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UNP - Nebraska
The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

by Margot Mifflin
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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803211483
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 04/01/2009
Series: Women in the West
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 424,453
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Margot Mifflin is an author and journalist who writes about women, art, and contemporary culture. The author of Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, she has written for many publications, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, the Believer, and Mifflin is a professor in the English Department of Lehman College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and directs the Arts and Culture program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she also teaches. 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: Emigrant Song
1. Quicksand
2. Indian Country
3. "How Little We Thought What Was Before Us"
4. A Year with the Yavapais
5. Lorenzo's Tale
6. Becoming Mohave
7. Deeper
8. "There Is a Happy Land, Far, Far Away"
9. Journey to Yuma
10. Hell's Outpost
11. Rewriting History in Gassburg, Oregon
12. Captive Audiences
13. "We Met as Friends, Giving the Left Hand in Friendship"
14. Olive Fairchild, Texan
Epilogue: Oatman's Literary Half-Life

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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
I learned about the Oatman Family Massacre while doing some research on Arizona (was thinking about moving there) and became intrigued by the story. I knew nothing about the event beforehand. When "The Blue Tattoo" by Margot Mifflin was published, I had to read it. Ms. Mifflin did a amazing job in capturing the life of Olive Oatman; before, during and after her capture by the Indians. This is definitely a winner.
MrsBond on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Olive Oatman and her family were travelling west - first to find religious Utopia, then gold. The family's adventure came to an abrupt end when their wagon was attacked by a small group of Indians. The only survivors were Olive, here sister Mary Ann, and brother Lorenzo. There are wide and varied tales of what happened to Olive over the next 5 years. Mifflin attempts to find the truth, relying on Oatman's own words, public records and other material. What is left is a story of a girl with ties to two worlds, but no firm place in either. An engaging read, The Blue Tattoo brings to light not just the life of a single girl, but also life in the 'old west.'I really enjoyed this book. It read as though the author was conversationally sharing her research on the topic (in a very organized way).
BrokenSpines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written, readable and scholarly. Margot Mifflin deconstructs each inaccuracy of the Olive Oatman story and gives the reader well-reasoned facts. It's distressing to read how the real life story of Oatman, who appreciated the Mohave way of life, was hijacked by her ghost-writer and presented as an anti-Indian screed.
caseylondon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What happens when a young Mormon girl is abducted into slavery by a band of Yavapai Indians then sold to another tribe where she is adopted as daughter into a Mohave family? The Blue Tattoo is a beautifully crafted history of Olive Oatman, a real life 1850's teen who lived a story that she would eventually tell on the lecture circuit following her ransom back to "civilized" society. Oatman carried physical marks of her time with the Mohave's, chin tattoos that the Indians used for identification purposes - so in the afterlife they could find loved ones. She was the first known tattooed white woman in US history and as such an oddity for the rest of her life. A fascinating story with glimpses of a time and place that few non - native Americans ever experienced. So well written that you will find it hard to put the book down.
SAC112750 More than 1 year ago
Too much historical detail. This isn't really her story, just what they had learned. I skipped over quite a bit of the monotonous history and then finally archived the book. Very disappointing!
Forbes More than 1 year ago
This story was a riveting story. I used this book to compare to my ethnography project of which the subject is tattoo artists. I saw through the subject, and as I continued through the story, the tattoo she was marked with obviously had a specific meaning to it which is what tattoo artists do; give meaning to the tattoos. Back to the story, I think this is a book more for people into stories of history. I myself am not always into historical treasures, but the book brought an interest through the ways of trade and markings. The historical facts are more then just the background, but also the appeal through a family’s eyes.  “Still, the Oatmans feared one thing more than famine: Indians.” (pg 11) I find this section interesting in the thought of a family’s biggest fear being Indians, but in historical facts some Indian tribes were hostile so in retrospect it would have been common for a family to fear the worst of tribes, such as the Apache, attacking their family. The cultures had a fall out in this time for White people where still new to the land, and of course as they took more to themselves the natives would get more hostile. “At the start of the trip he believed that, treated well, Indians were inherently friendly, and he even blamed their violence on cruel treatment by whites. When he’d worked as a traveling merchant in Iowa, Royce had mastered an attitude of unflappable cool to placate them, and his approach had always worked.” Ignorance is what came to mind at this moment. Thinking one technique could work again doesn’t seem applicable to a tribe who has caused blood shed before in which I find truly ignorant to put a family in harm at the thought of a possibility. I give this book a fair rating through personal interest and advice if you are into historical related books that this story will take you through a new process of mind.
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Heartbroken1 More than 1 year ago
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). (Still no distinction is made.) The "story" jumped all over the place. Instead of just focusing on Olive and what was known about her. Ms. Mifflin spends pages upon 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 is important, I'll concede that fact. 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; " 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. 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago