Sunday, November 16, 2008

1860's CDV of Olive Oatman; Captured By Indians

Interesting circa 1860's cdv of Olive Oatman, a young Mormon woman who was captured by the Yavapai Indians in Arizona at the age of 13, sold to the Mojave, ransomed at Fort Yuma in 1856, and spent the rest of her life in NY and California.

Here's a brief biography found online:

Olive Oatman (1838-1903) was a woman from
Illinois famous for her abduction and forced slavery by the Yavapai people (though many historians argue that it is impossible to know whether or not these were Yavapai, or some other tribe.[1]).

Born into the family of Roys and Mary Ann Oatman, Olive was one of eleven siblings, including an unborn one. She grew up in the
Mormon religion.

Roys Oatman was a follower of
James C. Brewster, a Mormon leader who convinced his followers that he had a divine call to take them to an imaginary territory named Bashan. Bashan was actually Arizona.

While on the way to Arizona, there were some misunderstandings between Brewster and some of his followers, and many of them, including the Oatman family, split from the group led by Brewster. Brewster actually ended up settling in
California, once he was convinced that Bashan did not actually exist.

The Oatmans continued, commanded by Roys Oatman, to
California. Oatman dreamed about becoming rich with California gold, despite several warnings that the area was dangerous due to the presence of Yavapai Indians who were always suspicious of whites entering their lands. By January, 1851, they reached Tucson, but their horses were suffering of hunger, as were members of the Oatman family.

They lost their horses and food to
Apaches, but Roys Oatman was determined to reach California, so he continued on to Casa Grande, Arizona. Convinced by Dr. John Lawrence LeConte that Apaches had not been seen in some time around Yuma, Oatman continued his family's trip to California, despite severe hunger and thirst suffered by his pregnant wife and children.

The Oatman Tragedy:

In 1851 Olive Oatman saw her family masssacred on a lonely bluff overlooking the southern bank of the Gila river on the border between Mexico and the United States. Five of the victims were children, plus the mother who was eight months pregnant. Olive's father, Roys Oatman, could do little against the band of Indians who instigated the attack. Mary Ann Oatman, eight months pregnant, must have been wondering whatever possessed her to leave her home in Illinois. While the family finished their meal, a group of Indians suddenly appeared. Alerted to the new danger, Oatman eyed the Indians as they hunkered nearby and spoke quietly among themselves. At last the visitors gestured for food. Oatman, fearing reprisal, gave them what little food they had. The Indians devoured the meager supplies, then demanded more. When none was forthcoming, the marauders rifled through the wagon. This done, one Indian overpowered 13-year-old Olive, and 7-year-old Mary Ann before dragging the two young girls away. The rest of the Indians pulled clubs concealed inside their clothing and began beating the family members to death. Only 14-year-old Lorenzo would survive to tell what happened here.

Satisfied the family members were dead, the Indians stole what items they could carry, and destroyed the rest. They took off across the desert, taking the terrified Oatman girls with them. Mary Ann, who had always been a fragile child, soon fainted. The Indians beat her, but finally realizing she was unconscious and that brutality would do no good, one individual hoisted the limp child over his shoulder and the group continued their journey.

The captors were either Tolkepayas or Wester Yavapais living in a village nearly 100 miles from the massacre site. After arrival, the girls at first were threatened and tormented, Olive would later say she thought she would be killed. Eventually the girls were used as slaves to forage for food, lug water and firewood, and carry out whatever chores the Indian women chose for them to do. When the girls did not understand a command, they were beaten.

After a year of this drudgery, a group of Mohave Indians visited the village, and traded two horses, some vegetables and several blankets for the captive white girls. Now under new rule, the girls went on a 10-day journey to the Colorado River and the Mohave village. These people were more prosperous than the girls' original captors. Here melons and corn grew along the riverbank, and the chief's wife and daughter took an interest in the Oatman girls' welfare. They were given small plots of land to farm. To keep the girls from attempting an escape, they were both tattooed on their chins and arms in keeping with the tribal custom

Olive, a dark-haired beauty would spend the rest of her life embarrassed by the horrible blue marks on her chin that gave her the appearance of a drooling mastiff. About a year later, during a drought in the region, the tribe experienced a shortage of food supplies and little Mary Ann died of starvation.

When Olive Oatman was 16 years old, a Yuma Indian messenger arrived at the village with a message from the white authorities at Fort Yuma. Somehow word had spread that a white girl was being held captive by the Mohaves and the post commander requested her return. Some blankets and horses had been sent for trade, but the Indians at first resisted the idea, even considering killing Olive rather than admit they had a white captive.

In the end it was decided to take the trade items, and Olive was escorted to Fort Yuma during a 20-day journey. Before entering the fort, Olive insisted she be given proper clothing, as she was clad in nothing more than a grass skirt made of bark. Inside the fort, Olive was surrounded by cheering white people happy to see her. She soon discovered her brother Lorenzo was still alive and that he had been looking for her and Mary Ann.


Beverly Kaye said...

This story is so fascinating. But it literally took my breath away. What an ordeal for the families and especially the two little girls. Olive obviously em-massed huge inner fortitude to allow her portrait taken, with the tattoos. Truly a survivor with her badge of courage.

Mrs Flam said...

absoloutley beautifull in so many ways. thank you for sharing.

Joey said...

Hi Beverly,

Yeah, I was blown away by her story as well. I especially liked how, upon her rescue, she insisted on proper clothing before entering the fort. Through that entire ordeal, she still had a sense of dignity. Incredible survivor.

Joey said...

Hi Mrs. Flam,

Thanks for the comment! BTW: Not so sure about the looks of your Spicy Fried Pasta, but I'm sure it tastes great! I'll have to try it some time.



sroden said...

amazing amazing tale!!!!!

Krystal M. said...

Referring to the line "even considering killing Olive rather than admit they had a white captive." ...I'm not sure where you got your data but Olive vehemently denied any cruel treatment from the Mohave. She always said the Chief and his family treated her as if she were his own daughter and said that the Mohave wept when she left – as well as she. According to the first book ever published on this event, her own account testified that the Mohave had always told her she could leave whenever she wanted to.

I've never read the story told otherwise. I'm shocked that after all these years people still feel the need to paint all Native Americans as barbaric. Whoever wrote that was misinformed or still living in their cowboys versus Indians childhood days.

A concise, but informative read:

Joey said...

Thanks for the info. Krystal! I believe the previous information was from a Wikipedia entry, so it's always debatable as to the accuracy of the information.

Numkene said...

To Anonymous:
The reason no one ever talks that much about how Native Americans were cruel to the whites was because they are generally seen as a people that were just protecting their homes and land. They lived in a different culture where competition over such things were a life and death situation, so while some of their acts of cruelty are frowned upon in today's world, this was just how things were.

Back then, the Native American's definition of home wasn't just a dwelling with a roof, it was everything around them that sustained their way of life. The land, the dwellings, the animals. Everything was their home.

How would you feel if a group of people you couldn't communicate with just walked into your house, started eating your food, sleeping in your bed, destroying your source of food and thought they were perfectly justifiable in doing so?

Yes there would be different avenues of solving a problem like that in today's world, but back then, Native American's took it as an act of invasion and theft, and their way of punishment was obviously on a whole different level than that of the people invading their land.

Don't get me wrong though, I obviously don't condone what the Native American's in this biography did to Olive, especially when compared to our standard of life today, but the statement in this story about how "the band if Indians instigated the attack" would be like saying a man who shoots a home invader in today's world instigated the attack on the intruder.

Ultimately, the situation between the whites and the Native Americans back then can be attributed to a difference of culture and a lack of understanding between the two groups. But no matter how you spin it or how tragic the losses were on both sides, in the end, you've got to ask yourself who ultimately got what they wanted? That should answer your question as to why people don't talk about the cruelty toward whites as much as they talk about the cruelty toward Native Americans.