Almost Yesterday: The Iron Mountain Baby

Apr 6, 2021

It seems like almost yesterday that one of the great legends of Southeast Missouri was born. On the afternoon of August 14, 1902, William Helms, a farmer near Hopewell, Missouri stopped to water his horse in a stream under a railroad trestle near Irondale. As he turned to leave he heard the muffled cry of a child. To his great surprise he found the sound coming from a suitcase that was on the river’s bank at the water’s edge. Inside the suitcase he found a baby boy with an extra set of clothes and a spool of black thread.

The 72 year old Helms quickly took the baby home to his wife, Sarah, who tenderly cared for the infant who they concluded had he been stuffed into the suitcase and deliberately thrown from an Iron Mountain Train as it passed over the river. The suitcase had landed on the bank, its fall broken by some bushes, and was found by Mr. Helms.

Sarah named the youngster William Moses Gould Helms: William for the man who found him,   Moses due to his being found by the river, Gould for the owner of the railroad, and Helms for the family who took care of him.

Within days a local minister, John Barton, composed a song entitled, “The Iron Mountain Baby,” and soon the story was being told nationwide.

Young Mr. Helms grew up in the region, became a printer, and worked for newspapers in Fredericktown and West Plains. He would later move to Texas where he died in 1953. His body was returned to Missouri where he was buried, close to the site where 51 years earlier he had been tossed from the train.