- Postage-Stamp Archaeology:Thomas Childs's Letters to Norton Allen, 1944–1947
Many exciting archaeological discoveries are made in the field, some in the laboratory, and others in archives or dusty attics. For over seven decades, major primary material about the Hia-Ced O'odham has been mined from the letters of Thomas Childs Jr. to Henry F. Dobyns and to Richard Van Valkenburgh. These sets had been summarized and published, one in the archaeological journal Kiva1 and the other in Desert Magazine,2 and they provided essential first-hand information for understanding the Hia-Ced O'odham, a somewhat mysterious and lesser known group of Piman-speaking desert dwellers in Western Papaguería. Known historically as the Sand Papago, these people ranged from the Gila River south to the Gulf of California, and from the Colorado River eastward to Sonoyta, Sonora and Ajo, Arizona.
Except for family correspondence, no other Childs letters were known or expected. Then in 2010 a previously unreported stash was quietly announced in this journal: Thomas Childs "exchanged quite a few letters with Norton [Allen], from at least [May] 1944 through [December] 1947."3 It was an exciting find. The trove was recognized by Richard A. Schwartzlose in the immense collection of Native American material given by Norton Allen and his wife, Ethel, to the Arizona State Museum [End Page 416] in Tucson. Here we present those letters in full, followed by brief annotations about the subjects, places, and practices.
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Childs wrote 14 letters to Allen that contained recollections of his experiences during his life in Western Papaguería: discussions about pottery, a story about giants, medical practices, searching for minerals and mines, and the locations of wells and springs. Childs, a pioneering [End Page 417] rancher and miner, knew places where prehistoric American Indians had lived. Beginning about 1887, when he was a teenager, Childs had accompanied Hia-Ced O'odham throughout southwestern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, learning their language and ways while he camped, worked, and traveled with them. His second wife, Martha Garcia, whom he married in 1902,4 was Hia-Ced O'odham, and her extended family became his. Several articles written about Thomas Childs's life and his knowledge of the O'odham include those by Dan Rose,5 Richard Van Valkenburgh, Henry F. Dobyns (attributed to Childs), and Bill Hoy.6
Thomas Childs (1870–1951) was born in what became Yuma, Arizona. His father, Thomas Childs Sr., may have arrived in the region as early as 1847, and he spent his early years in Arizona as a prospector, rancher, farmer, deputy sheriff, and owner of a stage station. In 1875 Thomas Sr. and his wife, Mary, moved to Phoenix so that their son Tom and her children from a previous marriage could go to school. The family stayed in Phoenix until 1883, when Mary died of illness. Soon afterward, Thomas Sr. and Thomas Jr. moved near Ajo and established their Ten Mile Ranch. The father staked claims to rich mineral deposits at Ajo and later sold them for a moderate fortune, while his son dabbled in mining and land sales but worked primarily as a cowman whose cattle ranged from the Mexican border north to the Gila River, and from Covered Wells west to the Mohawk Mountains. Having traveled over much of this area on foot or horseback, Tom Jr. knew where many of the springs, natural tinajas, and wells were located, and had drilled some of the wells himself. Too, he had stayed at many of the Indian camps scattered across that vast desert.
Norton Allen (1909–1997) was an artist and avocational archaeologist who lived most of his life in La Mesa, California. He started collecting Indian artifacts as a boy...