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in. Inwhen Olive was 14 years old, her family ed a wagon t rain to travel to California, led by James C. James Brewster chose to follow the northern route, whereas the Oatman family and several others chose the southern route via Socorro and Tucson. The idea of reaching the mouth of the Colorado River was abandoned once the group of families dawned near Socorro.
Reaching New Mexico Territory early inthey found the terrain and climate of the area was not what they were expecting.
Royce Oatman was determined to find a place where he could build a life for his wife and seven children. When the group reached Maricopa Wells, it became apparent that the trail ahead was laborious and gruelling.
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Many were afraid of hostility from the Indians who occupied the land. Undeterred, Royce Oatman led his family solo. On the fourth day, Native Americans approached them, asking for food, tobacco and guns. February 18th would be the last day the family were all together, alive. The group who approached the Oatman family — Yavapi tribesman — attacked them on the banks of the Gila River, a location east of what is now known as Yuma, Arizona.
When Lorenzo came round, he found that his sisters, Olive and Mary Ann, were missing. Lorenzo managed to reach a nearby settlement to be treated for his wounds and continued on to find the bodies of his parents and siblings some three days later. Whilst it could have been assumed that Olive and her younger sister Mary Ann were murdered too, they were in-fact captured by the Yavapai tribesmen and held at a village near Congress, Arizona.
Rather than be killed, Olive and Mary Ann were brought in as slaves, used to forage food, carry water and firewood.
Olive and Mary Ann were beaten and mistreated but kept alive to complete these menial duties. After 12 months of serving as Yavapai slaves, the Oatman sisters were seemingly saved by an unlikely set of heroes — the Mohave Indians. The Mohave tribe visited the Yavapai village and subsequently traded two horses, blankets and miscellaneous trinkets in exchange for Olive and Mary Ann. The walk was several hundred miles, but, eventually, the Oatman sisters reached their new home: a Mojave village that was situated near what is now Needles, California.
The oatman massacre
To what extend Olive and Mary Ann were adopted into the tribe is up for debate, as Olive has claimed before that both she and Mary Ann were captives, living in fear. Whether this is true or not is up for debate, as years later, Olive freely chose to meet up with a Mohave leader in New York City. The Mohave tribe welcomed Olive and Mary Ann into their culture by tattooing their chins, a Mohave tradition. The girls both had their chins tattooed with five vertical lines from the lips to the chin, with two triangles on either side.
The tattoo was a series of short and long bars in blue ink and was done to ensure the bearer a good afterlife. Without the tattoo, there would be no passage into the afterlife. Later on, Olive claims that the chin tattoos were inflicted onto slaves, so they could be identified should they ever escape the tribe.
This statement is far from the truth, as only those accepted and cared for by the tribe would bear a symbol that was believed to give them a peaceful afterlife. Lorenzo Oatman was still searching for his missing sisters, unaware that his younger sister, Mary Ann, had died in from starvation after the tribe experience a severe drought.
During the winter of —56, the United States Army received a tip that Olive was still living amongst the Mohave tribe. The message explained that rumours were circulating that a white girl was living with the Mohave tribe and that the post commander requested her return.
This is thought to be done out of their affection for Olive, maintaining that she was part of the Mohave family.
The messenger, Francisco, made another feeble attempt to ween Olive from the Mohave tribe, offering blankets and horses in exchange for her. On February 28th,Olive was ransomed and escorted to Fort Yuma. The daughter of Mohave tribal leader, Topeka, escorted Olive on the journey.
The reunion between Olive and her brother Lorenzo, who she did not know was still alive, made headlines across the West. Olive rarely appeared in public without a veil to cover her tattooed chin, claiming that the Mohave tattooed the faces of captives to ensure they would be recognised if they escaped — a far-cry from the truth that most Mohave women donned chin tattoos. Despite Olive referring to her experience with the Mohave tribe less fondly over time, most s do suggest that Olive was happy living with the Mohave tribe, willingly accepting the traditional tattoo and not making any efforts to contact white travellers who would occasionally visit the tribe.
Olive d a seemingly normal life, completing education at the University of the Pacific and marrying a cattleman, John Fairchild.
More in life
Olive and John adopted a baby girl named Mamie and grew more reserved about her past in the Mohave tribe. Olive Oatman Fairchild died of a heart attack on 20th March To first scholarly biography of Olive Oatman was published by Margot Mifflin in Get started.
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