“An important and engrossing book, which reveals as much about the appetites and formulas of emerging mass culture as it does about tribal cultures in nineteenth-century America.”—Christine Bold, Times Literary Supplement
The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatmanby Margot Mifflin
In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as/i>
In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.
Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman’s friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois—including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society—to her later years as a wealthy banker’s wife in Texas.
Oatman’s story has since become legend, inspiring artworks, fiction, film, radio plays, and even an episode of Death Valley Days starring Ronald Reagan. Its themes, from the perils of religious utopianism to the permeable border between civilization and savagery, are deeply rooted in the American psyche. Oatman’s blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home.
This engaging biography examines the life of Olive Oatman, who was 13 years old when Indians attacked her Illinois Mormon family on its journey west; she was subsequently adopted and raised by the Mohave tribe. Mifflin (English, Lehman Coll., CUNY) tells Oatman's story, from the unorthodox religious convictions that led her family west, through her captivity and assimilation into Mohave culture, to her rescue and reassimilation. Mifflin engagingly describes Oatman's ordeal and theorizes about its impact on Oatman herself as well as on popular imagination. The author seeks to correct much of the myth that has sprung up around Oatman, owing partly to a biography written with Oatman's participation during her life. Mifflin takes the position that Oatman was almost fully assimilated into Mohave culture and resisted "rescue," and that her return to mainstream society was a cause of ambivalence, if not anxiety. Though Mifflin sometimes seems a bit eager to make this argument, her book adds nuance to Oatman's story and also humanizes the Mohave who adopted her. Recommended for general readers as well as students and scholars.
Julie Biando Edwards
"The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. . . . This is a revealing read as it delves into the social morays and prejudice of the time."—Sandy Amazeen, MonstersAndCritics.com
"Mifflin, whose admirable and enjoyable book offers analysis of both the reality and the mythology of Oatman''s life, shows that there is much beyond the blue tattoo."—Spencer Dew, Rain Taxi
Jack Shakely, Internet Review of Books
“Margot Mifflin has written a winner. A young Mormon girl is forced to live with ‘savages.’ And loves it. Returns to civilization to become a serious young woman who falls into pious, manipulative hands. The Blue Tattoo offers quite intense drama along with thorough scholarship.”
—Elmore Leonard, best-selling author of Killshot, Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories, and The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
"Mifflin does a careful job of reconstructing the fascinating story behind how this woman came to wear that tattoo, ascertaining the most accurate possible accounting of the 1851 murder of Oatman''s family near Yuma, Arizona, her captivity by a band of Yavapai Indians, her sale to the Mohaves, and Oatman''s eventual return to white society."—Jenny Shank, NewWest.com
"Extremely well written, The Blue Tattoo is unquestionably a significant contribution to Oatman studies."—Deborah and Jon Lawrence, Overland Journal
Deborah and Jon Lawrence
“Lucid and engaging, The Blue Tattoo contextualizes Olive Oatman''s life by delving into Mohave culture and history (including interviews with contemporary Mohaves) and by explaining why her story captured the American popular imagination and continued to be retold and revisited so many times, in so many different media.”—Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, editor of Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives
“One can read this work of non-fiction as if it were a sensational novel—with progressive feminist implications.”—Irish Times.com
“The book’s already received rave reviews, and for good reason. . . . A fascinating dose of both tattoo and American history.”—Tattoo History
“Mifflin catches the poignancy of this story that manages to combine the conquest of the West, life among its victims and the national myths that justified it.”—Doubleday Book Club
Meet the Author
Margot Mifflin is an author, journalist, and professor who writes about women's history and the arts. The author of Bodies of Subversion and The Blue Tattoo, she has written for the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, salon.com, the Believer, the New Yorker, and many other publications.
Kaipo Schwab is an actor, director, and producer who has worked at the Roundabout, the Public Theater, Second Stage, Hartford Stage, and Cincinnati Playhouse. Kaipo's film and television credits include Anesthesia, The Royal Tenenbaums, Law & Order, Rescue Me, and Orange Is the New Black. He lives in New York City.
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