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  • Finding Someone to Listen:Thomas Childs's Letters to Richard Van Valkenburgh and Henry F. Dobyns, 1944–1950
  • Bill Broyles (bio)

All of grassroots historian Fillman Childs Bell's work interviewing Hia-Ced O'odham came decades after her richest sources, her own father and mother, had died. Her mother, Martha Garcia Childs, was born Hia-Ced O'odham and lived among them even after marrying outside the tribe. Her father, Thomas Childs Jr., had been a living authority, a link to scores of O'odham families and their confidant. Although not born into the tribe, he had walked the trails with them, had slept and eaten in their camps and villages, and had seen the changes in their himdag, their lifeways. He had been a lifelong participant and observer, and he was willing to talk, for he knew the value of their history. He was afraid of no one and free to speak his mind. His knowledge was both expansive, like their trails covering hundreds of miles to water holes, and detailed, like who lived with whom and what people ate for breakfast.

Other opportunities to ask Tom had been missed. William T. Hornaday visited the Pinacate region in December of 1907. When he needed guides for the trip, he hired Jeff Milton and Charlie Foster. Tom Childs could have done the job and told the expedition much about the water holes and game to be found. Hornaday did meet a friend of Tom's, one Reuben "Rube" Daniels, who lived at Quitobaquito, and the expedition passed near the Ten Mile Ranch as it rode homeward from Ajo to Gila Bend. Childs reports that he did meet Hornaday in Ajo,1 but we can imagine that Hornaday was unimpressed with the local cowman and eager to return home to New York, for he had a zoo to run and a book to write. However, one of his partners on the trip, John Phillips, did take a photo of the ranch on November 29, 1907, proving that they were there, and Godfrey Sykes includes the Ten Mile Ranch on his hand-drawn map of the expedition's route.2 [End Page 472]

Norwegian explorer and ethnologist Carl Lumholtz came to America specifically to study American Indians, and on an expedition to southwestern Arizona and northwestern Sonora in 1909–1910, he became fascinated by the Hia-Ced O'odham.3 Childs had traveled to many of the places Lumholtz subsequently did, and he knew a number of the same Hia-Ced O'odham whom Lumholtz met, such as Juan Caravajales and Quelele, and he was a close friend of José Augustín. But when Lumholtz passed through Ajo, he did not track Tom down, even though he likely watered his wagon team at Childs's Ten Mile Ranch on his way to Gila Bend. However, he does cite Childs as telling him the size and population of Cacate (Gagga),4 information perhaps coming in a letter after the expedition or a comment exchanged in a brief encounter on the street or at the ranch.

In 1918–1922 U.S. Geological Survey geologist Kirk Bryan inventoried and mapped water holes, springs, cattle tanks, and wells in southwestern Arizona. Bryan mentions Childs and several of his wells in Water-Supply Paper 499,5 but does not talk about the man. Bryan's descriptions of both Childs's Ten Mile and Hot Shot wells indicate that he visited them a number of times, and the two men surely knew one another. With some irony, Bryan's assistant was Charles Puffer, who had a son by an O'odham named Maria Garcia, Childs's sister-in-law. Puffer later abandoned that family, but the son, Alonzo, was raised in the Childs household and worked as one of Tom's ranch hands for many years.

Paul Ezell met Tom Childs while working for the U.S. Border Patrol in 1946–1948,6 but his first love and eventual career was in anthropology. He wrote a pivotal archaeological survey of northwestern Papaguería, including Organ Pipe and the Pinacate, major areas of the Hia-Ced O'odham traditional subsistence area.7 And he met Tom Childs, but...


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