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The Incredible Story of the Irish Orphan Abduction

And the (almost) equally incredible story of how I came to learn about it

By Eidolon Schreiber Published 3 years ago 7 min read

“Arghhhh. Not again!” I groaned as I buried my face into my pillow.

It had been twenty YEARS since I had worked as a nursing assistant. Yet I continued to have dreams where I would show up at a nurse’s station, get my assigned rooms, and get to work taking care of my patients.

“I should be getting a paycheck for this.” I muttered as I rolled out of bed. The day was just starting and I was already annoyed.

Later that evening I searched the internet to see if there was some way I could change my dreams. There were quite a few articles about lucid dreaming, but I didn’t even care about total control. I just wanted to stop dreaming about helping elderly people to the toilet. I was also way too lazy to do some kind of thirty minute meditation, so I took notes on the simplest suggestions.

That night it was time to take a crack at dream manipulation. As I lay there, eyes closed, relaxing my body for sleep, I told myself over and over “Please don’t dream about that. Please dream about anything else.” And I would show myself a brief flash of working in scrubs. But I was careful not to focus too hard on it, I definitely didn’t want my little exercise to backfire and burn the thought of working into my dreams. Eventually my conscious thoughts dissolved to black and I drifted off to sleep.

My three children and I were on a trip to Mexico. We were in a shabby, yet quaint, village marketplace. A friendly lady in a blouse and long skirt guides us to a little petting zoo. The way it was enclosed reminded me of the chicken coop on the farm where I grew up. My kids chased the chickens, and cuddled with puppies and rabbits. We all ate sugary treats given to us by the lady and continued on our tour.

We walked past a little adobe style stable with an enclosed area and an open area with a roof. There were burros tied in a line in the open area. In case I wasn’t completely convinced we were in Mexico, the burros had colorful striped serapes draped over their backs. When we got too close they kicked at us. We squealed and laughed and ran away from them. Just a few yards away we came to a retaining wall with a folk art style painting of a plumed serpent.

“Do you like my murals?” A man had approached our group to welcome us to his town. This dude looked like Pablo Escobar, with thick black hair and a mustache. I knew he was the one in charge. Because of the resemblance and status I assumed he was a cartel leader, but he actually never said that.

He proceeded to guide us through the little town, sweeping his hand as he directed our attention to the sights. There were several more folk art style murals, and I realized they weren’t his in the sense that he paid someone to create them. He had actually painted them himself.

I told him that his work reminded me of talavera pottery, how much I loved it, and how the blue and white style was my absolute favorite. He spoke of how the blue on white talavera represented life, like veins embedded in pale flesh.

Our group continued around to the back side of the stable. The area opened up onto a green meadow, and in the near distance stood a sprawling two story house. Two little boys pulled a wagon with a little girl sitting in it. The boys wore old fashioned suits with short pants, in white. The little girl had her hair in curls with a bow. She wore a frilly dress, also in white. They all had flaming orange hair. Their light complexions were in stark contrast to the tanned skin and dark features of the villagers.

“These are the Irish orphans I adopted!” He declared proudly with a smile. The children stood stoically and stared at us as we passed.

The dream continued, but this was the portion I remembered upon awakening. It was definitely weird, but I was thrilled that it had nothing to do with nursing!

As the day progressed I continued to dwell on the dream. Those kids were so out of place, I wondered if it was symbolic. Maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me something?

Finally my curiosity got the best of me and I did an internet search for “Irish orphans adopted in Mexico”. I sat with eyes widened and mouth hanging open in disbelief as I read the results.

The Great Famine was the devastating result of a potato blight that hit Ireland in 1845. By 1850 over a million people were dead. The horrific circumstances kicked off a mass exodus as able bodied men and women sought new lands in which to earn a living. Thousands of displaced Irish landed in America, with a dream of a better life...and not much else. This growing population of poor Irish quickly filled tenement housing and flooded the lowliest jobs. Not that they had much choice as discrimination consistently blocked them from higher paying jobs. Their children took to the streets to beg, steal, and sell whatever they could get their hands on (such as rags, matches, and newspapers). New Yorkers especially demonized the Irish population and had no qualms with assuming their inferiority. The disgust was so blatant that even the New York Times described them in print as “ulcers of society” and job postings specified “Irish need not apply”.

In 1869 the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity established the New York Foundling Hospital. Unwed mothers were forced by circumstance to leave their babies as ‘orphans’ in the hopes they would be adopted by parents with the means to care for them. And, of course, actual orphans were housed there as well, just as badly in need of a stable upbringing.

To the West people were blazing trails and founding cities. There was plenty of work to be done and “orphan trains” transported children from the crowded cities to be adopted by rural families. While some surely found loving homes, most were treated as chattel and were adopted for the obvious purpose of free labor. A large portion of these “orphans” were Irish Catholic children gathered under the guise of truancy ordinances. And a large portion of the new homes were Protestant.

To counteract the functional genocide that the loss of these children represented, the Sisters of Charity decided to send their own orphan trains to deliver Catholic children to Catholic homes. They also made more of an effort to be sure the adoptive families were vetted and even sent younger children to help ensure that free labor wasn’t the primary motivation for adoption.

In October of 1904 a group of nuns accompanied 40 children to Arizona, to the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. Shortly before their arrival the nuns dressed the little girls in white dresses with bows in their hair, and sailor suits for the boys. From the train station the local Catholic priest oversaw the delivery of about half of the little ones to their new families. The nuns loaded up the remaining children into wagons to travel to the next town.

But there was one major problem. The local Catholic population was predominantly Hispanic. When the white Protestants saw these darling little white children handed over to the “despicable filthy drunken whore” Mexican families, they became incensed.

(The irony here being that the Irish were considered scum of the Earth back in New York, but were now too good to be raised by loving families who happened to be darker complected.)

At the urging of the irate white women who wanted the children for themselves around 25 men formed a posse and rode across the countryside, kidnapping them from their adoptive families! As if God himself wanted to participate in the chaos, a torrential monsoon raged, sheets of rain poured down and canyons flooded. (Sadly, one of the little girls later died of pneumonia from being hauled around in this weather). A mob of hundreds of white townsfolk swarmed the hotel where the nuns were staying with the remaining orphans. Father Mandin, the Catholic priest, was pursued by a lynch mob and barely escaped with his life.

After all was said and done the nuns had managed to escape with 21 children. The majority of the other 39 were with their new white families, although several of the Hispanic families were able to escape to Mexico and keep their wards.

As if this whole episode wasn’t crazy enough, the thing that really blows my mind is the subsequent court cases. Even though inspections of the Hispanic households found absolutely nothing wrong- no legitimate reason to be unsuitable for a child- time and time again the courts ruled against them. It was simply inconceivable to allow brown families to raise white babies. The initial incident and following court cases made national headlines. The adorable children were celebrities, with their every move in the courtroom relayed to eager readers.

The case went all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court and it was UPHELD that the Hispanic families were unfit to keep the Irish children.

All in all I’m amazed by these events. Truth truly is stranger than fiction. For as much infighting that still goes on in America involving equality and race, it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come. Things are much better now than they were 100 years ago.

But most importantly....I was able to NOT dream about nursing for one night!


About the Creator

Eidolon Schreiber

Lazy mystic, and weirdo extraordinaire.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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  • Casey Winn3 months ago

    Not sure how I came upon your post but my great grandmother was one of these exact children from the Supreme Court case you referenced she was the youngest child Elizabeth Kane. It’s so interesting how you learned about this story! Very intriguing. ❤️

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