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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  2,026 ratings  ·  320 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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jess (Primrose)
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
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
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
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
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
The Overflowing Inkwell
I read this book in one day. At about 200 pages (209 to be precise), and 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
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
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the most interesting books I've ever read. I loved it. Blog post here:
Feisty Harriet
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This story was so fascinating and also so full of holes, pieces that are probably forever erased and irretrievable because of how long it's been since Olive Oatman lived (mid 1800's). Olive wasn't ever really given freedom to tell her own story, it has always been censored by men, by society, and by the reaction by white people towards anyone who has positive things to say about Native Americans.

Olive's family was killed by marauding Yavapai outside Yuma, AZ and she and her younger sister were
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, western
This attempt to mine for Olive Oatman's real voice, which is masked by the men who controlled her and the necessity of fitting into white society when she returned, is brilliant. The direct quotes from her book, and the contextualization and interviews of the Mojave and people who knew her gave a broad look at the ethnography and the background of the tribe that saved her. This book admirably balances the story of a white woman captured by Native Americans with the stereotypes and harmful histor ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: america, non-fiction
This book doesn't deserve such a low rating on Goodreads. This is a well thought out and executed non-fiction work that is fair and honest to all parties involved. I thought the entire story was fascinating and I enjoyed the authour's ability to draw you in and make you feel as if you were actually there. 5 stars.
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.
Vickie Richey
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very compelling study of the life of Olive Oatman including past writings about her. This book seemed the most accurate and the most interested in being truthful. It studies, in depth, other accounts of Olive’s life and the publisher who first wrote her story.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, audio, library2go
I may be judging this too harshly because I really wanted her story to mirror Eva in Hell on Wheels and it didn't. But this book was also extremely boring, it didn't give me really much more info about Olive than I had heard before.

This one was just ok, quite boring.
Karen Williams
An interesting read.
Christina Thomson
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and its story. It also resonated with me because I do live in Yuma and purchased this book at the Yuma Territorial Prison. It was very interesting!
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Margot Miffln is an author and journalist who writes about women's history and the arts. 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 Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, and Mifflin is a professor in the English Department of Lehman College of the City University of New Yo ...more
“In late June they arrived in Independence, Missouri, on a stretch of the Missouri River known for its “jumping-off places” — settlements where emigrants met traveling companions or killed time until their parties arrived, before heading west.” 0 likes
“The [Gila River area is] so utterly desolate, desert, and Godforsaken, that Kit Carson says a wolf could not make his living upon it.” | U.S. Representative THOMAS HART BENTON addressing the house of representatives, June 26, 1854” 0 likes
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