When we think of Indian attacks in the Old West, we invariably think of bows and arrows, and then, eventually, tribes get Winchesters and somehow the two get rounded up in a matinee symphony of death, punctuated by the whizzing of arrows and the Ryder Sound track bark of the rifles and the Ind-in's high pitched yells, all melding into a Saturday afternoon double-feature cliche.
Last weekend I bought a couple hundred dollars worth of books in Flagstaff at the Arizona History Conference because I wanted to know more about one particular element of the Oatman story:
Corporal Rivera is standing outside the Perfect Conception church near Yuma Crossing when he notices several Quechan men enter the plaza. As the service in the church begins, three of the natives walk towards him holding out a bundle of wood. It appears to Rivera they are bringing a gift of firewood. So, the corporal steps out to receive the gift. The Quechans hand him the wood then pull their war clubs and bust open his skull, dropping him in the dirt, deader than a door nail. At the same instant a great war whoop signals an assault, as a horde of other Quechans pour into the plaza to attack and kill any Spanish person they can find, which they do, quite effectively, dispatching most of them with their trusty war clubs (I believe there is one shooting when a Cuechan utilizes a stolen Spanish rifle). It's known as the Yuma Crossing Massacre and the date is July 17, 1781.
Now, fast forward to 1851 and the attack on the Oatmans. Here is Olive's first person description of the attack: "Suddenly. . . a defeaning (sic) yell broke up on us, the Indians jumping into the air, and uttering the most frightful shrieks, and at the same time springing toward us flourishing their war-clubs, which had hitherto been concealed under their wolf-skins."
This seems at odds with our popular beliefs about In-din armament. Where are the bows and arrows? Nobody has a knife?
Lorenzo Oatman continues the narration, "I was struck upon the top and back of my head, came to my knees, when with another blow, I was struck blind and senseless."
We don't really think about war clubs with the Apaches, who seemed, at least in the popular imagination, to prefer lances and bows and arrows.
It was only recently, that author Brian McGinty, in his masterful book, "The Oatman Massacre," questions the Tonto Apache claim. McGinty argues persuasively that the attacking Indians were probably Yavapai, since the Apaches did not traditionally trade with the Mojaves, and that is where Olive and Mary Ann are eventually traded. And the Yavapai were often called Yavapai-Apache, so it is very confusing, but most historians now believe the attackers with the war clubs were Yavapai.
Unlike the etching, where it appears the Oatmans are being beaten with tree branches—carried by cave men—I assume the actual war clubs had a rock attached to the end?