The white girl who was abducted by Native Americans and returned with a mysterious tattoo


Olive Oatman was born in 1837 in Illinois to Royce and Mary Ann Oatman. She was one of seven children raised in the Mormon faith. In 1850, the Oatmans opted to join a wagon train commanded by James Brewster, whose followers were known as Brewsterites. Brewster had a falling out with Brigham Young's followers after disagreeing with the Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City, Utah.

They arrived in New Mexico Territory early in 1851, only to discover that the terrain and climate were not what they had imagined, and they abandoned their plan to reach the Colorado River's mouth.

When they arrived in Maricopa Wells, they discovered that the road ahead was difficult and that the Indians were hostile. The other families chose to remain in Maricopa Wells, but this was not what Royce Oatman had planned for his family. He was determined to locate a place where he could provide a future for his seven children, ages one to seventeen.

A group of Native Americans approached them on the fourth day of their solitary journey, asking for tobacco, firearms, and food. On February 18, 1851, a group of Yavapai tribesmen attacked the Oatmans on the Gila River's banks east of Yuma, Arizona. At the scene, Royce, Mary, and four of their children were murdered, while their son Lorenzo was severely injured.

Lorenzo awoke to find his family murdered and Olive and Mary Ann missing. He ultimately arrived to a settlement and was treated for his injuries. Lorenzo discovered the remains of his murdered parents and siblings three days later.

Olive, 14, and Mary Ann, 7, were taken and held as slaves in a town near present Congress, Arizona. When the girls arrived to the Yavapai village, they were handled in a frightening manner, and Olive worried they would be killed. They were, nevertheless, employed as slaves, forced to scavenge for food, carry water and firewood, and perform other menial jobs; they were regularly beaten and mistreated.

A year later, a group of Mojave Indians came to the Yavapai village and traded two horses, vegetables, blankets, and other trinkets for the girls, after which they were forced to walk several hundred miles to a Mojave village close to the intersection of the Gila and Colorado rivers, near Needles, California.

Espianola, the tribal head, and his family adopted Mary Ann and Olive Oatman right away. The Mojave were wealthier than the Yavapai, and Espianola's wife Aespaneo and daughter Topeka were both infatuated with the Oatman girls. Aespaneo arranged for the Oatman girls to be granted plots of land to cultivate. Olive has frequently voiced her strong fondness for these two women throughout the years.

In accordance with tribal custom, the Mojave tattooed both Oatman girls' chins with everlasting blue cactus tattoos. According to Mojave custom, such markings were exclusively given to their own people to ensure a pleasant afterlife.

The tribe faced a severe drought and a food shortage in 1885. Mary Ann Oatman, like many Mojave people, succumbed to malnutrition at the age of eleven. When Olive Oatman was 19 years old, a Yuma Indian messenger called Francisco arrived in the village with a message from the authorities. Rumors circulated that a white girl was living among the Mojave, and the station commander demanded that she be returned or explain why she decided not to return.

Mojave first refused the request, claiming that she was not White, but after threats that Whites would destroy the Mojave if she was not returned immediately, coupled with an offering of blankets and a Horse, she was allowed to part ways with Mojave.

She was brought to Fort Yuma in Imperial County, California. Olive was surrounded by applauding individuals within the fort. Within a few days, she learned that her brother Lorenzo was still alive and had been searching for her. Their reunion was well publicized throughout the West.

Photo Source: Olive Oatman's First Account of Her Captivity Among the Mohave

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Saurabh is a Computer Science & Engineering undergraduate student pursuing his writing interests. He enjoys researching current events/news as well as Evergreen Topics and has also been writing on Medium, Quora and Vocal.


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