The Captivity of Olive Oatman

MASSACRE ON THE ARIZONA MESA

Heather Monroe
9 min readSep 10, 2019

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Olive Oatman, ca 1863-Public Domain

The Journey West

It was 1850. Roys Boise Oatman was 41 years old and looking for God. Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, was assassinated just six years before only 20 miles from the Oatman residence in LaHarpe, Indiana.

It was a tough time to be Mormon. There was much dissent among the practitioners, and plenty of men in line to replace Smith as the church leader.

Roys decided to follow John C. Brewster in pursuit of a promised land at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers in present-day Arizona. Brewster called it “The Land of Bashan” and claimed that God gave him this location in a vision. Here, the Oatman family planned to pioneer a new Mormon gathering place.

The trip was more arduous than anticipated. Brewster declared that “The Land of Bashan” was actually in Socorro, NM. There was no need to suffer through 600 more tumultuous miles. Some members of the wagon train took this for truth and settled with Brewster right there in New Mexico.

Roys took charge of the remaining wagoneers. He insisted they push through rugged terrain and all manner of bad weather. Thirty wagons traversed the perilous Santa Fe Trail, stopping at Maricopa Wells. Members of the Pima and Maricopa tribes greeted them. They had just withstood a harsh, dry winter and warned Roys that the Natives ahead were facing starvation and possibly combative. Roys disregarded their advice.

Other members of the wagon train ended their journey there, preferring the friendly social climate in Maricopa Wells to the unknown dangers of the Arizona desert. The Oatman family continued their journey alone.

After four days, the Oatman family reached a limestone mesa near Gila Bend. The incline was steep, and their oxen were too tired to pull the wagon up the hill. The family unloaded the wagon to ease the oxen’s burden and reloaded on the flat mesa.

A Family Slaughtered

The date was March 19, 1851. Lorenzo, 15, noticed a group of 19 Natives moving around in the shadow of the plateau. Roys assumed they were Apache. The tribesmen approached the encampment demanding food and tobacco. Roys conversed with them in Spanish…

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Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•