From the moment of her arrival back in “civilization” Oatman developed an affinity for beautiful, stylish clothes, and was always photographed in the latest fashion. She learned to set a fine table. Her manners were excellent. She married quite well and had a beautiful home. She hosted lavish garden parties. She traveled from California, to Oregon, to Manhattan, back to Chicago, settled in Texas, and to health spas in Canada.
One of the greatest mistakes a biographer or writer of history can make is the failure to put their subject in historical context. The next great mistake is looking at and reading “modern” actions and sensibilities into their characters. Mifflin does this with Olive Oatman. Like so many of her contemporaries, Oatman showed the intellectual curiosity and a fascination with the world around her that is a hallmark attribute in the “winning of the west.” They were remarkably up to date in manners, politics, news of the day, and the very latest fashions, far more, perhaps, than their counterparts in the “states.”
Mifflin simply does not understand this aspect of life in the west. By not understanding that and the late Victorian culture in the U.S., she fails to understand her subject. Oatman did not see herself as a victim. She probably did not even see herself as a survivor, but just a woman trying to live a normal life. Mifflin never bothers to get beyond the fact that Oatman had a blue tattoo on her face.
Mifflin ignores that the obvious post-traumatic stress Oatman experienced later in life when her beloved adopted daughter, Mamie, approached the age Oatman was when she was captured. Here again Mifflin chooses not to pay attention to the fact that Oatman’s “depression” and the need for a prolonged “spa” visit in Canada were obviously the result of the traumatic experiences of Oatman’s captivity. Mifflin is thus able to hold on to her own personal myth that the years Oatman spent in captivity were not suffused with horror.
Mifflin holds dearly to those highly sophisticated and patronizing theories, now debunked, of the evil “white” man who intrudes upon the noble savage, who is at one with his world and with nature. The white interloper forces the noble savage to do vile and corrupt things he would never consider if left alone to commune with nature. The problem with this prejudiced and intolerant world view is wholesale ignorance and abject blind stupidity when it comes to the actual role the settlers played in the story of the American West.