Weird History
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The Fascinating Story Behind The Girl With The Mohave Tattoo

Updated October 28, 2020 606.3k views12 items

In 1856, a 19-year-old girl named Olive Oatman caused a big stir in Arizona. The daughter of white settlers who were murdered on their way to California, she emerged from years of being a captive of the Mohave tribe with a striking and distinctive blue tattoo on her chin. So who was Olive Oatman, and how did she come to live with the Mohave? Her story is one of extreme tragedy that also captures the incredible strength of the human spirit.

The American public was fascinated by Olivia Oatman, and the stories of her time as a captive continue to spark interest to this day. Her journey from desert pioneer to orphaned Native American captive left lasting marks on her that went much deeper than a tattoo; it was said that she carried around a Mohave staple, a jar of hazelnuts, for the rest of her life to remind her of her experiences.

  • Olive And Mary Ann Had Opportunities To Escape, But Didn't

    The two girls seem to have assimilated well among the Mohave, blending in with their new adopted family and forming strong bonds with their new mother and sister. They were treated far better than they were with the Yavapai, and were no longer used as slaves. When a group of around 200 white surveyors came and spent a week with the Mohave, they had many chances to reveal their identities and escape back to white settlements, but they didn't. Some believe that they remained silent because they thought the new family they had had grown accustomed to was all they had left in the world.

  • Mary Ann Died While In Captivity With The Mohaves

    Photo: Baker Deb / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Although the two girls lived a relatively comfortable life with the Mohaves, the desert was never without its dangers. In 1855, a drought swept through the region. The resulting famine took the lives of many Mohaves and Mary Ann. Sho would have been around 10 years old.

  • Olive Was Rescued In A Trade And Released Back Into Settler Life

    Photo: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Soon after Mary Ann passed away, there were rumors that a white girl was living among the Mohave. Once word got out, the white settlers tried to get Olive back by negotiating a trade with the tribe. The tribe wanted to keep her and Olive wanted to stay, but eventually the Mohave gave in to their fear of the US government and negotiated. The government got Olive as well as her adopted Mohave sister Topeka in exchange for some blankets, beads, and a horse. Olive cried as she parted ways at Fort Yuma with the only sister she had left.

  • Olive Eventually Reunited With Her Brother

    The 15-year-old Lorenzo may have been left for dead back in 1850, but he somehow survived the attack on his family with a nasty head wound. He eventually made it back to the other families that had stayed behind at the village of Maricopa Wells. The fellow settlers helped him return to the scene of the attack, and they gave his family as close to a proper burial as they could. 

    Lorenzo never stopped looking for Olive and Mary Ann, and when Olive was released in 1856, the two siblings were finally reunited. They met up in the nearby town of Fort Yuma, and the event made it to the national headlines. They moved to Oregon soon afterward and lived together until Olive met and married a Texas rancher.