“Hey, Joseph… check out Oatman, Arizona for your next trip.”
I was online chatting with Dave. He lives somewhere in Colorado and was giving me daily weather reports. It’s shortly after Easter, and he’s talking about snow while I am enjoying ninety-degree, sunny weather in Surprise, Arizona.
The conversation topic wasn’t weather, but where I might take Bernie and Chris for our next adventure.
I’d recently sold the 17-foot Casita trailer. It significantly changed all my 2018 travel plans. My old 2003 Toyota Sequoia was the perfect vehicle to pull it. I’d made a couple of trips, and it was like towing a feather.
I’d planned dozens of future trips. But life happens, and I’m seventy-nine and … although in good health… medical issues place a cautious dog leash on me. Being alone in the boondocks is no time for medical issues.
So, I sold the Casita and scaled back my traveling to single-day trips.
I seek interesting Arizona communities. I’m interested why folks originally stopped and settled there. Why do folks still live there?
Arizona has 411 little points identified as ‘communities.’ Dozens, it turned out, are just that… points. In other words, nothing I could write about.
I enjoy finding something interesting to make a place memorable.
The character stuff is fun to ferret out. Take Oatman, for example. How did it get its name? Researching the name ‘Oatman’ quickly hooked me into her life.
Yes, ‘her’ was Olive Oatman, a twelve-year-old Illinois girl who was captured by Apache Indians near Gila Bend in 1851. Here are two photos:
Looks can be deceiving; however, in Olive ’s situation, it is a double-whammy.
Back in the 1800’s photography was ‘still’ photography. The shutter speed was so slow that people had to keep very still. Thus folk’s expressions always look solemn. Didn’t folks ever smile and have fun?
Well, Olive apparently did.
But, I’m getting ahead of her story.
Once I decided to visit Oakman, I planned the single-day trip. Oakman is about thirty miles west of Kingman in the Black Mountains off Interstate 40.
The shortest route is Hwy 60 to Wickenburg, Hwy 93 to I-40 and then Historic Route 66 to Oatman. It is about 200 miles. As I would discover, Highway 93 was a delightful surprise, and Historic Route 66 was awesome.
I’ve traveled Hwy 60 to Wickenburg dozens of times. Someday I will learn more about it. It’s so close, less than an hour away, I keep putting it off.
However, once past Wickenburg, I was on Highway 93. My first surprise was a Joshua forest. I don’t know if they grew that way or were planted. There were acres upon acres on both sides of the road… roughly lined up as if a Joshua grove.
I didn’t let Bernie and Chris out of the car; they had to be satisfied with their window view.
Joshua trees grow at a low elevation. Within twenty miles we spotted acres of hillside Saguaro cactus.
We had been driving for over an hour. I stopped to let Bernie and Chris out for a few minutes.
The dogs enjoy hot dogs, so I packed some for them. I had a special tuna fish sandwich and lemonade. It was hot dogs and water for them and sandwich and lemonade for me.
It’s a beautiful day with blue skies, and cool at eighty degrees. Next month it will become noticeably warmer. We are only about two thousand feet in elevation. Even when we climb the Black Mountains to Oatman, the elevation will only be 3,300 feet. The town is nestled between mountains at 2700 feet.
As our journey on Hwy 93 came closer to Interstate 40, mountains began to appear.
“There’s gold in them there mountains.”
Did you know Arizona has 10,277 mines? Not all of them are mined for gold… and for sure not much gold was never found in the majority of them.
In order of decreasing value, the important metallic commodities of Arizona include copper, gold, silver, molybdenum, and lead.
The prospector had only a few simple tools. A pick, shovel, and pan.
A burro was considered an essential part of his outfit.
Burros were used inside mines to haul rock/ore, and outside the mine, they were used to haul water and supplies. After the gold boom, they were released into surrounding hills.
Today they freely roam through Oatman. They wander into town in the morning and wander back into the hills as dusk approaches. There is a small shop that sells “burro chow” for tourists to feed the animals.
At the entrance to Oatman is a large sign displaying the origins of the town and plainly states not to feed the animals.
How Oatman got its name is a story that keeps on spreading. Not only is there a town named after her, but there is also a small ferry crossing, and the start of it all is Oatman Flats.
Oatman Flats was the grisly massacre site when the Tonto Apache Indians killed most of the Oatman family. They were Mormons traveling from Illinois.
Mother, Father and four of the five sons were killed. Lorenzo was left for dead but survived and made his way to Fort Yuma.
Lorenzo’s escape from death is the trigger for all the rest of Olive’s story.
When Lorenzo reached Fort Yuma, word spread that two captured white women were living among the Indians.
Back then, such news resulted in Olive Oatman being a celebrity. Royal B. Stratton wrote a book about the Oatman girls titled Life Among the Indians. It sold 30,000 copies, a best-seller for that era.
Of interest is the three main sites (Oatman Flats, a small ferry crossing, and Oatman town) became identifying points of her life.
She was captured at the massacre site. The Tonto Indians had a village near the small ferry crossing, and the Mohave Indians who adopted her lived near the mining town.
Olive and her younger sister were captured and lived with the Apache for two years until being sold to the Mohave Indians.
She was adopted into the tribe and tattooed as is their custom. Both Oatman girls were tattooed on their chins and arms to ensure entrance to the land of the dead and recognized as Mohave’s by their ancestors.
Here is a photo of a typical tattooed Mohave woman.
And this was Olive.
Olive had five vertical blue tattooed lines down her chin. The tattoo was not common, in fact, the tattoo machine was not invented until 1891.
The girls were used as slaves, to forage for food, lug water and firewood and other menial tasks.
Once it became known the girls were alive, an extensive search was conducted. When found, negotiations were conducted, and Olive was released. Her younger sister had died.
The ordeal of Olive Oatman became one of the most publicized events to have taken place. With the publication of “Life among the Indians,” she traveled and promoted the book.
“She lived a long and full life, married, raised a family, and lived to the age of sixty-four.”
Oakman, Arizona – the town
Today it consists of a single street on Historic Route 66. It’s a tourist trap, but an entertaining one with wandering burros and mock gunfights. All sorts of souvenirs can be bought.
The ‘Elephant Tooth’ landmark provides an Oakman town backdrop.
Over the years, I’ve seen more than my share of tourist traps, so I took a few photos and left.
The primary reason Oakman continues to exist is because a Laughlin, Nevada business runs a tour bus to it. That, and the fantastic journey on Historic Route 66.
It brings me to the fourth time Olive Oatman’s presence is mentioned.
It is also the best part of my journey to Oatman, Arizona. It started when we left I-40 and entered Historic Route 66.
Today it is easily traveled on dirt and paved road. I saw two people pedaling bikes and some motorcyclists, but most people travel by car. Here is a description of how it was traveled back then.
“A few miles past Kingman, the highway approached Oatman Hill, the last great obstacle before Route 66 ended its Arizona odyssey. Twisting and winding its way through the rugged Black Mountains, the Oatman Hill section of the highway was the standard by which drivers measured other treacherous hill. When a driver entered California, Oatman Hill offered an ominous greeting for the westbound traveler, providing enough anxious moments to make the experience unforgettable.”
Hairpin turns, switchbacks, twisting, less-than-full-car-width roads on blind curves aptly describes it.
The views are magnificent and well worth the effort on these 22 miles stretch of Historic Route 66.
I haven’t decided where we go next.