Olive Oatman was the oldest daughter of a rather well-off Mormon family. Born in Illinois in 1839, her well-ordered, and happy life was turned upside down when her father Royce Oatman decided to uproot his family and followed James C. Brewster, who had views that differed from Brigham Young. Royce, something of a narcissist, pushed his family into one of those selfishly tragic crusades, that resulted in the eventual demise of his entire family save for Olive and her brother Lorenzo.
In 1851, the family, struggling against starvation, was not far from Maricopa Wells. They were attacked by either Tolkepayas or Wester Yavapais. Lorenzo was left for dead. Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, were captured and taken into slavery. Eventually the girls were “sold” to a group of Mohave, who took them into their “tribe” and treated the girls as their own. Mary Ann, quite frail, did not survive. When Olive was about 16, she was found “alive” and taken to Fort Yuma, where she was reunited with Lorenzo. Olive’s story would go on to inspire dime novels, a rather lurid biography, and made both she and Lorenzo household names and celebrities. Olive married, moved to Texas and melted into the western landscape, succumbing to a heart attack in 1903.
The above information, alone, should be enough to inspire a good modern biography. When one adds the additional information that Oatman’s chin was tattooed with blue lines in a traditional Mohave fashion, the story becomes even more allegedly “romantic”. The tattoos, given to young women of the tribe, implied that the young woman was ready to embark in “adult” tribal life that resembled something closely akin to a weekend at Woodstock in 1969.
Fortunately, or unfortunately for the young woman, this information had already begun to circulate throughout the nation, due to the diligent anthropological meanderings of several documentarian who had visited the various Mohave groups around the same time as Oatman’s captivity. By the time the teenager, clad in the typical Mojave costume for women, a short skirt and nothing else, reached the outskirts of Fort Yuma, her plight, and the logical possibility that she had actively participated in some interesting nocturnal meanderings, arrived with her.
Once she arrived at Fort Yuma, Oatman stayed away from the fort, hidden, her face covered with her hands, until an officer’s wife sent a calico dress out for her. Once fully clad, she marched, boldly, into her new life, never looking back – or did she?