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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  563 ratings  ·  123 reviews
In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by University of Nebraska Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Truth be told, the excerpt on the cover told the story better than the 209 pages of text.

What’s touted as the biography of “a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family”(teaser on cover) is written with an obvious anti-Mormon sentiment. The Oatman family are actually “Brewsterites”, a group headed by James Colin Brewster, a self-proclaimed prophet, determined to start his own church after disagreeing with the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
One of the first things which struck me about Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman (Women in the West) was the title. Why is a book which is supposed to be about the life of a woman called, “The Blue Tattoo”? Was this deliberate? Has the individual woman’s identity become so lost or submerged behind the ink of her facial markings that she has all but disappeared? Or has the author simply failed to find or portray her? These and other questions intrigued me almost as much as ...more
I happened on the cover picture in a blog recently, and like many people, immediately thought "Hey, that's the tattoo from Hell on Wheels". Apparently the character's tattooing in that series was borrowed explicitly from Olive Oatman's. It's ironic that the TV character was a prostitute, as the Oatman's history as a captive of the Yavapai and Mohave raised questions about her sexuality in her own time.

Olive Oatman was a 14-year-old member of a Mormon splinter group. Her family was killed by Yav
May 19, 2010 Amy is currently reading it
Olive Oatman was my great grandfather's cousin. Her family was massacred while traveling to California, and Olive and her sister were held captive. Years later, she was returned to white society. I grew up with this story, but recently several new books have been written about her. This one is supposed to be really good!
Since I have a pretty strict standard for 5 stars (see: Name of the Wind; that sets my standard), this was a struggle - I wanted to give it 4.5 stars because I split hairs like that, but in the end the 5-star rating won out. This is a sympathetic and highly informative account of Olive Oatman's life, and also summarizes other accounts written about her (without getting bogged down in them). It also touches on the Other status of natives, women, those with tattoos, etc., in society in the mid 180 ...more
This is my favorite type of biography because it tells one person's amazing story couched in a larger historical and social perspective. Olive Oatman's tale is a fascinating account of one woman's adaptability and courage in the wild west, a strange frontier where women were expected to have great fortitude but still maintain their Victorian purity and gentleness. As the first tattooed white woman in America, she walked the fine line between being a heroic victim and an Indian-loving freak. Edit ...more
This book traces the life of Olive Oatman whose family was attacked on their way west. Only Olive and her sister were spared and they were soon after traded to the Mojave tribe where she appears to have found happiness. During her five years with this tribe, the white man crept ever closer. Although Olive was close enough to the proximity of white people she never tried to escape and when ransomed, she didn't want to leave.
Her brother woke some hours after the attack and found his way to Fort Yu
Tiffany Fay
After Olive leaves the Mohave tribe, we only hear about them again when Irataba goes East. I would have appreciated a look at what the tribe was doing throughout the entire story (which yes I know would have made the book longer, but it would have added to my understanding. If, as Mifflin states, Olive considered herself a Mohave - which we'll never know truthfully - then wouldn't it be nice to know what her tribe was undergoing?)

Also, I kind of feel as if we're not hearing Olive's story. There'
Pamela Pickering
Although I'm sure Mifflin's research was good I became irritated when it became clear to me that this was another book that sucks you by making you believe it will tell you the story of the subject in the title but the title subject is only a tiny thread in the book. The author basically tells Oatman's story early on--a big mistake on her part. If I hadn't known how Oatman left her Native American captors I might have plugged through all of the historical facts about Brewsterite Momrmons, variou ...more
This book is very interesting! Mifflin aims to rework the historical interpretation of Olive Oatman, the first white woman to have been tattooed in the United States. Countless analysts have indicted the Mohaves she lived with, but Mifflin insists that Oatman had accultured and wanted to stay with them instead of returning to white society. The writing is overall quite readable, but some parts were difficult to follow in the sense that I wasn't sure why they were included. I'd be very interested ...more
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Terrific. The true story of Olive Oatman- all but three of her family members were murdered by Indians and Olive and her sister Mary were taken hostage. They were traded from one tribe to another and Olive assimilated into the Mohave lifestyle after four years. She was forcibly returned to white society bearing a "blue tatoo" on her chin that forever seperates her from white society. Fascinating and haunting.
Sara Hearing
This book is a biography of the one of the well known captives of the Indians in the 1800s. The protagonist is no heroine, but her story is sure remarkable. The style of writing is at a medium pace, but is written in a third person point of view with great sources to their facts and well thought out theories.
This book is very fascinating and intriguing about this woman's life with details of her enslavement and her journey afterwards. However, this wasn't my favorite book. It may be that this
It started out good, like a novel. But then it went into a lot of detail about events at the time that didn't seem all that relevant...just narrative to add to the length to make it a decent "novel size". I read this book for my book club. It was not something I normally would have picked to read; however, I did enjoy reading outside my normal zone.
I really liked this on, it isn't a very thick book, but packs a lot of information into it! I had never heard of Olive Oatman before this book, but I have always had a huge interest in Native Americans/First Nations people and found this to be a well written and thought provoking read!
Erika Koneck
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's the true story of a young Morman girl traveling west with her family.

Within a decade she is a white girl living with the Indians with a chin tattoo. I think it is worth the read.
Malorie Shannon
I just finished Margot Mifflin's "The Blue Tattoo: The life of Olive Oatman". I had actually never heard of Olive until one night I was watching "Ghost inside my child" and she was spoken of and this book was shown. So I decided to get it. I am very glad that I did. This was a great historical book. Ms. Oatman suffered very much but managed to still have a full life. Her ordeal and the people who controlled and pulled at her was hard to read about but was sadly the norm for the time. It also was ...more
Very disappointing....I enjoyed the (short) story part but didn't expect the dissertation on the various other books pertaining to Olive Oatman. This author spent more time tearing about the other books as not believable and spent a lot of time on Stratton, the preacher who "helped" write Olive's own story, explaining in depth how the autobiographical account was half truths and Stratton's beliefs rather than Olive's actual feelings and experiences. I'd also guess the footnotes, citations, refer ...more
I first saw a white woman tattooed on the chin in the "Hell on Wheels" TV series. I was not watching it I just happened to glance at the screen. It was an interesting idea and I thought no more about it. Then I happened to come across a book (at the Fort Laramie museum in Fort Laramie Wyoming) about a girl named Olive Oatman who had blue tattoo on her chin. I was fascinated by the cover and spurred on by the earlier memory I picked up the book and read the back. I forgot my wallet that day so sa ...more
Not only is this account of a family taking up roots and moving westward, it is an account of a young woman's capture and how the "media" twisted her story to sell books. It is also during an era of feminine recognition...breakout of the timeless role of a woman's submission no longer, opening up her world to education and public speaking. It spurred a new genre of the1800's captivity books. How Olive was able to readjust and re acclimate is amazing! The Oatman Masacre lives on, the basis for ot ...more
This book was both interesting and disappointing. The disappointment was because I've been reading all of these stories of heavily documented historical things (e.g., (The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration), where the author can draw from several sources. As the subject of this story didn't record her observations, and the author was very clear in not putting words in her subject's mouth, it didn't feel as intimate as what I was hoping.

In fact, that's one of the
Very interesting story of a young woman who lived with the Mohave Indians after her family was killed by the Yavapai. Four years later she was "rescued" and became a celebrity when a book was written about her experiences. This book attempts to get to the real story which was largely lost due to the prejudices and political agendas of the time.

I was shocked to learn that many abolitionists harbored a great hatred for Indians and wanted to see them exterminated! I suppose in the future we'll loo
The author notes that to the best of her ability she has tried to write a true account of the life of Olive Oatman. Olive and her sister, Mary, were kidnapped by the Yavapai Indians and were slaves for the year they lived among them. They were ransomed from the Yavapai by the Mohave Indians. Mary Oatman was very weak and eventually died, but Olive lived in peace and security among the Mohaves for four years. The girls believed the rest of their family had been massacred by the party of Yavapai w ...more
Fascinating! Margot Mifflin does a profoundly good job of peeling away the fictions and stories of hangers-on to get to what can really be known about the story of Olive Oatman, a 14 year old pioneer girl who's family was killed and she and her sister taken into captivity by the Yavapai and later traded to the Mohave tribe. By all researchable accounts, she was not only adopted fully by the Mohave, a tribe who's physical beauty and extraordinary happiness and good humor were remarkable traits (t ...more
Becky Loader
Olive Oatman's family was massacred in an attack by Indians in the early 1850's. She and her sister were taken captive and sold to a group of Mohaves. She lived with them for four years (her sister died after two years of captivity) and then was "freed" by negotiation to return to white society. I was troubled by Olive's manipulation and exploitation by the people who "rescued" her. Oh, my goodness. A Methodist minister wrote a book about her captivity which was full of mis-representations, omis ...more
There seems to be a thin line between civilization and savagery, and author Margot Mifflin examines this idea in the life of the girl with "The Blue Tatoo." The author summarizes it well - "Olive's movements were determined by the men in her life." Based on historical records, young Olive was savagely orphaned; she became a slave to Yavapai Indians; then she was traded to the Mohave Indians. Assimiliting into a new culture, her strange facial tattoo and physical branding marked one of the first ...more
This is the facinating, haunting, and true story of Olive Oatman a young Mormon girl, while traveling with her family towards Zion, who was abducted into slavery by a band of Yavapai Indians. All but three of her nine family members were murdered by Indians. Following the murders of her family, she and her sister Mary were taken hostage only to be sold to another tribe where she was adopted as daughter into a Mohave family.

Mary and Olive assimilated into the Mohave lifestyle after four years. Si
Margaret Sankey
Olive Oatman was a 14 year old Mormon when orphaned and taken as a captive by a Yavapai attack on her family's wagon train in Arizona. Traded to the Mohave, with whom she assimilated over several years to the extent that she acquired facial tattoos, Oatman rebuilt her life--only to be returned in fear of white retaliation once her location was discovered by her surviving brother. Ghostwriters and tabloid reporters with religious and expansionist motivations quickly hijacked her story, and even w ...more
I found this book in an honest-to-goodness independent bookstore in San Francisco, and the title was what caught my attention originally. But despite the title, the book isn't really much about the blue tattoo of Olive Oatman as it was about her life and the cultural implications that her story has had.

The book is disappointingly short, but it treats the topic in a sensible and objective manner, and takes into account multiple perspectives: the Mohave tribe that fostered Olive, Olive and her fam
Alison McLennan
This book sites primary and secondary historical sources without breaking the narrative structure until the end where it becomes repetitive in presenting the argument against the 19th century version of Olive's story. We read direct historical accounts from the time period with the benefit of hind-sight and a more balanced and educated view of the era's cultural limitations. Yet it makes us wonder if historical 'truth' can be known. Women's history is especially problematic as women couldn't fre ...more
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Margot Miffln is an author and journalist who writes about women, art and contemporary culture. The author of Bodies of Subversion:A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, she has written for The New York Times,The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, The Believer, and Mifflin is a professor in the English Department of Lehman College of the City University of New York (CUNY), and co-directs ...more
More about Margot Mifflin...
Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, Third Edition

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