Monday, August 8, 2016

OLIVE OATMAN--A MARKED WOMAN



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
The Yavapais had taken the sisters to their village about 60 miles away, along with selected prizes from the Oatmans’ wagon. Tied with ropes, the girls had been made to walk for several days through the desert, which triggered serious dehydration and weakened them in general. When they asked for water or rest, they were poked with lances and forced to keep walking. Once they reached the Yavapai village, the girls were treated as slaves, and made to forage for food and firewood. The tribe’s children would burn them with smoldering sticks while they worked, and they were often beaten. The girls, Olive said later, were sure they’d be killed.
MARKED CHIEF OF YAVAPAI

The girls lived as the Yavapai servants for approximately a year, until some members of the Mohave tribe, with whom the group traded, stopped by one day and expressed interest in Olive and Mary Ann. The Yavapai swapped them for horses, blankets, vegetables, and an assortment of trinkets. Once the deal was settled, the sisters were again made to walk for several days through the desert, this time north to the Mohave village, near the not-yet-founded city of Needles, California, and unsure of their fates all the while.


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.

MOHAVE GIRL
The scenery was upgraded, too. The Mohave village was located in an idyllic valley lined with cottonwoods and willows, set along the Colorado River. No longer slaves, they were not forced to work and could to do as they pleased. They were also given land and seeds to raise their own crops. The two sisters were also given their clan’s name, Oach, and they formed strong bonds with the wife and daughter of their adopted family, Aespaneo and Topeka, respectively. For the rest of her life, Olive spoke of the two women with great affection, saying that she and Mary Ann were raised by them as their own daughters.

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.
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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

Wikipedia

Celia Yeary…Romance, and a little bit of Texas





22 comments:

  1. Those markings were pretty ugly. I feel sorry for those women.

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    1. Morgan--at least they survived and were loved by one tribe. (Your comment is on here twice...but I didn't delete one for fear it would delete the other. Don't know why this happens.

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  2. Those markings were pretty ugly. I feel sorry for those women.

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  3. Thanks,Celia ... What an extraordinary story, and to think it's not fiction!!

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    1. That is amazing, Cheri, that's it's true. (Your comment got on here twice but I didn't delete one for fear it would delete the other. I don't know why that happens sometimes.) Thanks!

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  4. Thanks,Celia ... What an extraordinary story, and to think it's not fiction!!

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  5. Fascinating, Celia. Though she had to live with those tattoos, Olive was a lucky woman. Her fate could have been worse.

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    1. Linda--I love that you always look on the bright side. And I agree...she was treated badly for a while, but then was almost coddled by another tribe. Thanks.

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  6. I knew the story of Olive Oatman. Thanks for filling in so many more details. What a heartbreaking tale but she was really a remarkable woman.

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    1. You did? I have never heard this story and found it intriguing. Yes, Olive was remarkable, and even though she suffered through the years, she still survived and married. Thanks.

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  7. That's so interesting, Celia. Thanks for sharing that information!

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    1. Maggie--and thank you for stopping by and reading it.

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  8. Great post, Celia! I read the book Tbe Blue Tattoo acehilexaho, and it's fantastic. It was a minister who changed her story, wasn't it?

    A fascinating woman. Thanks for this terrific post!

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    1. Tanya--I learned about the book through my research--otherwise I never knew about it. I don't think I remember anything about a minister, but it would be interesting to learn why. Thanks for visiting.

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  9. Fantastic post, Celia. I always so enjoy the tales you share, but this one really went straight to my heart. How that young girl tolerated such treatment and being pulled away from another type of life entirely is remarkable. Endurance, steadfast, all sorts of words come to mind to describe what a brave and strong woman she was mentally and physically. Thank you.

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    1. Beverly--it seems obvious that her traumatic life caused some memory lapses, don't you think?. Since she couldn't recall some facts or stated them differently, I think we see truly, that she was brave and strong. Doesn't it make you wonder if you could survive such an ordeal? I don't think I'd last a day!!! Thanks for your comments--I agree, it is heart-rending.

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  10. What amazes me is the research they put into Hell On Wheels. I never would have thought Eva was patterned after a real woman. Odd that the tattoo showed her price, much like the computerized codes for pricing look today.
    It sounds as if Olive would have been happier if she could have returned to her tribe the way Eva did in the TV series.
    This was such an interesting article, Celia. I loved reading it.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah! I, too, was amazed by how many events in Hell On Wheels was taken from real events and certainly real people. Maybe she would have been better off with the tribe. Bless her soul.

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  11. This was a very interesting article. Thank you for writing it. I leaned a new piece of history and am going to read more. After reading this, I understand Eva's character from Hell on Wheels better. Young Olive and her sister were brave girls and Olive was a survivor. This is a wonderful lesson for the young girls of today.

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    1. Thank you, Marianne, for visiting and making a comment. I value every word. Maybe anyone in such a position would find some inner strength to do what had to be done to stay alive. Me? I'm such a wimp!

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  12. Fascinating post, Celia! Olive must have been a strong woman despite being insecure to have survived her capture and subsequent ordeals. She was also quite pretty even with the markings.

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    1. Probably Olive was young enough--15--to not fully comprehend how very horrible her life would be. It's hard to tell, but yes, she was definitely strong to keep going and to keep her little sister going, too. She was a pretty woman--the markings? I got used to them watching Eva on HOW for six years. And yes, thought they were somewhat attractive. How strange. Glad you enjoyed the post and the photos.Thanks!

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