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The Oatman Massacre. A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival

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The Oatman Massacre. A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival
By Brian McGinty. (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press: 2005. Pg. xiv, 258. 16 B & W Photos, 9 Line Drawings, 2 Maps.) ISBN: 0-8061-3667-7.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 25, 2005

On February 18, 1851, while traveling alone near the Gila River in present day Arizona, the Oatman wagon was attacked by a band of Indians. Two of the Oatman girls, thirteen-year-old Olive and her eight-year-old sister, Mary Ann were taken captive. Their brother, fourteen-year-old Lorenzo, who was left for dead, was the only other family member to survive the attack. Not long after their capture, the Oatman girls were traded to a band of Mohave Indians. Olive was to survive her captivity and was eventually, albeit perhaps reluctantly, rescued in 1856. Mary Ann, however, died in captivity, a year before her sister's rescue. The tale of their captivity and their brother's search for them was chronicled in the book The Captivity of the Oatman Girls which was written by Olive and Lorenzo Oatman in association with Royal B. Stratton. In this account, Olive details her life amongst the Indians, the events surrounding the death of Mary Ann, and Lorenzo tells of his own survival and the efforts that were extended to try to rescue the captives.

In The Oatman Massacre - A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival, Brian McGinty takes a fresh look at the Oatman captivity narrative and the events surrounding the capture of Olive and Mary Ann. McGinty also takes a probing look at how Olive choose to tell her story and the information that she may have left out of her account - and why. This is an eminently readable account of the massacre, and one that is based upon exacting research. McGinty offers a comprehensive and detailed account of the events leading up the tragedy, what occurred to the girls during their captivity, their emotional attachment to their Mohave family, the events surrounding Mary Ann's death and its impact on Olive, and the aftermath of Olive's rescue. McGinty also details the mythology that developed around Olive's story, as well as the social implications, for a woman, of being labeled as a former Indian captive and how these social constraints may have affected the accuracy of Olive's account.

The Oatman Massacre - A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival offers a captivating account of the massacre, and it serves to correct some of the falsehoods surrounding the 'accepted' history of the attack. The most important of these is that McGinty provides solid proof that the Oatmans were not attached by the Apache, as is commonly accepted, but rather by either a group of Tolkepayas or Western Yavapais. McGinty clearly lays forth the historical data for this claim, as well as several other 'corrections' that he makes in this book to the classic tale of the Oatman captivity as laid forth in the The Captivity of the Oatman Girls. In addition, McGinty fills in many of the gaps left by Olive's account.

The Oatman Massacre - A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival will enthrall general readers as well as scholars interested in Indian captivity narratives or the history of the American Southwest. The text includes a practical set of endnotes and an up-to-date bibliography.

Related Reviews:

The Captivity of the Oatman Girls Among the Apache and Mohave Indians, by Lorenzo D. Oatman and Olive A. Oatman.
Following the massacre of their family by Indians, Olive and Mary Ann Oatman where taken into captivity and forced to live as slaves. This is the story of their captivity and their brother's search to find the missing girls.

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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