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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West)

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In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime. Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas. Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.   (20080717)


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In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime. Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas. Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.   (20080717)

30 review for The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Truth be told, the excerpt on the cover told the story better than the 209 pages of text. What’s touted as the biography of “a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family”(teaser on cover) is written with an obvious anti-Mormon sentiment. The Oatman family are actually “Brewsterites”, a group headed by James Colin Brewster, a self-proclaimed prophet, determined to start his own church after disagreeing with the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Truth be told, the excerpt on the cover told the story better than the 209 pages of text. What’s touted as the biography of “a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family”(teaser on cover) is written with an obvious anti-Mormon sentiment. The Oatman family are actually “Brewsterites”, a group headed by James Colin Brewster, a self-proclaimed prophet, determined to start his own church after disagreeing with the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Ironically, Mifflin addresses this, but fails to make the distinction between the two religious groups.) The Brewsterites were not headed for Zion—which was the community in the Great Basin (now known as the Salt Lake Valley and is still the headquarters for the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—also known as the “Mormons”)—but were actually following the Santa Fe Trail “arguing with Brewster about whether to continue to California or settle in Socorro, New Mexico”(pg 23). (Also clarified by Mifflin, yet still no distinction made.) The “story” jumped all over the place. Instead of just focusing on Olive and what was known about her. Ms. Mifflin spends pages telling us about a variety of characters like Olive’s brother, Lorenzo, or Sarah Bowman and her “brothel across the river”(pg 113), or James O’Connell, the first tattooed man in America. Understanding that these people were influences in Olive’s life are in fact important, true. But sometimes it felt like we were exploring their histories just for the sake of shock factor. Despite all the notes in the back depicting the accuracies in The Blue Tattoo, when it comes to the Mormon portion of it, The Blue Tattoo has many inaccuracies. The most glaring of which is on page 138; “…in the wake of Joseph Smith’s lynching…”. In reality, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum were shot—martyred—in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. Given this obvious and easily researchable blunder makes me wonder how many other parts of this “biography” are figments of the author’s imagination. With all of this said, learning about Olive Oatman and her past was intriguing. Yet there is a huge asterisk on that statement because of all the mistakes. Intentional or not, they exist and ruin what could have been a great portrayal of a mysterious historical figure.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Allen

    I happened on the cover picture in a blog recently, and like many people, immediately thought "Hey, that's the tattoo from Hell on Wheels". Apparently the character's tattooing in that series was borrowed explicitly from Olive Oatman's. It's ironic that the TV character was a prostitute, as the Oatman's history as a captive of the Yavapai and Mohave raised questions about her sexuality in her own time. Olive Oatman was a 14-year-old member of a Mormon splinter group. Her family was killed by Yav I happened on the cover picture in a blog recently, and like many people, immediately thought "Hey, that's the tattoo from Hell on Wheels". Apparently the character's tattooing in that series was borrowed explicitly from Olive Oatman's. It's ironic that the TV character was a prostitute, as the Oatman's history as a captive of the Yavapai and Mohave raised questions about her sexuality in her own time. Olive Oatman was a 14-year-old member of a Mormon splinter group. Her family was killed by Yavapai en route between Tucson and Yuma in 1851, and she and her younger sister were first enslaved by the Yavapai, then sold to the Mohave. The Mohave raised them as members of the tribe; her sister died, but Olive was returned to white society after five years with the two Indian tribes. The author has practiced source criticism on the various accounts of Oatman's life, discounting distortions introduced to serve various political and social biases. The resulting narrative is a fascinatingly ambiguous story. Was Olive better off as an Indian or white woman? It's hard to tell, but clearly she had warm feelings for her former "captors" when she met one of them in later life. The sexual, social, and racial norms of the time are called into question by the story of her life. As history goes, the book is an easy and compelling read -- I finished it in a couple of days. It's a thought-provoking contribution to the literature of white captives of American Indians.

  3. 4 out of 5

    booklady

    One of the first things which struck me about Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West) was the title. Why is a book which is supposed to be about the life of a woman called, “The Blue Tattoo”? Was this deliberate? Has the individual woman’s identity become so lost or submerged behind the ink of her facial markings that she has all but disappeared? Or has the author simply failed to find or portray her? These and other questions intrigued me almost as much as One of the first things which struck me about Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West) was the title. Why is a book which is supposed to be about the life of a woman called, “The Blue Tattoo”? Was this deliberate? Has the individual woman’s identity become so lost or submerged behind the ink of her facial markings that she has all but disappeared? Or has the author simply failed to find or portray her? These and other questions intrigued me almost as much as the haunting picture of a young Olive which graces the cover of the book. Upon closing the final page of Mifflin’s biography, I was left with a somewhat nagging disappointment that I didn't know Olive Oatman Fairchild any better at its conclusion than I had at the beginning. The Blue Tattoo is well-written and—so far as I know—well-researched; although scanning another review here on goodreads seems to indicate otherwise, but it doesn’t delve into the person of its subject, the woman, Olive. In that sense, the title is appropriate. The book is almost more a biography of the blue tattoo, and of the ‘life’ of Olive, in its rough outline, than it is a story about her. There is a lot of information about tattooing, its tribal use, history, significance and Olive’s place as the first white woman to have been voluntarily tattooed. There were also a satisfying number of sketches and old black-and-white photographs included especially of the variety of tattoos commonly used among the Mohave. There was an interesting, although limited, history of that tribe. Mifflin’s book offers the perspective which only time can. It does a fair job of considering what Olive must have suffered from her manifold tragedy: first the loss of most of her family to murder; then the forced adjustment to a new culture; being sent from one tribe to another; losing her only surviving sister; then a second forced cultural readjustment—this time back into white society where she had only a brother for family; and finally touring the country promoting the first sensational biography written about her by the Methodist minister, Royal B. Stratton, Life Among the Indians, published in 1857. With no mother after the age of 14 to guide her, and no close female blood relations after age 16, it can’t have been easy. However, if you hope to come any closer to understanding what Olive felt and thought privately about her experiences you won’t find it in this book. There were indirect references from other sources but no quotes or letters. Still, considering what a spectacle was made of the poor woman in the 19th century, perhaps this curtain of silence is well-deserved. In any event, I enjoyed the book and the tantalizingly few intimate details Mifflin did offer—especially those about Olive’s devoted husband and adopted daughter.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    Olive Oatman's story is fascinating. However, it was hard for me to get past the author's opinions and agenda to really enjoy it. I didn't like that her disdain for religion came through in little digs here and there. It was extremely well researched, but read like an academic paper with an agenda. In fact, I had to laugh at the irony that the preacher who published Olive's story and took so much liberty with her story to insert his own morality and political views really was no different from t Olive Oatman's story is fascinating. However, it was hard for me to get past the author's opinions and agenda to really enjoy it. I didn't like that her disdain for religion came through in little digs here and there. It was extremely well researched, but read like an academic paper with an agenda. In fact, I had to laugh at the irony that the preacher who published Olive's story and took so much liberty with her story to insert his own morality and political views really was no different from this author. Too bad. If it weren't for that, I would have given it at least 3 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    I didn't know that "women in captivity" was an entire genre of 19th century writing. The first such book was 'A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson," and was actually the first American bestseller in 1682. It was the story of a preacher's wife who spent 11 weeks in captivity among the Narragansett Indians in 1675. Times haven't changed: a great story sells. This particular history is among many of the written stories and versions of Olive Oatman, many fictionaliz I didn't know that "women in captivity" was an entire genre of 19th century writing. The first such book was 'A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson," and was actually the first American bestseller in 1682. It was the story of a preacher's wife who spent 11 weeks in captivity among the Narragansett Indians in 1675. Times haven't changed: a great story sells. This particular history is among many of the written stories and versions of Olive Oatman, many fictionalized. I found it captivating... This version appeared to be well researched and consistently debunked the bestseller Olive helped to write with a Methodist preacher who profited from the exaggerations of her story. I never got over the incredible curiosity of Olive's facial tattoo. I found myself continually turning to the front cover to stare at it a little longer.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jessaka

    History, cultural anthropology, and an interesting true story all combined into one. What makes this book really good is that the author has done much research and has exposed some falsehoods that are presented in other books, especially the one written by Stratton. In 1851, a family heads out to California in a prairie schooner. They are attacked and killed by Apache Indians, leaving only their two daughters, Olive and Mary Ann, who the Apaches then take back to their tribe and enslave. For a ma History, cultural anthropology, and an interesting true story all combined into one. What makes this book really good is that the author has done much research and has exposed some falsehoods that are presented in other books, especially the one written by Stratton. In 1851, a family heads out to California in a prairie schooner. They are attacked and killed by Apache Indians, leaving only their two daughters, Olive and Mary Ann, who the Apaches then take back to their tribe and enslave. For a maybe a year they live a miserable life, but then the Mojave Indians trade goods for both of the girls, and they spend the next 2 or more years with them. Their brother whom they had believed was killed along with their parents, had actually made it back to civilization and spent years trying to find them. When he does, he learns that Mary Ann had died of starvation, and only Olive is alive. Olive returns home and claims that the Mojave's were very good to her and her sister. What transpires after this is, Olive meets a Methodist minister by the name of Stratton, who then decides to write a book of her account, making the Mojave Indians appear as savages, and Olive, who has to live in this white society goes along with him, even giving speeches throughout the country. It is actually a shame that she had to return to the white society, a society that was harsh towards those who stood up for Native Americans, who fantasized about her sexual life with them, and who considered her a freak since the Mojave Indians had put a blue tattoo on her chin. I can't imagine that any of her life had been that great for her. Her life with the Mojave Indians is the most interesting part of the book since it gives you a view of their culture, which seemed somewhat idealistic. A life where they treated them as their own daughters. Olive Oatman

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brianne

    I thought this was an incredibly interesting read! I first learned about Olive Oatman from a post on Instagram, and it lead me to this book. The writing style was informative, but light enough to make it a pretty quick read. I felt that Mifflin did a lot of research and I can't wait to look into some of the sources listed in the bibliography. My only real complaint is that I wish she had included some photographs of people she was describing, or, if there weren't any photographs available, that I thought this was an incredibly interesting read! I first learned about Olive Oatman from a post on Instagram, and it lead me to this book. The writing style was informative, but light enough to make it a pretty quick read. I felt that Mifflin did a lot of research and I can't wait to look into some of the sources listed in the bibliography. My only real complaint is that I wish she had included some photographs of people she was describing, or, if there weren't any photographs available, that she said so. If this sounds interesting to you, then I definitely recommend it. And even if it doesn't sound interesting, I'd still recommend it because you might be surprised. I'll definitely read her other book about women and tattoos.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Olive Oatman was my great grandfather's cousin. Her family was massacred while traveling to California, and Olive and her sister were held captive. Years later, she was returned to white society. I grew up with this story, but recently several new books have been written about her. This one is supposed to be really good! Olive Oatman was my great grandfather's cousin. Her family was massacred while traveling to California, and Olive and her sister were held captive. Years later, she was returned to white society. I grew up with this story, but recently several new books have been written about her. This one is supposed to be really good!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    In the 1850s, Olive Oatman and her younger sister, Mary Ann, were taken captive by Native Americans in what was then New Mexico Territory. Most of the rest of their family was killed in what became known as the Oatman Massacre, Mary Ann later died of illness, and so Olive lived for a few years by herself among the Mohave people. She seems to have become part of the Mohave to a great extent, most vividly through the tattoos which give this book her name: the lines on her chin, common to many Moha In the 1850s, Olive Oatman and her younger sister, Mary Ann, were taken captive by Native Americans in what was then New Mexico Territory. Most of the rest of their family was killed in what became known as the Oatman Massacre, Mary Ann later died of illness, and so Olive lived for a few years by herself among the Mohave people. She seems to have become part of the Mohave to a great extent, most vividly through the tattoos which give this book her name: the lines on her chin, common to many Mohave women, which Olive also bore. After a few years, Olive was ransomed back to the US government, and she became the subject of one of the melodramatic Indian captivity narratives so popular with white Americans. Oatman's story is an interesting one, but Margot Mifflin doesn't quite do justice to it, and certainly doesn't do justice to the broader history of which it is part. I'm no specialist in American history, but even I could tell that Mifflin repeatedly fails to truly confront Euro-American settler violence and colonialism. Much of the historiography she draws on is dated, and is overwhelmingly grounded in a white perspective. (More than once I blinked at some of the quotations she used to begin chapters, generally dropped in without qualifier or context.) Mifflin claims to more accurately represent the cultures and histories of the Yavapai and Mohave peoples than have previous recounters of the Oatman , but often does so in language and via framings that seemed to me queasily close to the nineteenth-century Noble Savage narrative. Essentially, this is pop history masquerading as a scholarly work, only thinly rooted in more rigorous work, and it's eyebrow-raising to me that it was published by a university press. (Unlike what a number of other GR reviews state, there is no anti-Mormon/LDS agenda here—Mifflin is just not writing from a Mormon/LDS perspective. There is a difference.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Debby

    Very disappointing....I enjoyed the (short) story part but didn't expect the dissertation on the various other books pertaining to Olive Oatman. This author spent more time tearing about the other books as not believable and spent a lot of time on Stratton, the preacher who "helped" write Olive's own story, explaining in depth how the autobiographical account was half truths and Stratton's beliefs rather than Olive's actual feelings and experiences. I'd also guess the footnotes, citations, refer Very disappointing....I enjoyed the (short) story part but didn't expect the dissertation on the various other books pertaining to Olive Oatman. This author spent more time tearing about the other books as not believable and spent a lot of time on Stratton, the preacher who "helped" write Olive's own story, explaining in depth how the autobiographical account was half truths and Stratton's beliefs rather than Olive's actual feelings and experiences. I'd also guess the footnotes, citations, references, etc took up at least 1/4 of the book. I wanted a story and got a dissertation that I was not expecting.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I really liked this book and found it absolutely fascinating. While reading it, I'd come home from work, pass by the kitchen, go straight to my chair and pick up reading where I left off. It's a fascinating, easy to read book that one can finish in a few days. It was also a nice distraction from my post holiday/January blues. (No pun intended.....I guess MY blue tattoo in January is on my spirit, so maybe the timing of this reading was very appropriate.) There's no element in this story that is n I really liked this book and found it absolutely fascinating. While reading it, I'd come home from work, pass by the kitchen, go straight to my chair and pick up reading where I left off. It's a fascinating, easy to read book that one can finish in a few days. It was also a nice distraction from my post holiday/January blues. (No pun intended.....I guess MY blue tattoo in January is on my spirit, so maybe the timing of this reading was very appropriate.) There's no element in this story that is not absolutely fascinating. From the beginnings of Olive's family as Mormons in Illinois, to their break with the church to follow another self proclaimed boy prophet, John Brewster (who was in direct competition with Joseph Smith), and the rift that it caused in Mary Ann Oatman's family (Olive's mother). Mary Ann's parents are going west with Brigham Young and were rightly concerned about Royce Oatman's (Olive's father) allegiance to John Brewster. Royce argues with his in-laws, even "prophesying" that if Mary Ann's parents go West with Brigham Young, that they will meet with disaster and die horrible deaths........ which prophecy did come true.....but for himself and his own family. It made my blood run chill to watch the character of Royce Oatman, and how he was proud, argumentative and headstrong.....all the way leading his family to a terrible fate. It seems that when Mary Ann married Royce, she married herself and her children to tragedy. So we watch the Oatman's choose the wrong westward movement to follow and watch how Royce isolates the family more and more as they move west until they find themselves alone in the Gila Valley, hungry and completely vulnerable to the thing that they feared most: Indian attack. The attack was horrifying. I cannot imagine going through something like that, or witnessing it and surviving it. It was surprising to learn that Olive's brother, Lorenzo, also survived the attack and his survival journey, back to civilization, trailed by wolves, was also compelling. The trials that Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, went through at the hands of the Yavapai were so sad. I cannot imagine the terror they endured, as well as the physical challenges. It was interesting to study the character of the two girls: Olive, who is strong, adaptable and bent on not only surviving but thriving.....while Mary Ann's constitution was just not equal to the challenge. Two very different studies in personality and adaptability and survival. The description of the Mohave culture made me feel like we should all be so lucky to have been Mohave. The author paints the Mohaves as the most gentle, kind, affectionate, happy, healthy, natural people who ever lived. And what happened to that culture and all the Native American cultures at the hands of European expansion was absolutely tragic. It's sad when Olive has to leave her happy life with the Mohaves and be repatriated back to white culture. But it's even sadder to know that within 5 years of her repatriation, the Mohave culture was wiped out. I can't imagine the inner storms with which Olive lived her life. And never really being able to tell her authentic truth, but to hold it within for a lifetime. It's sad. But perhaps we all do that to some extent, but her inner life must have been a huge one to keep tamped down. Yet, she found ways to be happy and fulfilled. Her life really is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I really liked this book. And I'm glad to have started off my reading year with it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This is my favorite type of biography because it tells one person's amazing story couched in a larger historical and social perspective. Olive Oatman's tale is a fascinating account of one woman's adaptability and courage in the wild west, a strange frontier where women were expected to have great fortitude but still maintain their Victorian purity and gentleness. As the first tattooed white woman in America, she walked the fine line between being a heroic victim and an Indian-loving freak. Edit This is my favorite type of biography because it tells one person's amazing story couched in a larger historical and social perspective. Olive Oatman's tale is a fascinating account of one woman's adaptability and courage in the wild west, a strange frontier where women were expected to have great fortitude but still maintain their Victorian purity and gentleness. As the first tattooed white woman in America, she walked the fine line between being a heroic victim and an Indian-loving freak. Edited and censored by the men in her post-captive life, her actions often contradicted the idea that her salvation by the whites was a good thing, and Mifflin documents Olive's divided life in a thorough and interesting way. The end of the book slows down as the action in Olive's later life does, but the lasting cultural impact and mythology keep it moving along to a satisfying end.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cam

    Olive Oatman’s bio of traveling in the 1800’s, family is murdered, and she is taken by the native Americans. She adapts to the customs and traditions.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erin Lindsay McCabe

    The moment I saw Olive Oatman's photo and learned that her husband burned every copy of her "auto"biography (co/ghostwritten by an anti-American Indian Methodist minister), I knew I had to read more about her. This book is a great starting point. With a clear and easy-to-read style, the author cites plenty of sources and gives a very thorough overview of her life, positing very plausible theories about the parts of her story that are unknown. I appreciated the way the author handles conflicting The moment I saw Olive Oatman's photo and learned that her husband burned every copy of her "auto"biography (co/ghostwritten by an anti-American Indian Methodist minister), I knew I had to read more about her. This book is a great starting point. With a clear and easy-to-read style, the author cites plenty of sources and gives a very thorough overview of her life, positing very plausible theories about the parts of her story that are unknown. I appreciated the way the author handles conflicting information, and although it maybe meandered a bit in its discussion of "tattooed ladies" (obviously the author's particular interest, given her other work), it provided interesting historical context. Still, I found myself wanting to know more, especially about Oatman's feelings (about leaving her adoptive Mohave family, about her life with her husband-- especially, for instance, how she felt about him burning her book!). I very much appreciated the letter to her aunt included as an epilogue in my edition, which made me wish the book included more of Olive's letters (especially the letters she and her husband wrote each other). That said, an author of non-fiction can't include information or sources that no longer exist, so these aren't really quibbles I have with the book itself. I think the book is an admirable examination of Olive Oatman's story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Primrose Jess

    I've been so intrigued with the Olive Oatman story. When I saw this come up on audiobook, I jumped all over it. Her story of slavery to one Native American tribe after witnessing her family's slaughter and subsequent adoption by another for 5 years has intrigued me. Her time with her Native American tribe was cut short when she was returned to her people and subsequent re-assimilation into white culture. Accounts say Olive wept when she was returned. She was promptly taken in by a racist ministe I've been so intrigued with the Olive Oatman story. When I saw this come up on audiobook, I jumped all over it. Her story of slavery to one Native American tribe after witnessing her family's slaughter and subsequent adoption by another for 5 years has intrigued me. Her time with her Native American tribe was cut short when she was returned to her people and subsequent re-assimilation into white culture. Accounts say Olive wept when she was returned. She was promptly taken in by a racist minister who "co-wrote" her autobiography and launched her speaking career. Mifflin attempts to sift through what was truth and fiction in this accounting of Oatman's life. My Thoughts: - I had no idea Oatman had a Michigan connection until this book! -I had some disappointment in the frequency of times Mifflin deviates from Olive's tale to discuss other happenings of the time. It more or less began to feel like there wasn't enough source material to create an accounting and she was filling in gaps to create a book. -I was fascinated to learn that "captivity accountings/autobiographies" was a literary genre for the time. A woman taken captive in the 1600's had written an accounting and there are others Mifflin mentions. -Overall, I think this book provides a nice overview but not a lot of in-depth material. Partially because of length or perhaps there just isn't enough material to dive in?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Interesting! I grew up 30min from Oatman and next to the Mohave Indian Reservation. I can’t believe it took me this long to learn of Olive’s story. So fascinating to learn history about not only my state, but where I’m from.

  17. 4 out of 5

    The Overflowing Inkwell

    I read this book in one day. At about 200 pages (209 to be precise), and a smooth writing style, it's not particularly hard - in fact, it's almost harder to put it down. Mifflin puts together her narrative effortlessly, every page drawing you in to the next chapter of Olive's life. Having lived in AZ nearly my entire life, it was sort of unbelievable that I had never heard of her story or of the Native Americans who used to live there - I was very glad to find this book as my introduction and gu I read this book in one day. At about 200 pages (209 to be precise), and a smooth writing style, it's not particularly hard - in fact, it's almost harder to put it down. Mifflin puts together her narrative effortlessly, every page drawing you in to the next chapter of Olive's life. Having lived in AZ nearly my entire life, it was sort of unbelievable that I had never heard of her story or of the Native Americans who used to live there - I was very glad to find this book as my introduction and guide through the events that happened so long ago. Knowing nothing about any of it or even of the author going in, it still feels balanced, with many different sides presented or at least acknowledged, the reasons given for why the author chose to go with one side of the events than another; the lengthy bibliography and notes section that take up another 30 pages at the back holds up that impression.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Here’s a true story that was new to me. A young girl, Olive, originally a Mormon, traveling West with her family was brutally attacked by the Yavapai Indians. 6 of her 9 family members were killed in front of her eyes and she and her sister were taken to live with the tribe, as slaves. They were beaten and treated horribly. A year later, Olive and her sister were “traded” to the Mohave tribe where Olive lived 4 more years, very happily, and became very assimilated into the tribe. That’s where he Here’s a true story that was new to me. A young girl, Olive, originally a Mormon, traveling West with her family was brutally attacked by the Yavapai Indians. 6 of her 9 family members were killed in front of her eyes and she and her sister were taken to live with the tribe, as slaves. They were beaten and treated horribly. A year later, Olive and her sister were “traded” to the Mohave tribe where Olive lived 4 more years, very happily, and became very assimilated into the tribe. That’s where her chin tattoo comes in. After 5 years amongst the Indians, she was forced to rejoin white society, evidently against her own desires. If you google search Olive Oatman or the “Blue Tattoo”, you’ll find over a dozen books about Olive. What makes this one different? The author attempts to make this one as historically accurate as she can. This is a challenge because Olive never left a record of her own story. She became a celebrity and her story was told and retold. The authors took a lot of liberty inserting their own political views and morality. One of the things that casts a bit of doubt into this particular account was the lack of research the author did on early Mormonism, and on the Brewster sect which broke off from the rest of the church, which is what Olive’s family was part of. The author throws some disdainful jabs at Mormonism and Joseph Smith in her writing, and a small amount of research would have easily given her correct information. These mistakes made me cast some of the other details into doubt. (For example, the author states the Joseph Smith was lynched. In reality, he was shot) I can’t imagine how much Olive must have endured. She witnessed her family getting clubbed to death. She had to live with a tribe of people that seemed primitive and hated her and spoke a different language. Then she moved to another tribe with a different culture and another language to learn. She lost her sister to starvation. And then was forced to come back to white society. Her life as a celebrity, touring the country in order to promote a biography written about her by a Methodist Minister, Roy B. Stratton can’t have been easy either. I finished the book feeling like I didn’t really get to hear Olive’s story, which is true. She was more spectacle than human. And the men in her life decided what was appropriate for her story to sell. Here are some things I found out while reading this book: 1) The first tattooed man in America was named James O’Connell. Children ran from him screaming. Pregnant women were told not to look at him or their babies might come out tattooed. 2) Captivity literature was a very popular genre of book in the 1850s. 3) How strong the anti-Indian sentiment was. 4) Fake news has been going on for a very long time. 5) The Minister stole her story for his own profit. He changed all of the details. 6) We never will know her story. She wasn’t able to tell it. It was always censored by men. And by her society who didn’t want to hear any positive things about Native Americans. It was a very interesting slice of American History and of a remarkable girl's life. Recommend.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Very interesting........... Tattoos are an interesting subject themselves but given the extra background, circumstances and time period - well!! Now I'd like to read Mifflin's other book on tattoos - this book has made me more curious. Mifflin has done a ton of research and has enough references to make this almost text book-like............but I found it to much more interesting than your average text book. And as nearly anything I read that has anything to du with Native Americans, I'm sad, sa Very interesting........... Tattoos are an interesting subject themselves but given the extra background, circumstances and time period - well!! Now I'd like to read Mifflin's other book on tattoos - this book has made me more curious. Mifflin has done a ton of research and has enough references to make this almost text book-like............but I found it to much more interesting than your average text book. And as nearly anything I read that has anything to du with Native Americans, I'm sad, sad, sad.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Do yourself a favor and read something else. This book was all over the place. It would reference an event in one chapter and 2 chapters later you’re reading about it again. It felt like a really long essay having no direction. Instead of focusing on the history, there’s a lot of speculation, mostly regarding the sexual practices and behaviors of the Apache and Mohave Indian tribes whom Olive Oatman spent years amongst. Going so far as to use the “F” word and calling the Native American people R Do yourself a favor and read something else. This book was all over the place. It would reference an event in one chapter and 2 chapters later you’re reading about it again. It felt like a really long essay having no direction. Instead of focusing on the history, there’s a lot of speculation, mostly regarding the sexual practices and behaviors of the Apache and Mohave Indian tribes whom Olive Oatman spent years amongst. Going so far as to use the “F” word and calling the Native American people Red “N—-ers”. (May be historically accurate in context, but it is harsh.) The best part of the book was the ending of the epilogue where the narrative is given over to Olive herself in a letter she had written to her aunt.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl Ipsen

    Very interesting story, it is detailed so hard to stick with it, but I found it fascinating. Olive Oatman has a lot of stories, true and not, written about her. Glad I read it, I had never heard her story. Makes you think about some difficult issues regarding society and human behavior.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Captivity sounds like an old concept, something that happened in a time so far away that it doesn't seem possible. To capture someone and take them away to a culture and place that is so foreign that everything is new and unknown. Olive's story is one of acceptance and a determination to survive in an environment that is so totally strange to her, she learns to adapt in ways that will imprint on her soul and face in ways that when she is re assimilated into American culture she never totally bec Captivity sounds like an old concept, something that happened in a time so far away that it doesn't seem possible. To capture someone and take them away to a culture and place that is so foreign that everything is new and unknown. Olive's story is one of acceptance and a determination to survive in an environment that is so totally strange to her, she learns to adapt in ways that will imprint on her soul and face in ways that when she is re assimilated into American culture she never totally becomes what she was. The tattoo on her chin is a mark that separates her from her old life and tries to stain her character. But she rises above this and learns to live a life in white culture that neither denies her captivity or her captors.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Raina

    This is the facinating, haunting, and true story of Olive Oatman a young Mormon girl, while traveling with her family towards Zion, who was abducted into slavery by a band of Yavapai Indians. All but three of her nine family members were murdered by Indians. Following the murders of her family, she and her sister Mary were taken hostage only to be sold to another tribe where she was adopted as daughter into a Mohave family. Mary and Olive assimilated into the Mohave lifestyle after four years. Si This is the facinating, haunting, and true story of Olive Oatman a young Mormon girl, while traveling with her family towards Zion, who was abducted into slavery by a band of Yavapai Indians. All but three of her nine family members were murdered by Indians. Following the murders of her family, she and her sister Mary were taken hostage only to be sold to another tribe where she was adopted as daughter into a Mohave family. Mary and Olive assimilated into the Mohave lifestyle after four years. Similar to the book One Thousand White Women, The Blue Tattoo deals with the story of two girls Olive Oatman, 14, and Mary Oatman, 10, who lived with tribes of Indians in the 1850's The Olive and Mary became tribal slaves for the Yavapai, but after a year they were traded to the Mohave tribe. This is when Olive found life with the latter tribe to be paradise. Because of this she receives a blue chin tattoo, a symbol of acceptance. Her sister Mary, however, perished during this time, due to drought. Soon after Olive traded back to "civilization" against her will and left to live outside both the Mohave civilization she has grown to love as well as the white society she no longer feels she has a place in forever marked by the physical marks of her time with the Mohave, her chin tattoos. The Mohave wore these brands with pride as a source of identification so in the afterlife they could find their loved ones. Olive Oatman was the first known tattooed white woman in US history and became quite an oddity for the rest of her life. This fascinating story glimpses of a time and place that few non-Native Americans ever experience. It was so well written that you will find it hard to put the book down.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Fay

    After Olive leaves the Mohave tribe, we only hear about them again when Irataba goes East. I would have appreciated a look at what the tribe was doing throughout the entire story (which yes I know would have made the book longer, but it would have added to my understanding. If, as Mifflin states, Olive considered herself a Mohave - which we'll never know truthfully - then wouldn't it be nice to know what her tribe was undergoing?) Also, I kind of feel as if we're not hearing Olive's story. There' After Olive leaves the Mohave tribe, we only hear about them again when Irataba goes East. I would have appreciated a look at what the tribe was doing throughout the entire story (which yes I know would have made the book longer, but it would have added to my understanding. If, as Mifflin states, Olive considered herself a Mohave - which we'll never know truthfully - then wouldn't it be nice to know what her tribe was undergoing?) Also, I kind of feel as if we're not hearing Olive's story. There's that huge sense that I'm only getting half the story. I'm attributing this to the fact that historical documentation treated Olive as a spectacle, not as a human being, and that her female story was dominated by what the men in her life felt was appropriate. Overall, though, this book inspired me to look at other captive stories and the history of tattooed women. I'm fascinated by the fact that, because Olive was tattooed, it classified her as another type of woman. Like the comparison to Hester Prynne, their markings denoted a different kind of female experience that put these women in a precarious position, yet highlighted in a way that they had incredible strength.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    This book tells two stories: one is the story of Olive Oatman's life and the second is the story of how others used her life story for their own purposes. Heading west with her parents and siblings in 1851, Olive saw her family murdered and was taken captive by native tribes. Five years later she was "rescued" and returned to white American society. As much as possible, Mifflin carefully disentangles what actually happened to Olive from the numerous books and legends about her and then analyzes This book tells two stories: one is the story of Olive Oatman's life and the second is the story of how others used her life story for their own purposes. Heading west with her parents and siblings in 1851, Olive saw her family murdered and was taken captive by native tribes. Five years later she was "rescued" and returned to white American society. As much as possible, Mifflin carefully disentangles what actually happened to Olive from the numerous books and legends about her and then analyzes how her story has been used to bolster and justify various racial prejudices and social mores. Olive seems to have been complicit in some of the fabrication, probably for her own protection. I would like to have seen a chapter dedicated to looking at everything from Olive's perspective; her likely motivations are certainly alluded to but could have been focused on more closely. I enjoyed the book and learned a lot.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dav

    . The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman • by Margot Mifflin (Published 2009, under 300 pages) OVERVIEW: In 1851 Olive Oatman (age 14) was orphaned when her large family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians (Arizona territory). Olive (and her little sister Mary Ann, age 7) lived as slaves to the tribe for a year before being traded to the Mohave tribe, who tattooed Olive's chin in the Mohave style and raised her as their own. At nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society and became an i . The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman • by Margot Mifflin (Published 2009, under 300 pages) OVERVIEW: In 1851 Olive Oatman (age 14) was orphaned when her large family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians (Arizona territory). Olive (and her little sister Mary Ann, age 7) lived as slaves to the tribe for a year before being traded to the Mohave tribe, who tattooed Olive's chin in the Mohave style and raised her as their own. At nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society and became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime. Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy cattleman’s wife in Texas. Oatman’s story has since become legend... (edited) • The introduction tells of the contradictory details in the Oatman saga and of those who capitalized on her notoriety: legends and tall tales. It also speculates on why so much attention has been paid to Olive's story and why she and her sister were taken, while the other seven family members were all killed. This book is attempting to accurately portray the history: "...sift out the truth of the Oatman story (and) to offer a historical understanding of it..." The 1857 biography Captivity of the Oatman Girls, by Royal B. Stratton is briefly examined and some of the author's distortions are identified. The author holds the positions of American land theft and Indian extermination, but doesn't obsess about it. . 1. The book begins with the Oatman family stuck on an island in the Gila River, the day before the Indian attack (February 1851): Dad, Mom and 7 kids, ages 2 to 17. In May of 1850 the dad, Royce Oatman sold their Illinois' farm and joined the Brewsterite's wagon train, headed West to a Mormon paradise. They were a Mormon splinter group no longer following the Joseph Smith / Brigham Young Mormons who successfully settled in the Salt Lake Valley (Utah). After traveling fifteen hundred miles, with losses of livestock, supply shortages, mishaps, disputes etc the 20 some families traveling together had largely broken up. The book mentions the various hardships, dangers and diseases facing the westbound immigrants. Mr Oatman had given up on the ill-conceived Brewster-utopia plan and was now hoping to mine gold in California (this being the era of the gold rush and the 49ers). From Maricopa Wells they had less than 200 miles to go in order to reach safety and supplies in California's Fort Yuma on the Colorado River. What lay ahead was a dangerous, desert wasteland: the Cooke's Wagon Road, the southern route to California and considered too perilous without a convoy or escort guards. Nevertheless, Mr Oatman headed out with only his wife and children. The author compares the journey and this decision to Captain Ahab's monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale. There were 19 Indians who came upon the Oatmans, demanding food. When they didn't get what they wanted they killed the family, looted the wagon and slaughtered the livestock. Mary Ann and Olive were forced to go barefoot on the four-day, 60-mile rapid march back to the Yavapai village. The feet of the two girls were soon bleeding. Mary Ann went into shock and Olive begged to die. At the Indian camp they endured threats and beatings and became the slaves of the Indian women and children--carrying out whatever they were ordered to do. All the years of her captivity Olive didn't know her brother Lorenzo had survived as well and was trying to find his two sisters--letter-writing, questioning travelers, trying to motivate anyone to mount an official search for them. After the massacre Lorenzo regained consciousness, having survived being bludgeoned. Walking with a stick or crawling, suffering from the head wound and fending off wolves, he's eventually found and rescued by friendlies. After some months convalescing at Fort Yuma, Lorenzo starts working in Frisco and later the LA area--still seeking help to find the sisters. . Some of the details included in other chapters: The Mohave, traveling traders, bargained for the sisters, maybe to rescue them from the hostile Yavapai tribe. Olive became a protected "daughter" of the Mohave family that took her in. The death of Mary Ann (maybe at age 10). She was a frail child and died along with some of the Mojave during a season of famine. In 1854 Lt. Whipple and company we're mapping out a route for the railroad from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean, which would pass through the Mohave territory. They had cordial encounters and traded with the Mohave, but didn't see a blue eyed white woman. The story gives all the details of Mohave life, tribal practices, religious beliefs, war with other tribes, the taking of prisoners, etc. In 1856 there were tales of a white woman living with the Mohave. Fort Yuma's Commander, Martin Burke approves a plan for the Quechan Indian Francisco to bargain for Olive's release. Now age 19, Olive's repatriation was "...five years to the month after her disappearance..." Lorenzo and Olive are reunited and aided by friends and relatives. Their story makes headlines. Once they meet Royal B. Stratton, a silver-tongued Methodist minister, Lorenzo asks him to write and publish their story. The book Life among the Indians: Captivity of the Oatman girls is a best seller. Olive, a gifted speaker, gives lectures on her experience to promote the book. The author disparages Stratton for his creative license in the biography. Details were altered. Olive is presented as an unsullied heroine to properly appeal to the 19th century audience. The Indians are savages and the story made as titilating as possible. Olive continued her public-speaking career until her marriage to the rancher John Fairchild in 1865. The book discusses the use of the women-in-captivity genre and other stories of captives--comparing these victims to how Olive fared. Indian attacks are eventually quelled by the army. The Mohave and other tribes in this region move to the rez. The author spends time analyzing civilization versus the savage's society and various racial implications then and now. Lorenzo gets married trys farming and eventually becomes successful building and running hotels. • Well done. Great detail on life in the Southwest during the 1850s. .. .

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alaine

    Coincidences: 1. Olive's blue tattoos. I was totally unaware of her story when I decided on blue as my tattoo color. I am now heavily tattooed, in blue. 2. Olive's family was Mormon. I was raised Mormon. I had no idea there was ever a sect called the Brewsterites though. 3. Olive's brother ended up in El Monte at some point in the 1850s, and Olive lived with him there for a while. I don't think this is too much of a spoiler. I doubt most people find this part interesting. But my grandparents lived Coincidences: 1. Olive's blue tattoos. I was totally unaware of her story when I decided on blue as my tattoo color. I am now heavily tattooed, in blue. 2. Olive's family was Mormon. I was raised Mormon. I had no idea there was ever a sect called the Brewsterites though. 3. Olive's brother ended up in El Monte at some point in the 1850s, and Olive lived with him there for a while. I don't think this is too much of a spoiler. I doubt most people find this part interesting. But my grandparents lived in El Monte, and I spent a significant part of my childhood there. I was fully unaware it was "the first exclusively white settlement in Los Angeles County." It was never exclusively white at any point in my life. That came as a shock. I liked this book because of the topic, but there were long stretches that were pretty dry and school essay-like.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I was invested in her story after reading “White Captives”, so I was looking forward to reading this version. I would give it a 3 1/2 to 4 stars. My notes— The captivity genre 1682 —a captivity book was the first bestseller in America. These books were the one kind of books that featured women and were read by them. In captivity stories, women could demonstrate skills and attitudes outside their constricted culture. Public Speaking was a freedom for her after her captivity. The Mojave’s laughed th I was invested in her story after reading “White Captives”, so I was looking forward to reading this version. I would give it a 3 1/2 to 4 stars. My notes— The captivity genre 1682 —a captivity book was the first bestseller in America. These books were the one kind of books that featured women and were read by them. In captivity stories, women could demonstrate skills and attitudes outside their constricted culture. Public Speaking was a freedom for her after her captivity. The Mojave’s laughed that the white men needed devices (compasses) to find their way. The women captives who did not wish to return to civilization remind me of the Lamanite daughters who married the priests of Noah (in the Book of Mormon), and wanted to stay with their husbands and children.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey Sanders

    An interesting story but the authors historical inaccuracies made me question what other things she may have gotten wrong in the narrative. (like Olive being a Brewsterite rather than differentiating them from the Mormons, also talking about Joseph Smith's lynching when he was actually shot while in jail) Overall I was disappointed and didn't feel like I knew the subject of the book much better than before I read it. An interesting story but the authors historical inaccuracies made me question what other things she may have gotten wrong in the narrative. (like Olive being a Brewsterite rather than differentiating them from the Mormons, also talking about Joseph Smith's lynching when he was actually shot while in jail) Overall I was disappointed and didn't feel like I knew the subject of the book much better than before I read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kirk Astroth

    A great telling of the life and times of Olive Oatman. The author sorts through all the rumors, falsehoods and myth to tell the true tale of her captivity and “rescue” from the Mohaves who took her in and raised her as their own. Throughout her life she struggled to reintegrate into white society.

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