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Potomac Books


The Blue Tattoo, The Blue Tattoo, 0803211481, 0-8032-1148-1, 978-0-8032-1148-3, 9780803211483, Margot Mifflin , Women in the West, The Blue Tattoo, 0803224486, 0-8032-2448-6, 978-0-8032-2448-3, 9780803224483, Margot Mifflin , Women in the West, The Blue Tattoo, 0803235178, 0-8032-3517-8, 978-0-8032-3517-5, 9780803235175, Margot Mifflin , Women in the West, The Blue Tattoo, 0803254350, 0-8032-5435-0, 978-0-8032-5435-0, 9780803254350, Margot Mifflin , Women in the West, The Blue Tattoo, 08032

The Blue Tattoo
The Life of Olive Oatman
Margot Mifflin

2009. 280 pp.
31 photographs, map
$24.95 t
2011. 288 pp.
32 illustrations, 1 map
$17.95 t

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.

Margot Mifflin is an author and journalist who writes about women, art, and contemporary culture. The author of Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, she has written for many publications, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, the Believer, and Mifflin is a professor in the English Department of Lehman College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and directs the Arts and Culture program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she also teaches. 

"The Blue Tattoo is well-researched history that reads like unbelievable fiction, telling the story of Olive Oatman, the first tattooed American white woman. . . . Mifflin weaves together Olive's story with the history of American westward expansion, the Mohave, tattooing in America, and captivity literature in the 1800s."—Elizabeth Quinn, Bust

"In The Blue Tattoo, Margot Mifflin slices away the decades of mythology and puts the story in its proper historical context. What emerges is a riveting, well-researched portrait of a young woman—a survivor, but someone marked for life by the experience."—Jon Shumaker, Tucson Weekly

"The Blue Tattoo is well written and well researched; it re-opens the story of white women and men going West and Native people trying to survive these travels."—June Namias, Pacific Historical Review

“Mifflin’s treatment of Olive’s sojourns [provides] an excellent teaching opportunity about America’s ongoing captivation with ethnic/gender crossings.”—Western American Literature

“Although Oatman’s story on its own is full of intrigue, Mifflin adeptly uses her tale as a springboard for larger issues of the time.”—Feminist Review

“Mifflin engagingly describes Oatman’s ordeal and theorizes about its impact on Oatman herself as well as on popular imagination…. 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.”—Library Journal

Southwest Books of the Year, 2009 -- Top Pick
Finalist for the 2010 Caroline Bancroft History Prize
2014 One Book Yuma Selection 

Also of Interest

Some Went West
Dorothy M. Johnson

Captivity of the Oatman Girls
R. B. Stratton

William Chebahtah

Identity Politics of the Captivity Narrative after
Andrea Tinnemeyer