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Have you ever wondered how a town earns its name? Is it local geography that inspires a town name? Could it be the first inhabitants or a colonial takeover that inspires the naming of a town? Have you ever noticed that 18th and 19th century American presidents have towns named in their honor? Founding father, Benjamin Franklin, is undoubtedly the most decorated American citizen with 50 municipalities, 32 counties, and one state.


Is there a gender bias when it comes to town names? Historically, in male dominated societies, female centric town names tend to be few and far between. Considering women account for 51% of the U.S. population, women have inspired relatively few town names and even fewer once you eliminate saints, Greek goddesses, foreign queens, and early settler’s wives.

Are there any American towns named after influential women? Olive Oatman appears to be the only shero who inspired a town name.


Olive Oatman was not my main motive for visiting Oatman; however, she did open my eyes to historical sexism and modern day misogyny.



One hundred years ago, a ten million gold dollar discovery forever changed Oatman. During the height of the gold rush, this Route 66 tent town was home to 10,000 miners. Today, with a population fewer than 200, it’s the wild burros and misogynistic billboards sustaining the living ghost town. Yes, I said misogynistic! What better way to honor the town’s namesake, than with store front billboards like this.




Perhaps only in Oatman, can tourists be greeted by wild burros and a “Glory Hole” sign.



Was it just me, or have other visitors found the signs to be rather sexist and misogynistic in nature? The local gift shop won the award for the most disturbing form of sexism and misogyny. Who would buy this t-shirt? In what social setting would you wear this shirt?


As mortified as the perfect stranger and I both were, we decided to focus on our main reason for visiting Oatman: the burros.


With an estimated 1500 burros living in the surrounding hills, we found a few dozen roaming the main street.


Be prepared, expect them to approach you, they are not shy!

Photo Dec 16, 4 59 46 PM (2)


As tempting as it may be to feed the burros please don’t! The Bureau of Land Management discourages feeding these Oatman icons. Local shopkeepers, residents, and visitors have overfed the burros; leaving many fat and sick. You know overfeeding has become a problem when you notice these interventional style stickers.


After our burro encounter, the perfect stranger and I continued our stroll through town. In some ways, our walk felt more like date than a friendly adventure.


Is it really possible to establish such a close bond within a few short days? Was our newly found form of emotional intimacy shortening the distance between our sense of friendship and possible romance? Honestly, it would’ve have felt more natural to hold the perfect strangers hand than continue to do my shadow walk along side of her. I wanted to be closer, yet still be respectful of our developing friendship.


Nothing goes unnoticed or unacknowledged, when you are spending time with a micro-expression maestro. “Circle, circle, shoulder rub, head hang, look away”; was the sing-song, the perfect stranger used to describe my new found body language. Lol, how embarrassing!


Perhaps Paul Schrader was right; the secret of the creative life is to feel at ease with our embarrassment. I would like to think I have made friends with my old nemesis: embarrassment.


Oddly enough, it was a five year old girl that noticed our apparent connection and closeness. After noticing the two ladies in red, the young girl asked if we were sisters.

Was it our matching red shirts that implied a sister bond? Could the young girl sense the probability of a potential romance? How do you tell a 5 year old that she had witnessed two women falling in love? With her mom right beside her, we told the young girl we were good friends, and left it at that!


The perfect stranger and I headed off to the Oatman Hotel to grab an early dinner. It’s hard to believe that Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon here. Rumor has it, that Clarke Gable often returned to the hotel to play poker with the miners.


While miners no longer play poker at the hotel, part of their history remains. Throughout the restaurant, you will find thousands of dollar bills stapled to the wall. Consider it a souvenir to the past, because back in the day miners used to pay their bill on the restaurant wall.


Perhaps this is the ultimate form of an honor policy, paying your tab ahead of time, just in case anything unforeseen happened to you during your meal.


Like thousands of other visitors, the perfect stranger and I left our dollar bill stapled to the wall. I also left Oatman with the “Circle, circle, shoulder rub, head hang, look away,” sing song playing in my mind.



Imagine being a 14 year old Mormon girl in 1851. In search of a better life, your family decides to move west. Leaving your home state of Illinois, you now find yourself joining other families on the west bound wagon train.


As the days and miles pass, the uncertainty of life on the wagon trail starts to feel rather familiar. Your family has safely crossed into Arizona. Home is becoming more of a reality than simply a final destination.

Unexpectedly and out of nowhere, the Tolkepaya Indians attack your wagon train. Within minutes, you find yourself orphaned and parentified. Life would never be the same; both you and your 7 year old sister are now captives of the Tolkepaya’s. This was Olive Oatman’s reality on Feb 18th, 1851.


Olive and her sister  served as slaves for one year. The Tolkepaya’s would later trade the sisters to the Mohave tribe. The Mohave adopted both sisters; embracing them as family members. Mary died from a childhood illness shortly after the trade.

Olive was always free to leave her Mohave family; however, it would be without their accompaniment. Returning their adopted daughter to a white settlement could mean severe retribution for the tribe.

If Olive was to leave, where would she go?

Would it be safe for her to travel alone?

What if she was recaptured by the Tolkepaya’s?

As a tribal member, Olive’s chin was permanently tattooed; five vertical lines, with triangles set at right angles.


Would this tattoo be a constant reminder of Olive’s tragic past? Could the blue cactus ink come to symbolize her adoptive family’s love? Would this tattoo represent the loss and love she experienced? Would white America consider her to be Mohave or embrace her as Olive Oatman from Illinois?

In 1855, Fort Yuma authorities located Olive Oatman. Her release was formally negotiated, forcing Olive to leave her Mohave family.


How did Olive reconcile the murder of her parents, survive a year of slavery, mourn the death of her sister, and yet manage to rebuild a life with her adopted family?

Could Olive remain with her adoptive family?

What if Fort Yuma authorities gave Olive the option to live within both worlds?

Where was “home” for Olive? Was it the world she no longer knew or was it the place where she felt a sense of belonging?

Olive was taken into custody by Fort Yuma authorities; just a few miles away from Oatman, the town formally named after her. After being transported to Fort Yuma, Olive became an instant celebrity. Newspapers around the country deemed her a hero, while the general public perceived her as a victim. The Los Angeles Star described Olive as the “pretty girl” who’d been “disfigured by tattooed lines on her chin.”

As a young woman, Olive married a rancher, who later became a wealthy banker. The couple adopted a child and lived a comfortable life in Sherman, Texas.

A friend once described Olive as a “grieving, unsatisfied woman” who longed to return to the Mohave. By her mid-forties, Olive found herself battling debilitating headaches and depression. It seemed Olive suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; which resulted in a three month stay at a medical spa in Canada.

Throughout the 1880’s, the “tattooed captive” became a popular circus theme. Imagine having your experience inspire traveling side show attractions? Would the modern day equivalent be late night comedians making jokes out of someone else’s tragedy?

Olive Oatman died of a heart attack in 1903.Three years later the town of Oatman was founded; named after the woman who was adopted by the Mohave.

Today, Oatman is considered a ghost town that refuses to die, yet there is no mention of Olive Oatman’s life or will to live. Instead, you will find store front signs that appear misogynistic in nature, and not reflective of Olive’s legacy.