The Blue Tattoo


The Blue Tattoo

The Life of Olive Oatman

Margot Mifflin

Women in the West Series

288 pages
32 illustrations, 1 map


April 2011


$19.95 Add to Cart

April 2009


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

April 2009


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

April 2009


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

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. 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue: Emigrant Song
1. Quicksand
2. Indian Country
3. "How Little We Thought What Was Before Us"
4. A Year with the Yavapais
5. Lorenzo's Tale
6. Becoming Mohave
7. Deeper
8. "There Is a Happy Land, Far, Far Away"
9. Journey to Yuma
10. Hell's Outpost
11. Rewriting History in Gassburg, Oregon
12. Captive Audiences
13. "We Met as Friends, Giving the Left Hand in Friendship"
14. Olive Fairchild, Texan
Epilogue: Oatman's Literary Half-Life


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

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