His birth was hardly joyous. His mother, her name unrecorded, delivered him in a home for unwed mothers, and then vanished into the city's teeming streets. Little Jerome was allowed to stay at the home for five weeks, but on Aug. 21, a nurse carried the abandoned infant to the New York Foundling Hospital.
Katherine Fitzpatrick seemed to have slightly better prospects. She was born a year later, on Sept. 9, 1901, at the Sloane Maternity Hospital. Though the birth took place in the "charity wards" designated for the city's poor, her mother didn't give her up, not at first, anyway. The woman, whose name is also lost to history, kept baby Katherine long enough to see her first smile, and her first golden curls coming in.
But when she was six months old, Katherine, too, was relinquished. The mother herself brought the child to the Foundling, handing her over on March 25, 1902. The date must have stung this Irish Catholic woman. It was the Feast of the Annunciation, when Catholics celebrate the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary.
Jerome and Katherine were only two of thousands abandoned to the Foundling. Between 1869, the year it was founded by an Irish-American nun named Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon, and 1904, the institution took in some 35,000 babies, primarily offspring of the city's reviled, impoverished Irish.
Staggering numbers of Irish immigrants had flooded the city since the Great Famine of the late 1840s. Subject to discrimination, they earned pitiful wages and crammed into unhealthful tenements. The Irish had come up in the world by the turn of the century, but they still accounted for a large percentage of the city's paupers.
Kids like Katherine and Jerome, born to single mothers, were "regarded by Irish and non-Irish alike as base, children of the underclass," writes historian Linda Gordon, who chronicles their tale in her book The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction. Their futures looked bleak.
Nothing about either child suggested that they would become the subjects of a fierce custody battle or, even more preposterously, celebrity darlings in the early days of mass media, written about in papers from coast to coast.
But that's exactly what happened. The nuns managed to find permanent foster homes for about a third of the children in their care, and Jerome and Katherine, luckily or unluckily, won a spot in the faraway West. Nuns from the Foundling took them to Arizona in a group of 40 orphans in October 1904, when Katherine was 3 and Jerome was 4. All of the children were placed in Mexican Catholic homes in the Wild West mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. Katherine and Jerome were destined to become siblings in the home of Cornelio and Margarita Chacón.
But the towns' Anglos, primarily non-Catholics, became incensed at the sight of white toddlers handed over to brown-skinned Hispanics. Within hours of the orphans' arrival, outraged Anglos gathered in threatening mobs. Within 24 hours--in a blinding monsoon, no less--a posse of 25 vigilantes stormed the Mexican homes and, armed with pistols, kidnapped the children.
Within 72 hours, the young priest had been ridden out of town, one step ahead of a lynch mob, and a throng of white "mothers" had picked out orphans to keep as their very own. The nuns managed to escape with 21 of the kids, but the rest stayed behind, permanently, with their new white, non-Catholic families.
The case made the papers all across the country, and the ensuing court case wended its way all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court, but in every venue, the finding was the same: Mexicans were unfit in every possible way to raise white children.
But a funny thing had happened on the orphans' way to the West. Back East, Jerome and Katherine weren't even in the exalted racial category of "white." They were something different, and infinitely inferior: Irish. As Gordon remarks, the "train ride had transformed them from Irish to white."
Perched high in the mountains of Eastern Arizona, the tiny towns of Clifton and Morenci hardly seem like a dream home for orphans of any color. Cliffs loom on all sides of Clifton, and Chase Creek and the San Francisco River run through the narrow swathe of flat, buildable land. The rivers flood frequently, washing away houses and businesses. Everywhere, rising high overhead, tumbling down gulleys, are rusty-orange rocks, shot through with the copper that has long given the townsfolk their living.
In 1904, Morenci, 1,000 feet up from Clifton, was a shoot-'em-up place nicknamed Hell Town that went head to head with Tombstone for the title of toughest town in Arizona. Morenci was more camp than town, and Clifton had a bit more of a business district, but saloons and brothels flourished in both places.
Violence was routine. A squad of armed Arizona Rangers came in to settle a strike in 1903 that had pitted whites against Mexicans. Famed healer Teresita Urrea, the Saint of Cabora, lived in Clifton, and when she entered an abusive marriage in 1900, a posse of 200 men pursued her gun-toting husband and threw him in jail.
Health and sanitation were poor. Morenci had no sewer system, and a typhoid epidemic swept through in late October 1904, shortly after the orphan episode. Both towns had bad water and bad air, polluted by the smelter's sulfurous emissions. Gordon records high rates of infertility in the towns, accounting for large numbers of women with baby hunger. At least one of the white adoptive mothers blamed her infertility on the pollution.
Mexicans and Mexican Americans (called Mexicans no matter where they were born) were a majority in both towns--perhaps 60 percent in Clifton, 70 percent in Morenci--but the copper mines enforced a rigid hierarchy in jobs and wages. It was a given that whites got the best jobs and the best pay. But "white" was more broadly defined here: It took in Americans of English descent, Scotsmen and, a notch down, Irish, Italians and Spaniards: anyone, in short, who wasn't Mexican or Chinese.
The local Anglos were not particularly religious--in 1904, Clifton had only one Protestant church, Presbyterian--but Mexicans were generally devout Catholics. The town's first Catholic church, Sacred Heart, had opened way back in 1882, but three successive church structures were destroyed by fire or deluge. Still, the faithful kept rebuilding.
It was the Mexicans' religious faith that inspired the nuns to place Irish New Yorkers in an Arizona mining camp in the first place. The nuns held fiercely to the idea that Irish Catholics, no matter how poor, had a right to their own religion. For their immortal souls to be saved, the orphans had to be raised in the "one true church."
The nuns had reason to fear for the kids' souls. For decades, do-gooder Protestant social workers in New York had virtually kidnapped Irish Catholic urchins off the streets--some of them orphans, some of them not--and shipped them out West.
As historian Maureen Fitzgerald recounts in Habits of Compassion: Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of New York's Welfare System, 1830-1920, Irish kids swarmed the sidewalks of New York. These "ulcers of society," as The New York Times called them, did what they could to put crumbs on the family table, begging, working, rag-picking, stealing.
The best remedy for this plague of disorderly young Papists, Protestant leaders agreed, was to transfer them "into Protestant homes outside the city."
The legal mechanism for snatching kids away was a truancy law, which permitted any child not in school during school hours to be arrested and brought to a private mission, invariably Protestant. Fitzgerald writes that mission workers had no legal obligation even to contact the parents. If the impoverished mothers and fathers--many of them immigrants, not savvy to the ways of the city--never found them, the children could be legally committed for their entire childhood to the jurisdiction of the agency.
Which is where the notorious orphan trains come in.
A Methodist minister by the name of Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children's Aid Society, conceived of the trains as an ingenious--and inexpensive--alternative to orphanages for the wretched Irish refuse. Families in the fabled American countryside would take in the street urchins and put them to work in the wholesome outdoors.
"The demand (in the Midwest and West) for children's labor is practically unlimited," he enthused in 1880. "A child's place at the table of the farmer is always open; his food and cost to the family are of little account."
Brace's trains duly rolled out with 1,000 "orphans" a year by 1864. By 1910, Gordon calculates, some 110,000 had been railroaded out of town. At their destinations, crowds attracted by newspaper ads inspected the children like cattle. To Catholics, the outward-bound shipments of mostly Irish-Catholic kids amounted to nothing less than cultural genocide.
The Sisters of Charity set out to counteract them. The child of Irish famine refugees, Sister Mary Irene opened the order's first Foundling house in 1870. From the start, the nuns allowed poor mothers to drop off babies without censure, and gave them up to three years to reclaim them.
Like Brace, the Sisters of Charity also turned to placing out, but they followed strict guidelines. The ideal age was 3, when children were weaned but too young to be sought for their labor. Particular families were vetted and matched in advance to each tot: no cattle calls. Most importantly, the foster families had to be practicing Catholics who would raise the orphans in their ancient faith.
Clifton had a new priest. Father Constant Mandin, at 26 a freshly minted clergyman, had arrived in town in the spring of 1904. He was an outsider, a Frenchman, here on his first pastoral assignment. Early on, he received a letter from the Sisters of Charity in faraway New York. Would any of his parishioners be interested in taking in a foundling? Mandin ignored the request at first. But when he received a second letter, he read it aloud to his Sacred Heart congregation, as A. Blake Brophy reports in Foundlings on the Frontier.
Sixty parishioners applied to take a child; most of the 33 Mandin picked were mining families with a father earning a "Mexican" wage of $1.50 to $2.50 a day. The childless Chacóns were probably the best off. Cornelio, a skimmer at the copper smelter, was at the top of the Mexican pay scale. Margarita, a schoolteacher, taught Mexican children in their home.
On Sept. 25, their future children set out by train from Grand Central Station. Sister Anna Michaella Bowen headed the orphan brigade, assisted by Sister Ann Corsini Cross, an Irish immigrant; Sister Francis Liguori Keller, a French-born nun; four nurses and placement agent George Swayne.
The children ranged in age from 2 to 6, and they were a decidedly Irish bunch; besides Shanley and Fitzpatrick, they had such names as Kane, Welsh, Corcoran, Doherty, Ryan, Mack. The runarounds, as the nuns called toddlers, must have been a handful, but their early excitement soon worn off. The journey cross-country to Arizona was longer than they could imagine. It was not until the 11th day, Saturday, Oct. 1, that the brigade pulled into Clifton in the early evening, one day behind schedule.
The nuns' first glimpse of the place was not propitious. Two smelters towered over the narrow town, and black smoke stained the air. The expected foster mothers were at the station, but word had spread that orphan children were coming to town. A knot of white women pushed their way to the front and peered into the train windows.
What they saw delighted them. The nuns and nurses had dressed each little girl in a new white dress and each little boy in a sailor suit. The girls' hair was curled and beribboned, and every child was laced up in a pair of shiny black boots.
Gordon relates that Louisa Gatti could barely restrain herself. As Louisa later described it: "I thought to myself, 'I better get where I could see the babies good.' So the car pulled up a little ahead, and I goes to work and climbs the box car ... and (I) gets a peak at the children and jumps down and goes up to the butcher shop and tells Mr. Gatti, 'Oh, but there is some lovely children in that car over there.'"
The children were taken to Father Mandin's house. The Mexican foster mothers lined up, and agent Swayne and the priest checked each woman's name against the tag sewn into each child's garments. Soon, the children were placed in the arms of their new mothers.
Sister Anna Michaella later testified that she began to object to the color mismatch between mothers and children. Father Mandin, the outsider, didn't understand the problem--these were devout women of his parish, after all. So Sister Anna deferred to his priestly authority, reasoning that she could take the children back later if necessary.
In the midst of the confusion, Louisa Gatti marched in and asked for a child, and claimed later that a sexton told her he would see what he could do. When her husband, John, turned up, he spoke to the priest in French, and learned that no children were available. Distraught, Louisa left empty-handed. So did the other childless Anglo women, but not before seeing the Mexican women--their social inferiors--walk out with white babies.
"They not only wanted the babies," Gordon reports, "they were beginning to think it wasn't right for the Mexicans to take the babies ... they were beginning to fume when one by one the Mexican women emptied the church of orphans."
The women took their outrage back to town. The nuns, unaware, returned to the sleeping car to spend the night. Early the next morning, a Sunday, they loaded the 24 remaining children onto wagons and, with Mandin and Swayne, drove up the twisting road to Morenci, leaving nurse Marian Taylor behind. At Holy Cross Church, a nearly identical procedure unfolded. New parents lined up; lists were checked; Mexican families left with Irish children. This time, though, Sister Anna was more assertive. She rejected nine of the families.
The Foundling group then checked into the Morenci Hotel. But their actions had not escaped notice. Three men accosted Swayne, Brophy writes. Charles Mills, manager of Detroit Copper, along with a company doctor and another man, demanded an explanation: How could he place white children with Mexicans? Swayne curtly replied that it was none of their business.
Meanwhile, back in Clifton, the rumor mill was churning. Anglos were trading tales of shiftless Mexican men and immoral Mexican women. No better than Indians, these half-breeds had filthy homes, the talk went. They didn't know how to treat white children--one claimed to have seen a new Mexican mother give beer to her child--and would poison them with spicy Mexican food. And the priest was no better: He was selling babies to the highest bidder.
There were eight female ringleaders, Gordon writes, seven of whom would later get orphans. By early afternoon, they persuaded five men to take action: Sam and Jake Abraham, Mike Riordan, Tom Simpson and Harry Wright (who would adopt Katherine Fitzpatrick).
The men tracked down deputy sheriff Jeff Dunagan, but he coolly told them he could make no arrests without a warrant. Still, he agreed to go up to Morenci to find Mandin and Swayne, and bring them back to Clifton. Simpson, a railroad engineer, went with him.
The pair, both armed, found Sister Anna Michaella first, at the Morenci Hotel. She explained that she intended to stay and inspect the homes, and if any were inappropriate, she reserved the right to remove the children. Mills, the mine boss, was still nosing around, and he joined the men to confront Swayne in his room. The men reiterated the townsfolk's objections to the Mexican families. Mills explained that the Mexicans earned very little money at the mine--a fact he was in a position to know, because he set their pitiful wages.
News had spread around the mining camp that the "pretty little children were going to stay in the half-breed homes," Brophy writes. A mob grew outside the hotel, and people were shouting they'd take the children themselves.
Their rumblings gave Mills new ammunition. He sternly lectured all the outsiders about the niceties of racial discrimination in the Southwest. Mills might not have known that the Irish children ranked several steps below white in New York, but he did know that in Arizona, their placement with Mexicans "violated some of the deepest feelings and strongest convictions of the Americans in the community," Brophy writes. (To Mills and the others, "Americans" meant "whites.")
The Morenci multitude--some 400 in a town of only 700 whites--began to push into the hotel, shouting out threats to tar and feather the priest and agent. One of the nuns later described the scene to a Tucson Citizen reporter:
"In the street a sheriff sat on horseback, with a revolver, like the other men. Women called us vile names, and some of them put pistols to our heads. They said there was no law in that town; that they made their own laws."
The New Yorkers knew defeat when they saw it. Sister Anna ordered Swayne to go retrieve the kids in Morenci, just a few short hours after they had been taken to their new homes. Later, he was to get the others in Clifton.
To make the evening even more cataclysmic, the first lightning flashes of a gathering monsoon blazed along the canyon walls, and "when the rains came, they slapped the town in wind-driven sheets," Brophy writes. Mandin and Swayne set out in the torrent for the Mexican homes and told the new parents to bring the children to the hotel immediately, storm or no storm. The first soaked families started showing up around 7:30 p.m., and the last about 10 p.m.
As each family came in, mine boss Mills contemptuously read aloud the amount of each father's wages, Gordon reports, "to show how little they earned."
Unbeknownst to the Foundling group up in Morenci, it was already too late to retrieve the Clifton orphans. All day, the Clifton crowd had been growing bigger and angrier by the hour. They had learned midafternoon in a phone call from Dunagan that Swayne would not yield. Muriel Wright, future mother of Katherine, urged "the good citizens of the town ... (to) rescue these babies."
Twenty-five men formed a posse, a group they would later describe in court as a benign "committee." The squad included two deputy sheriffs and George Frazer, a superintendent at the smelter, who would later adopt orphan Hannah Kane.
They set out after dark, through the crashing rain, in dirt streets turned to muddy soup, armed with rifles and Colts. Neville Leggatt, a deliveryman for the Arizona Copper Company store, knew most of the houses. He would later call the foster parents, his faithful customers, "half Indians of the lowest kind."
The posse stormed house after house, loudly knocking on doors, demanding each orphan in the name of the citizens of Clifton. But when they got to the home of Margarita Chacón, even Leggatt would confess later to being ashamed. He conceded to the court that the Chacóns were "honest people." But the posse had agreed on a single, one-size-fits-all plan: All Mexicans were bad, and all children were to be seized.
Jerome and Katherine were rousted from their new beds, grabbed by strange men from Margarita's arms, and taken out into the night.
By midnight, all 16 of the Clifton orphans were back at the hotel. Wet, chilled and exhausted, some of the children were sick to their stomachs. A clutch of Anglo women put them to bed in blankets on the floor, but they didn't settle down, understandably, until 2 a.m. One child, Josephine Corcoran, 2 1/2, sang hysterically until she fell asleep, Gordon recounts.
When Swayne and Mandin got back to town around midnight, intending to round up the children on Monday morning, they learned that the abduction had taken place. Even with the children retrieved, the rabble's rage was unabated. They demanded that Swayne wire the Foundling for permission for Anglo families to take the children, and when Swayne refused, Sam Abraham barred the agent and the priest from his hotel. Dunagan took them over to a Mexican boardinghouse. Dunagan and Simpson spent the night with them--if the men were not exactly under arrest, they were in protective custody.
Monday morning, Oct. 3, nurse Marian Taylor came downstairs to find 16 of her former charges scurrying around the hotel lobby. When she protested, Brophy writes, Abraham told her that since "the sisters had given them to the Mexicans ... (they) had lost all right to them."
And the Anglo women were already divvying them up.
"People began literally fighting over children," Gordon relates. "The children were being dickered over as if at a bazaar."
A Mrs. Pascoe claimed Jerome Shanley, and Muriel Wright took Katherine Fitzpatrick, ending the children's short-lived siblingship. Mrs. Jake Abraham took singing Josephine, and Laura Abraham, wife of Sam, helped herself to the youngest, Elizabeth Kane, who would turn 2 on Oct. 5. Pushy Louisa Gatti walked off with William Norton, age 3.
The Anglos hoped to legitimize these putative adoptions that evening, when P.C. Little, a probate judge from Solomonville, arrived on the evening train. But he said, correctly, that he couldn't sign adoption papers without the authorization of the Foundling, the legal guardian. But he also refused to restore the children to the custody of the Foundling's reps. By default, the children would stay where they were.
When the mob heard the bad news about the adoptions, they exploded and chased Swayne and Mandin into the streets. The two hid out in the rear room of a saloon until the coast was clear, and then hightailed it back to Morenci with Dunagan. But a grim announcement awaited.
Deputy Gus Hobbs informed them that the whites of Morenci intended to follow Clifton's suit. They planned to grab the kids from the nuns and hand them out to Anglos. Hobbs further ordered the whole New York group--and the priest--to get out of town the next morning, Tuesday, Oct. 4, on the 7 a.m. train.
Sister Anna Michaella declared that she, her nuns and nurses would stay behind with the children and face down any kidnappers. But Swayne and Mandin did not need too much persuading, and they hopped the morning train, throngs jeering in their wake. His first pastoral ministry in tatters, Mandin headed for Tucson and the protection of his bishop, Henri Granjon. Swayne went to El Paso, Texas, to wait for the sisters.
"The seven women were to face the mob alone," Gordon writes.
But Dunagan played a couple of unexpected cards. First, he told the women that they would never be able to take the children from town, because the engineer had vowed he wouldn't allow them on the train. Second, he revealed that Swayne had promised him two children in return for keeping the agent safe.
Defeated, Sister Anna allowed him his pick. He chose Hannah Kane, 3 1/2, and Edward Cummiskey, 4 1/2. But Dunagan didn't want the tots for himself. He would hand Hannah over to Clifton smelter boss George Frazer, perhaps seeking to gain favor with a higher-up, and Edward to a J.T. Kelly.
The fire sale was on. Charles Mills, the Morenci mine boss, turned up next. It seemed his friend, a Dr. W.F. Davis, a Clifton physician now living in Los Angeles, had asked Mills to pick out a child for him. Sister Anna permitted this, too, and he selected a little girl.
Even these concessions did not endear the nuns to the circling mobs.
"The Morenci crowd ... turned its fury on the sisters, and Tuesday became the most terrifying day of all," Gordon writes. Men with guns invaded the nuns' hotel rooms, trailed by women calling them slave traders and worse.
Sister Anna managed to slip out and track down Mills. Mollified now that he'd gotten a child for his friend, perhaps, the mine boss ordered the hotel to eject the crowds. And he promised to put his company guards on watch, and even allow the whole party to leave town the next day--nuns, nurses, kids and all.
Next morning, Wednesday, Oct. 5, the guards escorted the baby brigade to Morenci station. They got out of Hell Town on the 7 a.m. train, leaving 19 souls behind.
The nuns never got Jerome or Katherine or the other children back. In New York, where the work of the Foundling was well known, the New York Daily News slammed Morenci and Clifton as the most "debased localities (that) can be found on the entire southern tier of States ... . The beseeching nuns were beaten off and the sobbing little ones were distributed among the vilest haunts of the two towns ..."
But the Western papers replayed timeworn anti-Catholic and anti-Mexican slurs. The Arizona Bulletin condemned Catholics for selling "sweet, innocent, white American babies" to "squalid, half-civilized Mexicans of the lowest class."
Even President Theodore Roosevelt got involved. In New York, the Ancient Order of Hibernians complained about the kidnapping to the president, who obliged by directing the U.S. Attorney in Phoenix to file a friend-of-the-court brief for the nuns. William Henry Brophy, a wealthy Bisbee businessman born in Ireland, helped fund their suit, and he recommended a top Tucson attorney, Eugene Ives.
No criminal charges were ever filed against the vigilantes. When the Graham County Probate Court certified the Anglo parents as legal guardians in November, Ives filed an appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court for the return of the children. Turning their backs on the Mexican Catholics who took in strangers, the nuns conceded during the January 1905 trial that the homes were not well-chosen. The blame was placed squarely on Father Mandin, a foreigner who didn't understand Americans' complicated racial calibrations.
But attorney Ives argued the law. The territory of Arizona was bound to comply with New York state custody laws and return the children to the Foundling.
Cliftonian after Cliftonian answered his logic with the most racist testimony possible, repeating the slanders that their Mexican neighbors were prostitutes, low-lifes, vermin. Still, the Anglos' best argument was their newly constituted families. The new parents came en masse to the trial in Phoenix, their lovely young orphans in tow. Paraded around town and in the courtroom, the children became media darlings. Journalists reported their every gesture, every cute saying.
On Jan. 17, the Arizona Republican gushed over little Katherine. Perched on a desk in the courtroom, "She turned her attention to the justices, laughed and waved her little hand at the court en banc" and pretty much put a stop to the judges' efforts to keep the courtroom quiet.
Writing the unanimous decision upholding the Anglos' guardianship, Justice Edward Kent praised the parents.
"With humanitarian impulse ... (they) assisted in the rescue of these little children from the evil into which they had fallen. ... We feel that is for their (children's) best interests that no change be made in their custody."
Nowhere did the judge mention posses or lynch mobs. Instead, he lauded the "Americans" who staged "community meetings" and "volunteer actions" to remove children from "degraded half-breed Indians."
Some of the adoptive parents had claimed to be Catholic, Gordon writes, but none were practicing, and in any case, the court hardly addressed the nuns' central concern: the right of the Irish children to be raised in their ancestral faith. For the courts, race trumped religion.
The Foundling appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in December 1906, the highest court ruled it lacked jurisdiction. The lower court finding stood, and the Clifton white parents legally adopted the children. Their homecoming merited a festival among the white residents, but the sensational case hardened the racial barriers in the twin mining camps.
Father Mandin never returned. He became the longtime priest in Bisbee, where, ironically, he served a community of Irish-born miners, and built St. Patrick's, an elaborate church that still stands. Sacred Heart Church washed away again in a flood in 1905. Margarita Chacón told a census taker in 1910 that she had only one living baby, after losing six others. Sister Anna Michaella became leader of the Sisters of Charity in 1917.
And the children? A 1906 photo pictures golden-haired Katherine Wright, formerly Fitzpatrick, swathed in a white dress, lounging in the lap of her adoptive aunt, Mae Wright Simpson, the very picture of respectability.
Little singing Josephine, adopted by the Abrahams, didn't fare as well. She died of pneumonia in December 1904; she'd been sick ever since her untimely outing in the October storm. Sadie Green, renamed Gladys Freeman, was raised in Los Angeles, where she was raped and impregnated by a grocer at the age of 13, according to files unearthed by Gordon.
In a history master's thesis for the UA, James Patton wrote in 1945 that none of the orphans still lived in Clifton. Another writer, William R. Ridgway, claimed in 1955 to have found a grown orphan in Clifton devotedly tending to her aged, adoptive mother. As for the rest, they vanished as surely as their Irish names were erased.
But according to writer Elena Díaz Bjórkquist, who grew up in Morenci in the 1940s and '50s, a legend persisted in the Mexican community that one of the orphans escaped the vigilantes, fleeing with her new family into the stormy night. When the family returned after some years, they had a pale-skinned daughter in tow, and her hair was flaming red.