If you’ve been alive longer than a minute you’ve probably seen the John Wayne classic “THE SEARCHERS”. A fictionalized story about a young pioneer girl taken captive by Native Americans. As dramatic and stunning as the movie’s portrayal of such an event, it was an example of art imitating life!
For some travelling West to find a better life or a new beginning, the journey would sometimes end in tragedy and the complete loss of family if not your life as well. Such was the case for Olive Oatman.
Olive Oatman was born in LaHarpe, Illinois on September 7, 1837. When she was just fourteen her family, who happened to be Mormon decided to head West as was the custom and calling for Mormons during that time, the year was 1850.
Due to disagreement among the travelers the party split up around Santa Fe and Olive’s family headed for Tuscon from there. In February 1851 on the banks of the Gila River the Oatmans were approached by a group of approximately twenty Yavapai. The Yavapai asked for food and the Oatmans obliged, but when the natives wanted more and the Oatmans refused they were attacked and killed, the only survivors being Olive 14, Mary Ann 7 and brother Lorenzo 15 who the Yavapai had left for dead. This became known as “The Oatman Massacre”.
Olive and Mary Ann were taken captive and according to all accounts treated as slaves and regularly scourged by the Yavapai. The sisters were eventually traded to the Mohave people and were taken into the home of the leader Espanesay and his family, which in later accounts by Olive treated her very well and she grew to love them like family.
It was with the Mohave where Olive acquired her tatoos that adorned her face for the remainder of her life. She was given the Mohave name of Oach and she was also given a nickname which became the subject of controversy later. The nickname was Spantsa which loosely translated means ‘unquenchable lust’, you can draw your own conclusions from there.
Eventually the Mohave fell on hard times due to a drought and Mary Ann died from starvation and shortly afterwards Olive was rescued to Fort Yuma. She spent five years in captivity. In 1859 she became the subject of a book and a media sensation, eventually marrying Texas cattleman John Brant Fairchild in 1865 and moved to Sherman, Texas in 1872 where she lived out the rest of her years.
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