As I’ve found with so many of these cards, many adventures present themselves.
The writer sends this card September 15, 1912, the same date I started writing this post, just 106 years later. Oatman’s current population: 128 people, and a bunch of wild burros.
The town was a typical gold rush, boom town that came and went in a period of a few years. During its height and depending upon the source, between about 1903 and 1913, the mine produced $13 million in gold. Today, that would be over a billion dollars. At its height 3500 people lived here. It came and went in decades and is now a tourist, ghost town.
This postcard’s writer is so representative of an entire class and generation of men looking for work, fortunes and a new life in the great, wild west of America. If I could reach back in time, I would ask George Reay about his life.
He writes on September 10, 1912, “am having my vacation now and am in Los Angeles. Dell and Loots are with me am going to Idaho with a man tomorrow to buy a ranch will drop you card as I go your son George Reay”
I love that he is on vacation and I love the names. I love that they are going to Idaho to buy a ranch. I hope he found his ranch and a full and rewarding life.
I arrive back at the card and the name of the town, Oatman, Arizona. In the mid-1800’s, a Mormon family was migrating west with other families. The Oatman family chose to go to this area. As was true in most of the West, conflicts abounded between the aboriginal people, who’d lived on this land for thousands of years and the settlers, miners, US military and speculators who were taking over the west. A group of Indians killed most of the Oatman family in a raid, leaving one son and two daughters alive. The son was left for dead and the two young women were kidnapped and held as slaves. Later, that tribe traded Olive Oatman and her sister to the Mohave Indians, who appear to have treated them well. Olive’s brother never gave up hope of finding his sisters, finally achieving his goal years later. Olive’s release was brokered and she was brought back to the white settlement. She had been tattooed on her chin, which was a common Mojave practice associated with kinship, membership in a family.
Olive later married, adopted a child and lived her life. She wrote a book with another writer, went on the public speaking tour and talked about her life with the Indians. She said she was never abused and did not make efforts to free herself or reach out – even when 200 white men were in the camp where she and her sister resided.
So much could be read into her story, and books have been written about her life, including the book she helped to write. There are many avenues this could be taken – was she afraid to reach out for help when the opportunity arose? Did she like living with the Indians? I could understand some aspects of that. There is no real way to know or understand her life and experience.
To me, these are the tragedies and triumphs of the west. During that time, Americans were committing atrocities on the Indians, and one another, as the Indians were fighting one another and the Americans. There are similar stories and books about Indian children who were forcibly taken from their families and sent to boarding schools to be made into Americans.
Olive lived her life, and used her experiences to make a new life when everything changed. Her gaze shows me a woman who knew who and what she was. I see courage, a person who made the best of the circumstances life gave her. I would like to invite her to my bad ass women of the west cocktail party and hear her story.
Until the next amazing story. Sherry