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O: Oatman Girls

Happy Monday! This month I have been sharing stories about child abuse and sexual assault as part of the A to Z Challenge. And what an amazing experience it has been, especially given the opportunity to share true stories of victims and conquerors. Today's story is about the Oatman girls who were abducted and enslaved by a Native American tribe in 1851.
The Oatman family, an LDS family native of Illinois, were attacked by a group of Native Americans in present-day Arizona. The Native Americans massacred all but Mary Ann (age 7), Olive (age 14) and Lorenzo (age 15). They left Lorenzo for dead and took the two Oatman girls into captivity. According to Olive Oatman's memoirs, the girls were kept as slaves and frequently beaten for about a year before being traded for two horses and other trinkets by the Mohave Indians. This is where their luck turned as the tribal leader's family took an interest in the girls and they were adopted into the family. Sadly Mary Ann died at age 10-11 during a drought.

Captivity of the Oatman Girls, 1857
At age 19, Olive was returned to civilization (Fort Yuma) by Francisco, a Yuma Indian messenger. Within days of her return, she was tearfully reunited with her brother, Lorenzo, who had been survived the massacre.

Much of what happened to Olive during her time of captivity and with the Mohave Indians is unknown with conflicting stories told by Ms. Oatman herself. For instance, a friend said that she believed Olive was grieving upon returning to Fort Yuma because she had been married and mothered two children. Olive denied ever being assaulted, married or having children.

In Hollywood, Olive Oatman has been portrayed in an episode of Death Valley Days (with future President Reagan as Lt. Col. Burke) and the character of Eva in Hell on Wheels (AMC) was loosely based on Oatman.


  1. That is SO interesting especially because Eva is my favorite character in hell On Wheels. Thanks for such an informative post!!!

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  2. very interesting artilce

  3. And I bet this wasn't the only case of such abductions happening during that time period.

    sad nonetheless


    1. Exactly. Just think of how many are lost in time.

  4. I've heard that story though not the details. I love Hell on Wheels and Eva.

    Susan Says

    1. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. :)

  5. It is an interesting story. Any thoughts on why she was returned?

    1. Some sources say the Indians feared being hunted by the white folk.

  6. I've just finished watching the first season of Strange Empire, a Canadian show about Alberta in the 1800s. It was such a brutal time.

  7. I bought a book on captivity narratives from women who had lived among Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a fascinating read. I also wonder how the times would have affected how much they would disclose about her captivity... Women were often stigmatized if they were survivors.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

    1. Exactly. Whose to say if she was afraid of being ostracized because of her familiarity and friendliness with the native americans.

  8. Interesting story with a somewhat happy ending.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  9. Glad that she was reunited with her brother! Some consolation in an otherwise sad tale. Probably denied the marriage and children to avoid being further stigmatised. Women are even now, it must have been worse in her time.

    Best wishes.
    Ninja Minion


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Thanks so much for sharing with me! Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!
x Joy