Cover image for The great Arizona orphan abduction
The great Arizona orphan abduction
Gordon, Linda.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 416 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F819.C55 G67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This text tells the disturbing history of racial boundaries along the USA/Mexican border. It focuses on the case of some Irish orphans who were placed with Mexican families, and the resulting anger of the town's Anglos who formed a vigilante squad to kidnap the children away from the Mexicans.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Economics, religion, and racial and sexual politics intersect in this fascinating account of the social upheaval caused when Mexicans in a small Arizona mining town in 1904 adopted 40 abandoned Irish-Catholic children from New York. The children were brought West by Catholic nuns on the little-known orphan trains that transported children of poor families across the country for adoption. Gordon has rendered a well-researched analysis of the social and racial factors that aroused passions enough to send posses to "rescue" the children and that nearly lead to the lynching of a priest. Gordon puts the incident in the context of turn-of-the-century industrialization and changing racial definitions that reclassified ethnic groups, such as the Irish as whites. Gordon uses news accounts and court transcripts to render a compelling account of the incident and the legal challenges by the Catholic charity group that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ended in judgment in favor of the white vigilantes, reinforcing racial and religious attitudes of the time. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1859, the New York Times termed urban orphans the "ulcers of society." By 1864, child welfare crusaders were advocating their adoption by rural families and sending trains full of orphaned and abandoned children westward. As Gordon documents in this compelling account, they were often dumped at the end of the line, where they were taken in by whoever needed or wanted a childÄfor any purpose. By the end of the 19th century, the Sisters of Charity's New York Foundling Hospital was cleaning up this well-established practice by carefully matching children with families selected by parish priests. Focusing on the delivery of 40 "white" orphans to Mexican Catholic adoptive families in the Arizona mining towns of Clifton and Morenci in 1904, Gordon vividly describes how the Anglo women of the townÄall of them ProtestantsÄbecame enraged and instigated a mass abduction of the children, often carried out at gunpoint. A trial ensued, pitting the Foundling Hospital against the Anglo powers of Arizona, which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held that the abduction was legal, and that placing the children with Mexican families had been tantamount to child abuse. In delineating the racial and religious dynamics in turn-of-the-century Arizona (including frontier feminism, the evolution of racial and class structures and the history of copper mining, labor disputes and vigilantism), Gordon reveals a great deal about the origins of "family values" in America. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gordon (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) builds her book around an incident in 1904, when a group of New York Irish orphans was sent to live with Catholic (and Mexican) families in Arizona. Outraged local Anglos then "rescued" the children at gunpoint. This account of the orphan abduction jostles for space amidst an encyclopedic re-creation of the world of Mexican miners in the American Southwest. The tale is so convoluted that the book even includes a list of characters, and the outcome is, predictably, unhappy. More compelling are the background sections that detail everything from how many pestles were in the miners' kitchens (two) to the racial basis for setting mine wages. Throughout, Gordon discusses the hardening racist system in the Southwest. These painstakingly researched chapters could well stand on their own as a powerful history of the miners' lives and a superior case study of emigrant labor at the turn of the century. Recommended for academic libraries.ÄDuncan Stewart, State Historical Society of Iowa Lib., Iowa City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this remarkable history of an obscure event, Gordon skillfully casts light on myriad important subjects. The plot line is simple enough. In 1904, three nuns from the New York Foundling Hospital traveled on an "orphan train" to place 40 Irish foundlings with Mexican families in Clifton-Morerci, Arizona. Angered at this interracial transgression, vigilantes kidnaped the children from their Mexican foster families and distributed them among Anglo families in Clifton. Legal challenges by the New York Foundling Hospital were defeated at every level, including the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the best interests of the children were served by leaving them with the white kidnappers. But the orphan train ride, abduction, and legal proceedings play only a small part in this book. Gordon has done an extraordinary amount of research and has completely contextualized the historical account of the orphan abduction. One finds learned chapters on the history of the Southwest, the copper mining industry, vigilantism, Mexican women, labor relations, and Catholicism. Especially informative are Gordon's lengthy discussions of historical definitions of whiteness and how the orphan abduction was instrumental in destroying the fluidity of race relations. Undergraduates and above. E. W. Carp; Pacific Lutheran University

Table of Contents

Cast of Principal Characters October 2, 1904, Night: North Clifton, Arizona
September 25, 1904: Grand Central Station, New York City
1 King Copper October 1, 1904, 6:30 p.m.: Clifton Railroad Station
2 Mexicans Come to the Mines October 1, 1904, around 7:30 p.m.: Sacred Heart Church, Clifton
3 The Priest in the Mexican Camp October 2, 1904, Afternoon: Morenci Square and Clifton Library Hall
4 The Mexican Mothers and the Mexican Town October 2, 1904, Evening: The Hills of Clifton
5 The Anglo Mothers and the Company Town October 2, 1904, Night: Clifton Hotel
6 The Strike October 3-4, 1904: Clifton Drugstore and Library Hall, Morenci Hotel
7 Vigilantism January 1905: Courtroom of the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, Phoenix
8 Family and Race Epilogue
Sonoran Highlands Mining Region in 1903 Old Clifton and Morenci