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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

(Women in the West)

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  3,407 ratings  ·  533 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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Sep 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 t ...more
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 Moha ...more
Mar 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 fictionaliz
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 ma
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
May 18, 2010 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! ...more
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 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 n
Aug 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 30, 2020 rated it liked it
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.
Erin Lindsay McCabe
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Primrose Jess
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ministe ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-books

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.
The Overflowing Inkwell
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 gu ...more
May 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: James McQuivey
Recommended to Megan by: Elaine Gilboy
Here’s a true story that was new to me. A young girl, Olive, originally a Mormon, traveling West with her family was brutally attacked by the Yavapai Indians. 6 of her 9 family members were killed in front of her eyes and she and her sister were taken to live with the tribe, as slaves. They were beaten and treated horribly. A year later, Olive and her sister were “traded” to the Mohave tribe where Olive lived 4 more years, very happily, and became very assimilated into the tribe. That’s where he ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
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, sa ...more
Jan 07, 2021 rated it did not like it
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 R
Sheryl Ipsen
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting story, it is detailed so hard to stick with it, but I found it fascinating. Olive Oatman has a lot of stories, true and not, written about her. Glad I read it, I had never heard her story. Makes you think about some difficult issues regarding society and human behavior.
Feb 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio-books
3.5 stars. Interesting story, still so much unknown about Olive. It was interesting to hear so much historical background about the different tribes, time period, etc.

Note to the narrator, Gila is pronounced Hila, the G makes the H sound. That grated on me the entire book 🤪
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Captivity sounds like an old concept, something that happened in a time so far away that it doesn't seem possible. To capture someone and take them away to a culture and place that is so foreign that everything is new and unknown. Olive's story is one of acceptance and a determination to survive in an environment that is so totally strange to her, she learns to adapt in ways that will imprint on her soul and face in ways that when she is re assimilated into American culture she never totally bec ...more
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Tiffany Fay
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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'
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 ...more
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-bio

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
• by Margot Mifflin
(Published 2009, under 300 pages)

In 1851 Olive Oatman (age 14) was orphaned when her large family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians (Arizona territory). Olive (and her little sister Mary Ann, age 7) lived as slaves to the tribe for a year before being traded to the Mohave tribe, who tattooed Olive's chin in the Mohave style and raised her as their own. At nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society and became an i
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it

1. Olive's blue tattoos. I was totally unaware of her story when I decided on blue as my tattoo color. I am now heavily tattooed, in blue.
2. Olive's family was Mormon. I was raised Mormon. I had no idea there was ever a sect called the Brewsterites though.
3. Olive's brother ended up in El Monte at some point in the 1850s, and Olive lived with him there for a while. I don't think this is too much of a spoiler. I doubt most people find this part interesting. But my grandparents lived
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was invested in her story after reading “White Captives”, so I was looking forward to reading this version. I would give it a 3 1/2 to 4 stars.

My notes—

The captivity genre
1682 —a captivity book was the first bestseller in America.

These books were the one kind of books that featured women and were read by them. In captivity stories, women could demonstrate skills and attitudes outside their constricted culture.

Public Speaking was a freedom for her after her captivity.

The Mojave’s laughed th
Lindsey Sanders
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting story but the authors historical inaccuracies made me question what other things she may have gotten wrong in the narrative. (like Olive being a Brewsterite rather than differentiating them from the Mormons, also talking about Joseph Smith's lynching when he was actually shot while in jail) Overall I was disappointed and didn't feel like I knew the subject of the book much better than before I read it. ...more
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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 Mis

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“But the very pattern Olive wore appears on a ceramic figurine of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century that displays traditional Mohave face painting, tattoo, beads, and clothing.” 1 likes
“In the early years of the Civil War, she continued to lecture and make other celebrity appearances. She visited the Old Ladies Home in New York City, where she bought a needlepoint bookmark in the shape of a Latin cross. She shopped in Boston. She visited the Abbotts in 1863. And in 1864, she learned that the Mohave leader who had orchestrated her adoption into the tribe was coming east. After a chain of events on the Colorado that Olive could never have imagined during her life as a Mohave, Irataba, now a Mohave diplomat and leader revered by whites, was in the city after a visit with President Lincoln in Washington. She bought herself a ticket to see him.” 1 likes
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