Here's a report on my first day of a research trip out to the Oatman massacre site. One of the reasons the Great Western and the Oatman family wanted to make it to Yuma Crossing is because of the new fort placed there to protect settlers:
Kathy and I drove out to the massacre site yesterday—two and a half hours—and it finally makes sense to me. Those weird bluffs in all the drawings of the Oatman family massacre seemed so odd to me, but now I get it. They all must have thought they were entering hell.
The Oatmans were members of a Mormon sect that broke off from the Brigham Young faction after Joseph Smith's murder. Their leader, "The Boy Prophet" told of an Eden-type place at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. Cantankerous and argumentative in their zeal, the group broke up and splintered on their Westward journey with some members dropping off near Socorro, New Mexico and others dropping off elsewhere. By the time the Oatman wagon train reached Maricopa Wells, southeast of present day Phoenix, there were only three families left. Two of those decided to stay in the In-din village (one of the wives was about to give birth). Royce Oatman decided to push on even though his own wife was 9 months pregnant. Plunging westward into rough country, ringed by blackened bluffs and lava scarred ridges, they must have thought they had entered the gates of hell, and in a fevered, strange way, they were.