Captivity of the Oatman Girls by R. B. Stratton Part 2

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“Though no pleasant task to bring this sad after part to the notice of the reader, it is nevertheless a tale that may be interesting for him to ponder; and instructive, as affording matter for the employment of reflection, and instituting a heartier sympathy with those upon whose life the clouds and pangs of severe reverses and misfortunes have rested.” (page 10)

One night, fearing an Apache attack, Olive vows to kill herself rather than be taken captive. Her father seems to have a presentiment of what’s about to happen: “There seemed to be a dark picture hung up before him, upon which the eye of his thought rested with a monomaniac intensity; and written thereon he seemed to behold a sad after part for himself, as if some terrible event had loomed suddenly upon the field of his mental vision, and though unprophesized and unheralded by any palpable notice, yet gradually wrapping its fold about him, and coming in, as it were, to fill his cup of anguish to the brim.” (page 30)

The Apaches appear the next day and act friendly at first, then “suddenly, as a clap of thunder from a clear sky (p.35)” they attack, killing most of the Oatmans. They take Olive and her little sister Mary Ann captive and leave the fourteen-year-old Lorenzo for dead. After being clubbed in the head, Lorenzo was unable to move, unable to see, and thought himself dead. He had a remarkable near death experience:

“There seemed a light spot directly over my head, which was gradually growing smaller, dwindling to a point. During this time I was conscious of emotions and thoughts peculiar and singular, aside from their relation to the horrors about me. At one time (and it seemed hours) I was ranging through undefined, open space, with paintings and pictures of all imaginable sizes and shapes hung about me, as if at an immense distance, and suspended upon walls of ether. At another, strange and discordant sounds would grate on my ear, so unlike any that my ear ever caught, that it would be useless endeavoring to give a description of them. Then these would gradually die away, and there rolled upon my ear such strains of sweet music as completely ravished all my thoughts, and I was perfectly happy. And in all this I could not define myself; I knew not who I was, save that I knew, or supposed I knew, I had come from some far-off region, only a faint remembrance of which was borne along with me. But to attempt to depict all of what seemed a strange, actual experience, and that I now know to have been crowded into a few hours, would only excite ridicule; though there was something so fascinating and absorbing to my engaged mind that I frequently long to reproduce its unearthly music and sights. (p.38)”

When he came to, he thought he was blindfolded, but it turned out his eyelids were closed by clotted blood. Being partly delirious, he thought his brain was loose and rattling about in his head. He sees old friends and calls to them for help. As he makes his way back to the Pimole village, coyotes and gray wolves (he calls them “unprincipled gormandizers (p.42)”) try to eat him. He grows so hungry, he considers eating the flesh from his own arm.

Olive, meanwhile, decides not to commit suicide for her sister’s sake. She’s taken on a long march to the Apache village where she is made a slave. Olive shows a sense of humor in her recounting: “The breakfast was served up, consisting of beef, burned dough, and beans, instead of beans, burned dough, and beef, as usual (p.55)” She also says the Apache seemed to live in a constant state of fear for their own personal safety. Olive and Mary Ann eventually become jaded to their ill-treatment. “Indeed, indifference is the last retreat of desperation (p.56).”

After a year, the Apache sell her to the Mohave. Olive and Mary Ann are treated better here. They are taken into the household of the chief, Espaniole and are treated well by his wife, Aespaneo, and daughter, Topeka. They’re even given land to farm for themselves. Olive describes them as still being treated as slaves and claims the distinctive blue chin tattoo she received (the Ki-e-chook) was to mark her as a slave (According to Wikipedia, the tattoo more likely meant she was a member of their tribe).

Mary Ann, 7 years old when captured, is described as being the favorite child of the family, quickest to learn, but often sick. We’re told she read the Bible at five and half years of age. She dies during a famine along with several of the Mohave and Olive is left alone.

At one point, the Mohaves take Cochopa captives, including a 25-year-old woman named Nowereha. She escapes, but is recaptured. As punishment for trying to escape, the Mohave crucify her, including tying her head with pieces of bark stuck with thorns and nailing her hands and feet to a crossbeam. They leave her like this for a while, then shot her full of arrows, mocking her the whole time. After seeing this, Olive gives up any thought of trying to escape, although she was eventually rescued.


I liked many details of daily life that are thrown in. The Apache make fire using flint and wild cotton. The Mohave have an autumn feast with food consisting of “wheat, corn, pumpkins, beans, etc. These were boiled, and portions of them mixed with ground seed, such as serececa, (seed of a weed) moeroco (of pumpkins.) On the day of the feast the Indians masked themselves, some with bark, some with paint, some with skins (p.93).”

In another part, Olive gathers leka, a small ground-nut the size of the hazelnut. I liked a bit where they look for a streak on the mountain where trees don’t grow because this indicates a river might be there.

I loved a lot of the lines in this book such as “We were lengthening out a toilsome journey for an object and destination quite foreign to the one that had pushed us upon the wild scheme at first (p.24).”

Blood rushing to someone’s face is described as “his face would burn and flash as it crimsoned with the tide from within (p.33).” A dirt floor is called “a floor made when all terra firma was created (p.73).” When a cake is divided, the biggest piece is called “the Benjamin portion.” False tales are called “India rubber stories.”

Wikipedia doubts the truthfulness of this account, which leaves me wondering how much of it is true and how much isn’t. The group called Apaches may have been a different tribe altogether, and the Mohave may have treated Olive better than she recounts. She may have even married a Mohave and given birth to two boys. So this is definitely a book to take with a grain of salt.

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