Yesterday's News

Henderson went out of its way to help out wandering traveler

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
February 20, 2005

The best measure of a community's humanity is how it treats the young, the old, the frail, the defenseless.

Henderson ranks pretty well in that respect, I think, which is one of the reasons I'm still here after 20 years. During that time I've been consistently amazed at this community's generosity and compassion.

So it really didn't surprise me when I ran across this story from 1955. In most towns of that period, if an old vagrant shambled into town pulling his only possessions in a ramshackle wagon, he probably would have ended up in jail.

That's exactly what happened to Walter Scotland 50 years ago. But he wasn't there involuntarily. Jailer Roy Hazelwood treated him as an honored guest, providing him a full belly and a warm bed for the night before sending him on his way.

But I'm getting ahead of the story, as told by Hugh Edward Sandefur in a 1955 edition of The Gleaner. Here is how Sandefur started it:

"A 73-year-old man, stooped from years of toil in the Illinois coal fields, shuffled out of Henderson early yesterday pulling his earthly belongings in a toy wagon, headed down the road to anywhere.

"He left the city just as he entered it some 18 hours earlier, but there was a difference.

"His pocket was heavier, his step lighter, and his wagon newer. And his heart was full of gratitude for hospitality he received from state, county and city law enforcement officers."

Scotland was first spotted on U.S. 41-North "pulling a dilapidated toy wagon southward" by Cpl. Eldon C. Sims of the Kentucky State Police. When he asked Scotland where he was headed, "anywhere" was the vague reply.

The old man told the officer he had left a nursing home in Carmi, Ill., and "had decided to wander about the country for a while. He said he was headed for Florida."

Under Sims' questions, the old man's story came tumbling out. He had less than $5 in his pocket and all his belongings were piled in the wagon. His wife had died 33 years earlier, and up until about 1945 he had worked in the southern Illinois coal fields.

"Do you have any children?" Sims asked, to which Scotland replied that there was a son he hadn't seen in nine years and whose address he did not know. And there was also a daughter in Illinois.

"I went to my daughter's home a year ago and she refused to admit me because I couldn't work and make money," Scotland said.

Sandefur said the sorry tale "fell on the always sympathetic ears and hearts of a group of men whose responsibility it is to protect the weak and the innocent as well as to punish those guilty of breaking the laws of society."


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS