Friday, June 02, 2017

Did Olive Oatman Have Children While She Was A Captive?

June 2, 2017
    Okay, let's get down to the nitty gritty: did Olive Oatman have children while she was with the Mojave?

   Author Margot Mifflin says no: "Olive almost certainly didn’t marry a Mohave or bear his children. If she had, it would have been a highly unusual, thus memorable, piece of tribal history." Mifflin, whose 2009 book, "The Blue Tattoo" was featured in the August, 2009 issue of True West ("10 Myths About Olive Oatman") goes on to say, "Although she married after her ransom, Olive never had biological children, which raises the possibility that she couldn’t. Finally, a half century after her ransom, when the anthropologist A.L. Kroeber interviewed a Mohave named Musk Melon who had known Olive well, he said nothing about her having been married."

   This is a solid argument on why Mifflin believes Olive did not have biological children, period. In fact, Olive, herself claimed nothing "improper" transpired between her and her captors, but that was after her ghost writer Royal B. Stratten got ahold of the story and cleaned it up. 





Daily Whip Out: "Twilight Reflections On The Colorado"

      
   The most compelling argument for her having children comes from a friend of the Oatman girls who was on the Brewster wagon train with them, before the massacre. Susan Thompson was living with her father and husband at the former's Inn in Monte (today El Monte), California, when Lorenzo and Olive stopped there on their way from Fort Yuma. This was immediately after Olive's release. And, more importantly, this is before Rev. Stratton got ahold of the story. Late in life, Susan described the visit. She claimed her friend Olive was a "grieving, unsatisfied women" who "somehow shook one's belief in civilization." Susan also remembered that Olive confessed to being the mother of two children and that having to leave these children behind when she left the Mojaves was the source of her grief.

   This, to me, is a bombshell revelation, but Mifflin dismisses Thompson's claim: "Compelling as it is, the statement is unreliable: [Thompson] also claimed Olive lived with the [Thompson] family for four years (in fact it was for two months after her ransom.)"


   The author of the fine book, "The Oatman Massacre" has a somewhat different take. Brian McGinty told me in an email, "I believe she may have [had children].  There were reports that she did, as detailed in my book.  Her unhappiness in later years may be explained by sorrow over the loss of her children.  The eagerness with which she greeted Irataba in New York in 1864 may also be linked to that.  However, there have been denials by Mohaves.  Perhaps they wanted to avoid recriminations from whites.  To the best of my knowledge, there has never been convincing proof that Olive did or convincing proof that she didn’t have Mohave children.  The question is vital to understanding the tragic story of Olive Oatman and should not be dismissed out of hand, as at least one writer has. Some convincing proof may eventually emerge.  I hope researchers will continue to pursue the question."


   I have always believed Olive had children while she was with the Mojaves and I believe her fits of despair were related to losing them. I will later go into the complicated dynamic that facilitated her release from captivity, but the short version is: she didn't have much of a choice to return to anglo society.

   I'll leave the final word of this argument to McGinty, who sums up his book with this haunting passage:

"Perhaps the story has no end—at least not in the conventional sense. Perhaps there is no date on a calendar or place on a map that represents the last chapter in the tragic history. Perhaps it will end only when the truth is known and sober minds can reflect on it. Perhaps it will really be over only when all the characters in the drama are released from the captivities—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—that so long and so forcefully held them in their grip."
—Brian McGinty

   

8 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:56 PM

    You and McGinty seem to be dead set on Olive having children. McGinty's book is revisionist history. While he did his research, there is a definite slant to his conclusions that Olive did want to stay with her captors while if you read her book, page after page details her longing to leave, her hate for her captors and her desire to be free. It's a little too convenient to dismiss all the things she says in the book Stratton helped write as his "editing". McGinty spends a chapter on Stratton's book trying to tear down all the things in it and how they were twisted to fit his ideals. But if you read those pages in the book carefully, you can't help but believe that Olive and her sister suffered greatly and horribly at the hands of the Indians. BOTH tribes. McGinty and folks like him try to filter her experience through 21rst century glasses when it was a totally different time back then. As Olive describes in the book, the Indians hated the whites. McGinty spends page after page of his book justifying why the "poor" Indians had reason to hate but I ask you- if your family of 9 had just been attacked and murdered, how would you feel? Would you justify the killings and blame it on the white victims? This is 21rst century revisionist history at its most politically correct.

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    1. I disagree about McGinty. He is very balanced and fair. I don't think PC has anything to do with the Mojave part of the story. Are you sure you are not referring to Margot Mifflin's book? She does spend a lot of time justifying behavior.

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  2. It makes sense that she had children. Wasn't that why they took captives in the first place?

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  3. I do not believe Olive Oatman had any children. Olive may have shown "grief" because she could not have children, since women were considered less of a woman if she could not have children. I think the "friend" Thompson only spread gossip for her own importance.

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  4. I think the "friend" Thompson only spread gossip for her own importance. I do not believe Olive Oatman had any children and that is why she did show grief.

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  5. Love the art, reminds of early morning look west from Goodman Point, NW of Cortez,CO towards Utah...

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  6. I read McGinty's book and felt if Olive had had the children she would have made reference to them at some point. How could she just ice cold shut the door on her memories and maternal longings to know what became of her children? Wouldn't she at some point inquire of any news of the Mohaves? Maybe she would want to send someone to bring back news, she had money by then. Then there's the question of two half white hypothetical kids running around that would have been common knowledge that was rumored down through the generations in the tribe's story telling. I ended the book thinking there must not have been children. Plus she never had kids with the white husband in TX.

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  7. Anonymous9:24 AM

    I would guess she did..she was with different tribes..one of them as described in the book were very sexual..if she did have a child I would think that it would have stayed with the tribe as she was passed to another tribe..

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