep 1904-1989 as being buried together with William Moses
Gould Helms in the Hopewell Cemetery. William's adoptive parents, William (1835-1917) and Sarah Jane (1850-1925) (Knight)
Helms, are also buried there.

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 rememberance of that fateful August day. Even though the tale of the Iron Mountain Baby is an old story, the mystery still remains unsolved of who the baby really was.

Pennsboro News, Pennsboro, West Virginia, August 21, 1980
(article about the Iron Mountain Baby, by M. Avery Dotson)

On a hot August morning in 1902, train No. 4 puffed north out of Irondale, Missouri, on its regular schedule toward St. Louis. This was known as the Iron Mountain Railroad, now the Missouri Pacific. No one on that train was aware of the event that was going to take place, except some mother or father who stuffed a baby into a satchel and tossed it from a coach as the train chugged across a trestle over Big River, 65 miles south of St. Louis. A farmer, Bill Helms, was going down the road that followed the railroad. In his wagon he forded Big River as there was no bridge in 1902 for vehicular traffic. Somewhere in the brush on the other side he thought he heard a faint cry. He stopped his horses to investigate. There in a pile of brush was a satchel, a square cardboard affair of the times. From it came those wails, Mr. Helms had been hearing. He unbuttoned the valise Ė what he saw inside was astonishing. The baby was bruised somewhat. Helms lifted it out and took the satchel with him. Held the babe in his lap and drove on. Arriving home, mother Helms took the child to her heart, and bathed its wounds. The news of a castoff but living baby quickly spread around; suddenly it struck the fancy of the nations newspapers. People from everywhere came to see the baby. Millionaires wrote in, saying they would adopt the child and bring it up in wealth. A mysterious lady in black visited and said it was her baby Ė that she had tossed it off in a moment of distress on the train. The Helms stood steadfast, saying they would rear the baby that came to them from yonder.

They named him William Moses Gould Ė the 'Gould' for a railroad dignitary Ė The 'Moses' because he was found in the rushes. 'William' for his godfather, Bill Helms. Anywhere down around Irondale, Flat River, you may hear a folk song wailing, "The Iron Mountain Babe".

I have a song Iíd like to sing
Itís awful but itís true
About a babe thrown from a train
By a mother, none knows who
This little babe, a few days old
Was in satchel tight
Around it folded were its clothes
When thrown out in the night
The train was running at full speed
Twas north bound Number Four
And as it crossed the Big River bridge
She cast it from the door
The father may proved untrue
But this Iím bound to day
It must have grieved the motherís heart
To cast her babe this way
The grip was fourteen inches deep,
When thrown out in the rain,
It bruised its head and hurt it arm
A falling to the ground
A kind old man who lived on a farm
The little babe he found
He heard it helpless cries,
He took it to his home and wife,
They would not let it die
They washed and bathed its little head,
And soon hushed up its cries
May God bless them when they die
This little babe God bless its heart;
We cannot tell its name,
He has a mother to take his part,
A father just the same
We called him William Moses Gould
Because he had no name
And if he lives to be a man
Heíll use it just the same

Back to main page

This page was last updated 29 June 2008.

For comments or suggestions regarding the page, e-mail Larry G. Flesher (