|ACTRESS ROBIN MCLEAVY|
Does this woman look familiar?
She is actress Robin McLeavy who plays the character Eva Toole on the popular AMC series Hell on Wheels.
How and why does she have these facial tattoos?
|ACTRESS ROBIN MCLEAVY|
As a girl, the character Eva was captured by a group of Yavapai Indians but they traded her to the Mojave. During her captivity they tattooed her face. The tattoo means "three blankets, two horses," indicating her worth.
|OLIVE OATMAN FAIRCHILD|
Her character is patterned after a real Texas Woman, Olive Oatman Fairchild, who became an early resident of Sherman, Texas.Before she married and moved to Sherman, Olive had been an Indian captive.
In 1851, Olive Oatman’s family, headed by her father Royce Oatman, broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were traveling through southeastern California and western Arizona, looking for a place to settle. As newly inducted Brewsterites—followers of Mormon rebel James C. Brewster—they’d been advised that California was, in fact, the true “intended gathering place” for Mormons, rather than Utah.
The group of approximately 90 followers had left Independence, Missouri, in the summer of 1850, but when they arrived in the New Mexico Territory, the party split, with Brewster’s faction taking the route to Santa Fe and then south to Socorro, and Royce Oatman leading a group to Socorro and then over to Tucson.
When the Oatman-led party approached Maricopa Wells, in modern-day Maricopa County, Arizona, they were warned that the southwestern trail ahead was barren and dangerous. In addition the native tribes in the region were famously violent toward whites. To continue, it was made clear, was to risk one’s life.The other families elected to stay in Maricopa Wells until they had recuperated enough to make the journey, but Royce Oatman chose to press on.
And that’s how Royce, his wife Mary, and their seven children, aged 1 to 17, found themselves trekking through the most arid part of the Sonora Desert on their own.
About 90 miles east of Yuma, on the banks of the Gila River, the family was waylaid by a group of Native Americans, likely Yavapai, who asked for food and tobacco. The details of what happened next aren’t known, but the encounter somehow turned into an attack. Apparently, all of the Oatmans were murdered— except Lorenzo, age 15, who was beaten unconscious and left for dead.
However, Lorenzo was very much alive and upon awakening found six bodies, not eight. Two of his sisters, 14-year-old Olive and 7-year-old Mary Ann, were nowhere to be seen. Badly injured, Lorenzo walked to a settlement and had his wounds treated and then rejoined the group of other Mormon emigrants, who returned with the teenager to the scene of the crime. Because the volcanic soil was rocky and difficult to dig, it was not possible to bury the Oatmans, so cairns were built around their bodies instead.
But where were Olive and Mary Ann?
|DEPICTION OF YAVAPAI INDIANS|
|MARKED CHIEF OF YAVAPAI|
Their lives improved significantly once the girls were on Mohave land. Mary Ann and Olive were taken in straight away by the family of a tribal leader, Espanesay, and adopted as members of the community. Both children had their chins and upper arms tattooed with blue cactus ink in thick lines, like everybody else in the tribe, to ensure that they’d be recognized as tribal members in the afterlife.
The girls seemingly considered themselves assimilated Mohaves, so much so that, in February of 1854, approximately 200 white railroad surveyors spent a week with the Mohaves as part of the Whipple Expedition, trading and socializing, and neither Olive nor Mary Ann revealed herself as an abducted white female or asked the men for help.
A few years after their initial capture, a drought in the Southwest caused a major crop shortage and Mary Ann subsequently starved to death, along with many others in the Mohave tribe. She was approximately 10 years old. Olive later said she only made it through the famine herself because she was specifically cared for by Aespaneo, her foster mother, who fed her in secret while the rest of the village went hungry.
In 1855, Authorities at Fort Yuma had heard rumors about a young white woman living with the Mohaves. They sent Francisco, a member of the nearby Quechan tribe, to the Mohave village with a message from the federal government of the United States. The post commander was asking them to either return her or explain why she would choose not to return. The Mohaves first refused to respond, and then sequestered Olive to keep her out of sight. Next, they tried denying she was white. When this didn’t work, they began to weigh their affection for Olive against their fear of reprisal by the U.S. government, which had threatened (via Francisco) to destroy the tribe if Olive was not handed over.
Francisco, as the middleman, was concerned for his neighboring tribe’s safety—and possibly his own—and persisted in his attempts. The negotiations were lengthy and included Olive herself at some points. As she was quoted in one later account of her ordeal:
“I found that they had told Francisco that I was not an American, that I was from a race of people much like the Indians, living away from the setting sun. They had painted my face, and feet, and hands of a dun, dingy color, unlike that of any race I ever saw. This they told me they did to deceive Francisco; and that I must not talk to him in English. They told me to talk to him in another language, and to tell him that I was not an American. They then waited to hear the result, expecting to hear my gibberish nonsense, and to witness the convincing effect upon Francisco. But I spoke to him in broken English, and told him the truth, and also what they had enjoined me to do. He started from his seat in a perfect rage, vowing that he would be imposed upon no longer.”
Some of the Mohaves were furious with Olive for disobeying orders and went as far as to suggest that she should be killed as punishment. But her foster family opposed the idea, and Francisco and the Mohaves eventually hammered out an offer: Olive would be ransomed back to the U.S. government in exchange for a horse and some blankets and beads. Olive’s adoptive sister, 17-year-old Topeka, would join her on the trek to ensure the goods were handed over.
The journey to Fort Yuma took 20 days, and the party arrived there on February 22, 1856. When she was approached by the fort’s commander, Olive cried into her hands. Before she was permitted to enter the fort, she was loaned a Western-style dress by an officer’s wife, as she and Topeka arrived wearing only traditional Mohave skirts, with their chests bare. She was also made to wash her painted face as well as her hair, which was dyed with the black sap of a mesquite tree. When asked her given name, she said it was “Olivino,” and told the commander that she was 11 when abducted by the Yavapai, not 14, among other incorrect details. Once she was cleaned up, Olive was received by a cheering crowd.
By the time Olive was sent to Fort Yuma, five years had passed since the murder of most of the Oatman family and the girls’ initial capture. She was soon informed that her brother, Lorenzo, had also survived the massacre; they met soon after, with newspapers across the western U.S. reporting the event as headline news.
There’s more to Olive Oatman’s story, as she eventually married John Brant Fairchild and lived in Sherman, Texas. However, the marks on her face affected her the rest of her life. She was a troubled, insecure woman who often tried to hide her markings, and even refused to leave her home. However, she did take part on a lecture circuit to tell of her life with the Yavapais. Her story seemed to have been altered over time and at times, she gave incorrect facts of people and events.
~~*~~*~~Sources for further reading:
Handbook of Texas On-Line
True West Magazine
Wild West History
Hell on Wheels Handbook-AMC.com
“The Blue Tattoo by Margot Mifflin
Celia Yeary…Romance, and a little bit of Texas