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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

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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 captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.

Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas.

Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.

280 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Margot Mifflin

5 books84 followers
Margot Mifflin is an author praised for writing "delicious social history (Dwight Garner, The New York Times). She wrote the first history of women's tattoo culture, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, and The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, a finalist for a Caroline Bancroft History Award.

Her 2020 book Looking for Miss America, the first cultural history of the Miss America pageant, is a Cosmopolitan Best Nonfiction Book of 2020, a New York Post Best Book of 2020, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book, a National Book Review 5 Hot Books Pick, and a PureWow 12 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020. It was awarded the 2021 Pop Culture Association's Emily Toth Best Book in Woman's Studies award.

“A spellbinding…first-rate analysis of the United States’s most distinctive beauty contest.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books

“Mifflin’s lively book reads as an obituary…She’s cleareyed about the pageant’s many hypocrisies and failures…But Mifflin, too, is invested in the pageant’s sense of specialness.” —The New York Times

“Mifflin is as alive to the pageant’s historical grotesqueries as she is to the weirdo details of its founding.” —The New Yorker

“This incisive and entertaining history deserves the spotlight.” —Publishers Weekly

“Nothing short of fascinating.” —Cosmopolitan

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 720 reviews
492 reviews
October 11, 2010
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 Saints. (Ironically, Mifflin addresses this, but fails to make the distinction between the two religious groups.)

The Brewsterites were not headed for Zion—which was the community in the Great Basin (now known as the Salt Lake Valley and is still the headquarters for the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—also known as the “Mormons”)—but were actually following the Santa Fe Trail “arguing with Brewster about whether to continue to California or settle in Socorro, New Mexico”(pg 23). (Also clarified by Mifflin, yet still no distinction made.)

The “story” jumped all over the place. Instead of just focusing on Olive and what was known about her. Ms. Mifflin spends pages telling us about a variety of characters like Olive’s brother, Lorenzo, or Sarah Bowman and her “brothel across the river”(pg 113), or James O’Connell, the first tattooed man in America. Understanding that these people were influences in Olive’s life are in fact important, true. But sometimes it felt like we were exploring their histories just for the sake of shock factor.

Despite all the notes in the back depicting the accuracies in The Blue Tattoo, when it comes to the Mormon portion of it, The Blue Tattoo has many inaccuracies. The most glaring of which is on page 138; “…in the wake of Joseph Smith’s lynching…”. In reality, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum were shot—martyred—in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. Given this obvious and easily researchable blunder makes me wonder how many other parts of this “biography” are figments of the author’s imagination.

With all of this said, learning about Olive Oatman and her past was intriguing. Yet there is a huge asterisk on that statement because of all the mistakes. Intentional or not, they exist and ruin what could have been a great portrayal of a mysterious historical figure.
Profile Image for Taury.
559 reviews125 followers
January 19, 2022
A-lot of information packed into this little book. Just not enough to really talk about the life of Olive Oatman. Reading briefly about her in a HF book I want to learn more about the girl that was captured by Indians and sold off to the Mohave tribe who then raised this young, orphaned girl. I really did not learn much moee
Profile Image for Allen.
134 reviews16 followers
April 22, 2013
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 Yavapai en route between Tucson and Yuma in 1851, and she and her younger sister were first enslaved by the Yavapai, then sold to the Mohave. The Mohave raised them as members of the tribe; her sister died, but Olive was returned to white society after five years with the two Indian tribes.

The author has practiced source criticism on the various accounts of Oatman's life, discounting distortions introduced to serve various political and social biases. The resulting narrative is a fascinatingly ambiguous story. Was Olive better off as an Indian or white woman? It's hard to tell, but clearly she had warm feelings for her former "captors" when she met one of them in later life. The sexual, social, and racial norms of the time are called into question by the story of her life.

As history goes, the book is an easy and compelling read -- I finished it in a couple of days. It's a thought-provoking contribution to the literature of white captives of American Indians.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,326 reviews65 followers
May 1, 2014
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 the haunting picture of a young Olive which graces the cover of the book.

Upon closing the final page of Mifflin’s biography, I was left with a somewhat nagging disappointment that I didn't know Olive Oatman Fairchild any better at its conclusion than I had at the beginning. The Blue Tattoo is well-written and—so far as I know—well-researched; although scanning another review here on goodreads seems to indicate otherwise, but it doesn’t delve into the person of its subject, the woman, Olive. In that sense, the title is appropriate. The book is almost more a biography of the blue tattoo, and of the ‘life’ of Olive, in its rough outline, than it is a story about her. There is a lot of information about tattooing, its tribal use, history, significance and Olive’s place as the first white woman to have been voluntarily tattooed. There were also a satisfying number of sketches and old black-and-white photographs included especially of the variety of tattoos commonly used among the Mohave. There was an interesting, although limited, history of that tribe.

Mifflin’s book offers the perspective which only time can. It does a fair job of considering what Olive must have suffered from her manifold tragedy: first the loss of most of her family to murder; then the forced adjustment to a new culture; being sent from one tribe to another; losing her only surviving sister; then a second forced cultural readjustment—this time back into white society where she had only a brother for family; and finally touring the country promoting the first sensational biography written about her by the Methodist minister, Royal B. Stratton, Life Among the Indians, published in 1857. With no mother after the age of 14 to guide her, and no close female blood relations after age 16, it can’t have been easy.

However, if you hope to come any closer to understanding what Olive felt and thought privately about her experiences you won’t find it in this book. There were indirect references from other sources but no quotes or letters. Still, considering what a spectacle was made of the poor woman in the 19th century, perhaps this curtain of silence is well-deserved. In any event, I enjoyed the book and the tantalizingly few intimate details Mifflin did offer—especially those about Olive’s devoted husband and adopted daughter.
Profile Image for Siria.
1,864 reviews1,359 followers
January 6, 2021
In the 1850s, Olive Oatman and her younger sister, Mary Ann, were taken captive by Native Americans in what was then New Mexico Territory. Most of the rest of their family was killed in what became known as the Oatman Massacre, Mary Ann later died of illness, and so Olive lived for a few years by herself among the Mohave people. She seems to have become part of the Mohave to a great extent, most vividly through the tattoos which give this book her name: the lines on her chin, common to many Mohave women, which Olive also bore. After a few years, Olive was ransomed back to the US government, and she became the subject of one of the melodramatic Indian captivity narratives so popular with white Americans.

Oatman's story is an interesting one, but Margot Mifflin doesn't quite do justice to it, and certainly doesn't do justice to the broader history of which it is part. I'm no specialist in American history, but even I could tell that Mifflin repeatedly fails to truly confront Euro-American settler violence and colonialism. Much of the historiography she draws on is dated, and is overwhelmingly grounded in a white perspective. (More than once I blinked at some of the quotations she used to begin chapters, generally dropped in without qualifier or context.) Mifflin claims to more accurately represent the cultures and histories of the Yavapai and Mohave peoples than have previous recounters of the Oatman , but often does so in language and via framings that seemed to me queasily close to the nineteenth-century Noble Savage narrative.

Essentially, this is pop history masquerading as a scholarly work, only thinly rooted in more rigorous work, and it's eyebrow-raising to me that it was published by a university press.

(Unlike what a number of other GR reviews state, there is no anti-Mormon/LDS agenda here—Mifflin is just not writing from a Mormon/LDS perspective. There is a difference.)
Profile Image for Frank.
1,931 reviews20 followers
July 14, 2023
This was a very interesting and compelling telling of the life of Olive Oatman. In the early 1850s, Olive was a pioneer girl heading west with her family on a wagon train with a splinter group of Mormons called the “Brewsterites”, a group headed by James Colin Brewster, who broke off from Joseph Smith's church and who thought Eden was waiting for them at the mouth of the Colorado River. (I was brought up in the Mormon Church in Utah and I had never heard of this group). Her father was anxious to get to the "promised land" and did not heed the advice of others to stay together. He pushed on with his family and got stranded resulting in a massacre by the Yavapai Indians in Northern Mexico. Olive's family were all killed with the exception of her and her younger sister, Mary Ann and one brother, Lorenzo, who managed to escape. Olive and Mary Ann were taken into captivity and made slaves by the Yavapais. After one year, they were traded to the Mohave tribe where they were well cared for. But being assimilated into the tribe meant getting tattooed on the chin, a practice all women in the tribe underwent. Mary Ann died of an illness after two years but Olive ended up being ransomed and returned to white civilization after five years with the Mohave.

Olive's story was sensationalized after her release especially through a book titled Captivity of the Oatman Girls which was ghost written by Royal B. Stratton, a Methodist minister who befriended the Oatmans after Olive's release. His book consisted of narration by both Olive and Lorenzo with an introduction and commentary by Stratton. Stratton omitted, exaggerated, and fabricated information in order to deliver a title that was at once pious and titillating for his publisher. His account differs significantly from Olive's first interviews and even though she was treated well by the Mohaves, Stratton tried to make the Indians look savage and it was essentially a racist narrative against them. So his book really needs to be read with a wary eye for untruths.

Mifflin tries to get to the truth behind the Olive Oatman story in The Blue Tattoo. She did a lot of research using historical documents and letters. She includes what happened to Olive in later years including her marriage and lecture tours where she seems to have made the Indians look like savages even though she was well-treated by them. Overall, I did really find this interesting reading. It provides a lot of historical information related to the Southwest and also includes information about the attitudes of time such as how many abolitionists thought of Native Americans as savages and should be contained or eliminated while at the same time wanting to abolish slavery. She also includes information on early examples of tattooing and how Olive's story has been dramatized and written about down through the years.
441 reviews
March 6, 2013
Olive Oatman's story is fascinating. However, it was hard for me to get past the author's opinions and agenda to really enjoy it. I didn't like that her disdain for religion came through in little digs here and there. It was extremely well researched, but read like an academic paper with an agenda. In fact, I had to laugh at the irony that the preacher who published Olive's story and took so much liberty with her story to insert his own morality and political views really was no different from this author. Too bad. If it weren't for that, I would have given it at least 3 stars.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
905 reviews136 followers
November 8, 2016
History, cultural anthropology, and an interesting true story all combined into one. What makes this book really good is that the author has done much research and has exposed some falsehoods that are presented in other books, especially the one written by Stratton.

In 1851, a family heads out to California in a prairie schooner. They are attacked and killed by Apache Indians, leaving only their two daughters, Olive and Mary Ann, who the Apaches then take back to their tribe and enslave. For a maybe a year they live a miserable life, but then the Mojave Indians trade goods for both of the girls, and they spend the next 2 or more years with them.

Their brother whom they had believed was killed along with their parents, had actually made it back to civilization and spent years trying to find them. When he does, he learns that Mary Ann had died of starvation, and only Olive is alive. Olive returns home and claims that the Mojave's were very good to her and her sister.

What transpires after this is, Olive meets a Methodist minister by the name of Stratton, who then decides to write a book of her account, making the Mojave Indians appear as savages, and Olive, who has to live in this white society goes along with him, even giving speeches throughout the country.

It is actually a shame that she had to return to the white society, a society that was harsh towards those who stood up for Native Americans, who fantasized about her sexual life with them, and who considered her a freak since the Mojave Indians had put a blue tattoo on her chin. I can't imagine that any of her life had been that great for her.

Her life with the Mojave Indians is the most interesting part of the book since it gives you a view of their culture, which seemed somewhat idealistic. A life where they treated them as their own daughters.

Olive Oatman

Profile Image for Pat.
222 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2015
I didn't know that "women in captivity" was an entire genre of 19th century writing. The first such book was 'A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson," and was actually the first American bestseller in 1682. It was the story of a preacher's wife who spent 11 weeks in captivity among the Narragansett Indians in 1675. Times haven't changed: a great story sells.

This particular history is among many of the written stories and versions of Olive Oatman, many fictionalized. I found it captivating...

This version appeared to be well researched and consistently debunked the bestseller Olive helped to write with a Methodist preacher who profited from the exaggerations of her story.

I never got over the incredible curiosity of Olive's facial tattoo. I found myself continually turning to the front cover to stare at it a little longer.
68 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2014
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, references, etc took up at least 1/4 of the book.

I wanted a story and got a dissertation that I was not expecting.
Profile Image for Brianne.
414 reviews
January 6, 2018
I thought this was an incredibly interesting read! I first learned about Olive Oatman from a post on Instagram, and it lead me to this book. The writing style was informative, but light enough to make it a pretty quick read.

I felt that Mifflin did a lot of research and I can't wait to look into some of the sources listed in the bibliography. My only real complaint is that I wish she had included some photographs of people she was describing, or, if there weren't any photographs available, that she said so.

If this sounds interesting to you, then I definitely recommend it. And even if it doesn't sound interesting, I'd still recommend it because you might be surprised. I'll definitely read her other book about women and tattoos.
Profile Image for Amy.
32 reviews
Currently reading
May 19, 2010
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!
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 2 books11 followers
January 9, 2016
I really liked this book and found it absolutely fascinating. While reading it, I'd come home from work, pass by the kitchen, go straight to my chair and pick up reading where I left off. It's a fascinating, easy to read book that one can finish in a few days. It was also a nice distraction from my post holiday/January blues. (No pun intended.....I guess MY blue tattoo in January is on my spirit, so maybe the timing of this reading was very appropriate.)

There's no element in this story that is not absolutely fascinating. From the beginnings of Olive's family as Mormons in Illinois, to their break with the church to follow another self proclaimed boy prophet, John Brewster (who was in direct competition with Joseph Smith), and the rift that it caused in Mary Ann Oatman's family (Olive's mother). Mary Ann's parents are going west with Brigham Young and were rightly concerned about Royce Oatman's (Olive's father) allegiance to John Brewster. Royce argues with his in-laws, even "prophesying" that if Mary Ann's parents go West with Brigham Young, that they will meet with disaster and die horrible deaths........

which prophecy did come true.....but for himself and his own family. It made my blood run chill to watch the character of Royce Oatman, and how he was proud, argumentative and headstrong.....all the way leading his family to a terrible fate. It seems that when Mary Ann married Royce, she married herself and her children to tragedy.

So we watch the Oatman's choose the wrong westward movement to follow and watch how Royce isolates the family more and more as they move west until they find themselves alone in the Gila Valley, hungry and completely vulnerable to the thing that they feared most: Indian attack.

The attack was horrifying. I cannot imagine going through something like that, or witnessing it and surviving it. It was surprising to learn that Olive's brother, Lorenzo, also survived the attack and his survival journey, back to civilization, trailed by wolves, was also compelling.

The trials that Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, went through at the hands of the Yavapai were so sad. I cannot imagine the terror they endured, as well as the physical challenges.

It was interesting to study the character of the two girls: Olive, who is strong, adaptable and bent on not only surviving but thriving.....while Mary Ann's constitution was just not equal to the challenge. Two very different studies in personality and adaptability and survival.

The description of the Mohave culture made me feel like we should all be so lucky to have been Mohave. The author paints the Mohaves as the most gentle, kind, affectionate, happy, healthy, natural people who ever lived. And what happened to that culture and all the Native American cultures at the hands of European expansion was absolutely tragic.

It's sad when Olive has to leave her happy life with the Mohaves and be repatriated back to white culture. But it's even sadder to know that within 5 years of her repatriation, the Mohave culture was wiped out.

I can't imagine the inner storms with which Olive lived her life. And never really being able to tell her authentic truth, but to hold it within for a lifetime. It's sad. But perhaps we all do that to some extent, but her inner life must have been a huge one to keep tamped down.

Yet, she found ways to be happy and fulfilled. Her life really is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

I really liked this book. And I'm glad to have started off my reading year with it.
Profile Image for Erin Lindsay McCabe.
Author 4 books230 followers
August 15, 2015
The moment I saw Olive Oatman's photo and learned that her husband burned every copy of her "auto"biography (co/ghostwritten by an anti-American Indian Methodist minister), I knew I had to read more about her. This book is a great starting point. With a clear and easy-to-read style, the author cites plenty of sources and gives a very thorough overview of her life, positing very plausible theories about the parts of her story that are unknown. I appreciated the way the author handles conflicting information, and although it maybe meandered a bit in its discussion of "tattooed ladies" (obviously the author's particular interest, given her other work), it provided interesting historical context. Still, I found myself wanting to know more, especially about Oatman's feelings (about leaving her adoptive Mohave family, about her life with her husband-- especially, for instance, how she felt about him burning her book!). I very much appreciated the letter to her aunt included as an epilogue in my edition, which made me wish the book included more of Olive's letters (especially the letters she and her husband wrote each other). That said, an author of non-fiction can't include information or sources that no longer exist, so these aren't really quibbles I have with the book itself. I think the book is an admirable examination of Olive Oatman's story.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
36 reviews
October 9, 2009
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. Edited and censored by the men in her post-captive life, her actions often contradicted the idea that her salvation by the whites was a good thing, and Mifflin documents Olive's divided life in a thorough and interesting way. The end of the book slows down as the action in Olive's later life does, but the lasting cultural impact and mythology keep it moving along to a satisfying end.
Profile Image for Cam.
1,080 reviews2 followers
September 30, 2020
Olive Oatman’s bio of traveling in the 1800’s, family is murdered, and she is taken by the native Americans. She adapts to the customs and traditions.
Profile Image for Badseedgirl.
1,263 reviews66 followers
May 16, 2023
It was an interesting story and I truly felt bad for Olive Oatman, who appeared to be a young woman who just wanted a happy life, but had it taken from her time and time again through no fault of her own. I can only imagine the damage of being repeatedly and violently removed from people who loved you so many times at such a young age.
Profile Image for Jess.
509 reviews120 followers
April 12, 2018
I've been so intrigued with the Olive Oatman story. When I saw this come up on audiobook, I jumped all over it. Her story of slavery to one Native American tribe after witnessing her family's slaughter and subsequent adoption by another for 5 years has intrigued me. Her time with her Native American tribe was cut short when she was returned to her people and subsequent re-assimilation into white culture. Accounts say Olive wept when she was returned. She was promptly taken in by a racist minister who "co-wrote" her autobiography and launched her speaking career. Mifflin attempts to sift through what was truth and fiction in this accounting of Oatman's life.

My Thoughts:

- I had no idea Oatman had a Michigan connection until this book!
-I had some disappointment in the frequency of times Mifflin deviates from Olive's tale to discuss other happenings of the time. It more or less began to feel like there wasn't enough source material to create an accounting and she was filling in gaps to create a book.
-I was fascinated to learn that "captivity accountings/autobiographies" was a literary genre for the time. A woman taken captive in the 1600's had written an accounting and there are others Mifflin mentions.
-Overall, I think this book provides a nice overview but not a lot of in-depth material. Partially because of length or perhaps there just isn't enough material to dive in?
Profile Image for Jeanette.
234 reviews
January 7, 2021
Do yourself a favor and read something else.

This book was all over the place. It would reference an event in one chapter and 2 chapters later you’re reading about it again. It felt like a really long essay having no direction. Instead of focusing on the history, there’s a lot of speculation, mostly regarding the sexual practices and behaviors of the Apache and Mohave Indian tribes whom Olive Oatman spent years amongst. Going so far as to use the “F” word and calling the Native American people Red “N—-ers”. (May be historically accurate in context, but it is harsh.)

The best part of the book was the ending of the epilogue where the narrative is given over to Olive herself in a letter she had written to her aunt.
Profile Image for The Sassy Bookworm.
3,467 reviews2,365 followers
December 11, 2009
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!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
280 reviews3 followers
June 1, 2020

I grew up 30min from Oatman and next to the Mohave Indian Reservation. I can’t believe it took me this long to learn of Olive’s story. So fascinating to learn history about not only my state, but where I’m from.
Profile Image for Lindy Coutu.
101 reviews2 followers
January 18, 2023
I thought this was a fascinating read about Olive Oatman. Her family decided to travel westward after being counseled to do so by a self-proclaimed prophet, James Brewster. The religion was called Brewsterism and was a spin-off of Mormonism. There were a lot of politics surrounding religion during this timeframe, which influenced a lot of people’s decisions.

Traveling westward, Olive’s family was killed by the Yavapais Indians. They spared only Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann. They were captured and eventually sold to the Mohaves Indians, where they were treated well. Only Olive ended up surviving after a famine. She lived with the Mohaves for 4 years before re-entering white society.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Olive’s life with the Mohaves, but we do know that they tattooed her face, which was a sign that she was considered part of their tribe. She was treated well by the Mohaves but mostly stayed quiet about specific details concerning her life with them.

The question still remains whether or not Olive ever wanted to come back to society or if she preferred to stay with the Mohaves as one of their own.

Although this book had a bit too much detail about names/places that didn’t feel pertinent to the story, it was a very interesting read about white captives of the Indians.
Profile Image for The Overflowing Inkwell.
218 reviews26 followers
January 28, 2021
I read this book in one day. At about 200 pages (209 to be precise) with a smooth writing style, it's not particularly hard - in fact, it's almost harder to put it down. Mifflin puts together her narrative effortlessly, every page drawing you in to the next chapter of Olive's life. Having lived in AZ nearly my entire life, it was sort of unbelievable that I had never heard of her story or of the Native Americans who used to live there - I was very glad to find this book as my introduction and guide through the events that happened so long ago. Knowing nothing about any of it or even of the author going in, it still feels balanced, with many different sides presented or at least acknowledged, the reasons given for why the author chose to go with one side of the events than another; the lengthy bibliography and notes section that take up another 30 pages at the back holds up that impression.
Profile Image for Cheri.
475 reviews16 followers
April 3, 2020
This book tells two stories: one is the story of Olive Oatman's life and the second is the story of how others used her life story for their own purposes. Heading west with her parents and siblings in 1851, Olive saw her family murdered and was taken captive by native tribes. Five years later she was "rescued" and returned to white American society. As much as possible, Mifflin carefully disentangles what actually happened to Olive from the numerous books and legends about her and then analyzes how her story has been used to bolster and justify various racial prejudices and social mores. Olive seems to have been complicit in some of the fabrication, probably for her own protection. I would like to have seen a chapter dedicated to looking at everything from Olive's perspective; her likely motivations are certainly alluded to but could have been focused on more closely. I enjoyed the book and learned a lot.
Profile Image for Jennie.
428 reviews11 followers
May 6, 2014
The subject matter of this book was quite interesting. It's definitely not one I would have read if it weren't for my book club. Considering how unique and terrible Olive Oatman's life was, the book itself was pretty tedious. It seemed to be well researched, but I felt that it was rather biased. It is obvious that Mifflin doesn't care for the LDS church based on some blatant misrepresentation of doctrines in several parts of the book. Overall, I found the book interesting, but I had to force my way through it.
Profile Image for Kathy.
75 reviews24 followers
February 1, 2018
Very interesting........... Tattoos are an interesting subject themselves but given the extra background, circumstances and time period - well!! Now I'd like to read Mifflin's other book on tattoos - this book has made me more curious. Mifflin has done a ton of research and has enough references to make this almost text book-like............but I found it to much more interesting than your average text book. And as nearly anything I read that has anything to du with Native Americans, I'm sad, sad, sad.
Profile Image for Kathy.
38 reviews
March 29, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Karen Hatch.
289 reviews4 followers
April 13, 2016
I thought this book was too jumpy. I was anticipating reading about Olive's story from before she was captured until her death. The book did tell that story but it threw so many other stories into the mix that it didn't flow very nicely for me. Several times I had to reread passages because they didn't make sense or because it didn't hold my attention.
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