In 1904, New York nuns brought forty Irish orphans to a remote Arizona mining camp, to be placed with Catholic families. The Catholic families were Mexican, as was the majority of the population. Soon the town's Anglos, furious at this "interracial" transgression, formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes.
"The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" tells this disturbing and dramatic tale to illuminate the creation of racial boundaries along the Mexican border. Clifton/Morenci, Arizona, was a "wild West" boomtown, where the mines and smelters pulled in thousands of Mexican immigrant workers. Racial walls hardened as the mines became big business and whiteness became a marker of superiority. These already volatile race and class relations produced passions that erupted in the "orphan incident." To the Anglos of Clifton/Morenci, placing a white child with a Mexican family was tantamount to child abuse, and they saw their kidnapping as a rescue.
Women initiated both sides of this confrontation. Mexican women agreed to take in these orphans, both serving their church and asserting a maternal prerogative; Anglo women believed they had to "save" the orphans, and they organized a vigilante squad to do it. In retelling this nearly forgotten piece of American history, Linda Gordon brilliantly recreates and dissects the tangled intersection of family and racial values, in a gripping story that resonates with today's conflicts over the "best interests of the child."
Microhistory at its best. Gordon (History/Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) has long been a student of working-class and poor women, with a special interest in motherhood (Pitied But Not Entitled, 1994, traces the history of single mothers and welfare). Here she takes on some new challenges - narrative, the history of Spanish-speaking Americans, New Western history. Gordon began with great raw material: a gripping tale that sounds more like the plot of a TV mini-series than the subject of a university press book. In 1904, Catholic nuns in New York sent 40 Irish children on an "orphan train" to a small Arizona mining town, where they would be cared for by Catholic families - Mexican Catholic families. When the children arrived, the Anglo townsfolk were outraged by the idea that 40 white boys and girls were going to be placed with non-white families. Anglo women organized their men into a posse which kidnapped the children from the Mexican families. A trial followed, and the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court found in favor of the Anglos. Gordon, drawing on interviews, newspapers, and the court transcript, recreates the kidnapping and the ensuing courtroom drama in intoxicating detail. Along the way, Gordon cracks open a number of hot issues, from labor relations to women's roles. At the center is her exam/nation of the social construction of race; you won't find a more illuminating or nuanced discussion of the invention of whiteness than Gordon's. "The train ride," Gordon reminds us, "had transformed [the foundlings] from Irish to white." In early twentieth-century New York, Irish kids were no more "white" than Jewish or Italian children. But in Arizona, where the "other" was dark-skinned and spoke a language even more foreign to "white" ears than an Irish brogue, the children were suddenly as white as George Washington. Gordon has written the rare history book that readers won't be able to put down. (Kirkus Reviews)
|Cast of Principal Characters October 2, 1904, Night: North Clifton, Arizona|
|September 25, 1904: Grand Central Station, New York City|
|King Copper October 1, 1904, 6:30 p.m.: Clifton Railroad Station|
|Mexicans Come to the Mines October 1, 1904, around 7:30 p.m.: Sacred Heart Church, Clifton|
|The Priest in the Mexican Camp October 2, 1904, Afternoon: Morenci Square and Clifton Library Hall|
|The Mexican Mothers and the Mexican Town October 2, 1904, Evening: The Hills of Clifton|
|The Anglo Mothers and the Company Town October 2, 1904, Night: Clifton Hotel|
|The Strike October 3-4, 1904: Clifton Drugstore and Library Hall, Morenci Hotel|
|Vigilantism January 1905: Courtroom of the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, Phoenix|
|Family and Race Epilogue|
|Sonoran Highlands Mining Region in 1903 Old Clifton and Morenci|
|Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.|
Number Of Pages: 432
Published: 2nd April 2001
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.5 x 2.8
Weight (kg): 0.513