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The Oatman Girls

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The Oatman Girls
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Author(s): Royal B. Stratton
Date Published: 2010/11
Page Count: 172
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-406-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-405-9

The incredible story of the girl with the face tattoo

The story of the Oatman girls, Olive and Mary Ann, is one of the most famous accounts of the abduction of white women by indigenous Indians in the annals of the history of the American western frontier. The Oatman’s, led by their patriarch Royce, were a family of nine. Members of the Mormon faith, they had become dissenters of Brigham Young’s leadership and allying themselves with James Brewster and his ‘Brewsterites’ resolved to move to California in 1850. The original substantial wagon-train they had formed for security split as a result of disagreements within the party and the group to which the Oatman’s belonged further fragmented until the family were left travelling alone, against all advice, in hostile Indian territory. On the banks of the Gila River (in present day Arizona) the family were attacked by Indians and all were slaughtered with the exception of two girls, aged 13 and 7 years, who were abducted and a brother. Their brother Lorenzo was felled by a club blow, presumed dead by the assailants, and left among the corpses of his mother, father and siblings, but he regained consciousness and eventually found his way to safety. The girl’s captors, Tolkepayas or Yavapais, kept the girls in slavery for a period then sold them to Mohave Apaches. The story of the ordeals of the Oatman girls has inspired fiction and works of history alike. Olive Oatman’s face ,with its distinctive tattoo has all but become a western icon. Written during the 1850s this book became a bestseller of its day. This Leonaur edition is available in in softcover and hardback with dustjacket or collectors.

“We were totally in the dark as to their designs, save that their appearance and actions wore the threatening of some hellish deed. We were now about ready to start. Father had again returned to complete the reloading of the remainder of the articles; mother was in the wagon arranging them; Olive, with my older sister, was standing upon the opposite side of the wagon; Mary Ann, a little girl about seven years old, sat upon a stone holding to a rope attached to the horns of the foremost team; the rest of the children were on the opposite side of the wagon from the Indians. My eyes were turned away from the Indians.<br>
“Though each of the family was engaged in repairing the wagon, none were without manifestations of fear. For some time every movement of the Indians was closely watched by us. I well remember, however, that after a few moments my own fears were partially quieted, and from their appearance I judged it was so with the rest. <br>
“In a subdued tone frequent expressions were made concerning the Indians, and their possible intentions; but we were guarded and cautious, lest they might understand our real dread and be emboldened to violence. Several minutes did they thus remain a few feet from us, occasionally turning an eye upon us, and constantly keeping up a low earnest babbling among themselves. At times they gazed eagerly in various directions, especially down the road by which we had come, as if struggling to discern the approach of some object or person either dreaded or expected by them.<br>
“Suddenly, as a clap of thunder from a clear sky, a deafening yell broke upon us, the Indians jumping into the air, and uttering the most frightful shrieks, and at the same time springing toward us flourishing their war-clubs, which had hitherto been concealed under their wolf-skins. I was struck upon the top and back of my head, came to my knees, when with another blow, I was struck blind and senseless.”<br>
One of their number seized and jerked Olive one side, ere they had dealt the first blow.<br>
“As soon,’’ continues Olive, “as they had taken me one side, and while one of the Indians was leading me off, I saw them strike Lorenzo, and almost at the same instant my father also. I was so bewildered and taken by surprise by the suddenness of their movements, and their deafening yells, that it was some little time before I could realise the horrors of my situation. When I turned around, opened my eyes, and collected my thoughts, I saw my father, my own dear father! struggling, bleeding, and moaning in the most pitiful manner. Lorenzo was lying with his face in the dust, the top of his head covered with blood, and his ears and mouth bleeding profusely.<br>
“I looked around and saw my poor mother, with her youngest child clasped in her arms, and both of them still, as if the work of death had already been completed; a little distance on the opposite side of the wagon, stood little Mary Ann, with her face covered with her hands, sobbing aloud, and a huge-looking Indian standing over her; the rest were motionless, save a younger brother and my father, all upon the ground dead or dying. At this sight a thrill of icy coldness passed over me; I thought I had been struck; my thoughts began to reel and became irregular and confused; I fainted and sank to the earth, and for a while, I know not how long, I was insensible.<br>
“When I recovered my thoughts I could hardly realise where I was, though I remembered to have considered myself as having also been struck to the earth, and thought I was probably dying, I knew that all, or nearly all of the family had been murdered; thus bewildered, confused, half conscious and half insensible, I remained a short time, I know not how long, when suddenly I seemed awakened to the dreadful realities around me. My little sister was standing by my side, sobbing and crying, saying: ‘Mother, O mother! Olive, mother and father are killed, with all our poor brothers and sisters.’ I could no longer look upon the scene.<br>
“Occasionally a low, piteous moan would come from some one of the family as in a dying state. I distinguished the groans of my poor mother, and sprang wildly toward her, but was held back by the merciless savage holding me in his cruel grasp, and lifting a club over my head, threatening me in the most taunting, barbarous manner. I longed to have him put an end to my life, ‘O,’ thought I ‘must I know that my poor parents have been killed by those savages and I remain alive!’ I asked them to kill me, pleaded with them to take my life, but all my pleas and prayers only excited to laughter and taunts the two wretches to whose charge we had been committed.<br>
“After these cruel brutes had consummated their work of slaughter, which they did in a few moments, they then commenced to plunder our wagon, and the persons of the family whom they had killed. They broke open the boxes with stones and clubs, plundering them of such of their contents as they could make serviceable to themselves. They took off the wagon wheels, or a part of them, tore the wagon covering off from its frame, unyoked the teams and detached them from the wagons, and commenced to pack the little food, with many articles of their plunder, as if preparatory to start on a long journey. Coming to a feather bed, they seized it, tore it open, scattering its contents to the winds, manifesting meanwhile much wonder and surprise, as if in doubt what certain articles of furniture, and conveniences for the journey we had with us, could be intended for.<br>
“Such of these as they selected, with the little food we had with us that they could conveniently pack, they tied up in bundles, and started down the hill by the way they had come, driving us on before them. We descended the hill, not knowing their intentions concerning us, but under the expectation that they would probably take our lives by slow torture. After we had descended the hill and crossed the river, and travelled about one half of a mile by a dim trail leading through a dark, rough, and narrow defile in the hills, we came to an open place where there had been an Indian camp before, and halted. The Indians took off their packs, struck a fire, and began in their own way to make preparations for a meal. They boiled some of the beans just from our wagon, mixed some flour with water, and baked it in the ashes.<br>
“They offered us some food, but in the most insulting and taunting manner, continually making merry over every indication of grief in us, and with which our hearts were ready to break. We could not eat. After the meal, and about an hour’s rest, they began to repack and make preparations to proceed.”