History in Review
|The Captivity of the Oatman Girls Among the Apache and Mohave Indians, By Lorenzo D. Oatman and Olive A. Oatman. (Dover Publications; Reprint edition, 1994. Pg. 209.) ISBN: 0-4862-8078-0
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 7, 2001
Like so many others before them, the Oatman family joined the migration westward, in the hope of making a better life for themselves. They started their journey headed toward the New Mexico Territory, where they planned on joining a settlement that was being establishing near where the Rio Colorado and the Gila Rivers merged. The reports they heard about this area gave them the impression that this would be a fruitful area in which to settle. To reach their goal, they joined a wagon train peopled with like-minded people who were all headed to this supposed Eden in the American West.
However, this band of hearty travelers was not destined to reach their destination as a united group. Along the way, personal conflicts, the strain of the trail, and fear of Indians caused the train to split in half. The group that the Oatman's stuck with diverted from their initial goal, and headed for California. Yet even with this new Eden in mind, families began to drift out of the train, until at last only the Oatman's where still on the move. Although warned against traveling alone, they persisted - to their detriment.
The Captivity of the Oatman Girls retells the story of the Oatman's early history and their westward trek. However, the main focus of this narrative is what happened after the Oatman's began traveling on their own. Shortly after they struck out on their own, the nine members of the Oatman family where attacked by a band of Indians who are believed to have been Apache. As a result of this attack, fourteen-year-old Olive Ann and her eight-year-old sister Mary Ann were taken into captivity. Except for their fifteen-year-old brother Lorenzo, who was left for dead, the rest of the family was slaughtered.
This description of this attack is merciless, and it will make your heart ache for the horrors that these girls witnessed. Without being given any time to grieve, the two girls were whisked away from the life they knew and constrain in a life of virtual slavery. The girls spent a year with the Apaches and then were traded to a band of Mojave Indians. Mary was to die during the captivity due to starvation. However, Olive gained her freedom in 1856, after she was ransomed away from the Indians.
This narrative presents, in Olive's own words, her impressions and feeling during her captivity. It also offers wonderful insights into life in the 1850's, for both whites and Indians. It also serves to show, in no uncertain terms, that no matter how poorly the girls were treated, they were treated no differently from any other captive - Indian or white. To point, there is a gruesome description of a young Indian captive who tried to run away. She was caught, and as a punishment, she was slowly tortured to death. Olive's descriptions of life among the Indians also shows the low value that women appeared to have had in the Mojave culture.
This narrative also illustrates the role that faith played in the girl's lives, and how they sought solace in God in during their tribulations. Olive was to bare the scars of her captivity, for life, not just emotionally, but physically as well. This is because during her captivity her face had been tattooed to mark her as a slave. It is said that she spent the rest of her life wearing a veil in order to hide the marks. In addition, this narrative also traces Lorenzo history after the attack, detailing how he survived the attack and how he found his way back to 'civilization', and the efforts he made to find his sisters.
The Captivity of the Oatman Girls is a true story. Shortly after Olive was released, the two surviving members of the family retold their accounts to R. B. Stratton who actually composed this book, which was originally published in 1857. It is resplendent with the feelings and motivations of the period. And one must assume that it is tainted with the bitterness and anger that Olive and Lorenzo must have felt toward the Indians that slaughtered their family. Nonetheless, this is a compelling and thrilling account of life in the 'old west'. It will be of interest to anyone interested in the Western Migration, Native culture, and American history in general.
The Oatman Massacre - A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival, by Brian McGinty.
A comprehensive and up-to-date account of the Oatman massacre, which provides a detailed, historical overview of the events leading up to the massacre, the captivity of Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, and the aftermath of Olive's rescue.
Fort Bowie, Arizona. Combat Post of the Southwest, 1858 - 1894, by Douglas C. McChristian.
An exploration of the role played by Fort Bowie in the Indian Wars of the American Southwest and the history, development, and exploration of the area.
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