“Yosemite Clare” Hodges: The First Female Park Ranger

Clare1Who is the first person that comes to your mind when I mention Yosemite? If it’s Yosemite Sam, then, Class, we’ve got us some book larnin’ to catch up on. Today, we’re not going to talk about the gun slinging, Looney Tunes prospector with the giant, red “moostache”, although I have to admit that would be a fun topic. But, no . . . today we’re going to learn about Clare Marie Hodges, who was best known for being the first female park ranger. It seems that she and Yosemite Sam had absolutely nothing in common, if you don’t count the fact that he had Yosemite in his name and she made a name for herself at Yosemite.

Ranger Danger

Clare2aBack in 1890, when Yosemite became a national park, women were pretty much a secondary part of the big cultural picture. It’s fair to surmise that between 1890 and 1918, the most important job women had when it came to Yosemite National Park was to fry up the chicken that went into the picnic baskets.

Clare2bThe first park rangers hit the trails in Yosemite in 1898. The first civilian protection force for Yosemite Nation Park consisted of eleven local men who were assigned to two special agents. Those armed rangers on horseback rode around fighting forest fires, arresting people who brought firearms into the park, and ejecting trespassing sheep. Don’t laugh! Sheep were a big problem. Between June and September of 1898, they redirected 189,000 head of misguided sheep.

Clare2cDuring those early years, the job of looking after Yosemite went back and forth between U.S. military troops and civilian rangers. But, no matter who was in charge of patrolling the park, they all had one thing in common . . . a Y chromosome. Yosemite might have remained a male domain for many more decades, were it not for a little something that put the position of “park ranger” in jeopardy. That little something was World War I.

Yosemite Clare

By 1918, the park was experiencing a serious man shortage. The able-bodied men were mostly off fighting the Kaiser. As fate would have it, Clare Marie Hodges had already been working as a teacher at Yosemite Valley School for two years. The California native had fallen in love with Yosemite as a teenager, during a four-day horseback ride in the park . . . alone. She knew that park as well as Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo Bear did! Plus, she was way smarter than the average bear.

Mounted rangers in Yosemite, 1918. Clare Hodges is the third from the left
Mounted rangers in Yosemite, 1918. Clare Hodges is the third from the right

Hodges decided that she wanted to fill the obvious need for rangers in the park, and paid a little visit to a man named Washington B. Lewis, the Yosemite Park superintendent. She pulled back her shoulders, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Probably you’ll laugh at me, but I want to be a park ranger.” And, at that moment, something amazing happened. Lewis didn’t laugh. He didn’t snort, chortle, giggle, or guffaw. He didn’t even chuckle. He said, “I beat you to it, young lady. It’s been on my mind for some time to put a woman on one of these patrols.” That was perfect because, for all the fine qualities Clare Marie Hodges had, she didn’t have a Y chromosome. She was woman, hear her roar!

All Dressed Up

Clare always told people that she took the job of “lady ranger” because of her deep love of Mariposa county and the mountains. I have two thoughts on that:

  1. I love how people just tacked the word “lady” onto the front of any job title. I wonder what the first “lady doctor” thought about that as she pulled bullets out of dying men.
  2. I’m sure she did take the job because of her love of the mountains, but that outfit she wore had to have offered a little incentive. Okay, maybe that just would have been an incentive for me to take the job. But that hat they gave her was awesome!

Clare2Yes, the first fully commissioned lady park ranger saddled up her horse and rode into Yosemite history wearing a snazzy Stetson, an official badge, and a split skirt. I hope she wouldn’t mind me saying that she looked spectacular! Spectacular looking or not, park goers were confused as to what in the world a lady was doing in a park ranger uniform. Maybe she should have worn a sign that said, “Hello. I’m a lady ranger!” Besides the split skirt, there was one other thing that separated her uniform from the other rangers; she refused to carry a gun.

No Gold Watch

You may be asking yourself how long the first female park ranger stayed on the job. Well, she wasn’t on the job long enough to get a gold watch, or whatever the park ranger equivalent is for staying on the job a long time. Clare Marie Hodges wore that Stetson and badge from May 22, 1918 until September 7, 1918. She never intended it to become a permanent career. She just wanted to help out during her summer vacation from teaching school.

Tulomne Meadows
Tulomne Meadows

Don’t think for one minute that she didn’t really do the work of a park ranger though. She took gate receipts from Tuolomne Meadows to park headquarters. That was an overnight ride. She reported directly to the chief ranger. It wasn’t some publicity stunt.

Clare4It was thirty years more before there was another fully commissioned female park ranger. Oh, there were other female park employees, but they were given jobs like collecting fees and waitressing. And, not a one of them got to wear a Stetson! In fact, female park employees didn’t wear the same uniforms as men until the 1970s. What did they wear? I’m glad you asked! They wore pillbox hats and dresses, which were modeled after the flight attendant uniforms of the day.

The Wolfsen Nature Trail
The Wolfsen Nature Trail

Clare Marie Hodges went on to marry Peter J. Wolfsen, a stockman who lived near Mariposa. Together, they ranched and worked with a Seventh Day Adventist junior camp. She passed away in 1970, but not without leaving her mark on the area she loved. In fact, The Wolfsen Nature Trail is named after Clare and her husband. That is a claim to fame that neither Yosemite Sam nor Yogi Bear can make.

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Christmas Traditions: The Weird and the Wonderful

Blog1Now, you know that I generally stick to Western topics. But when it came time to pick a topic for a holiday blog post, even my beloved West didn’t seem quite big enough. I mean, I’ve never heard of a group of carolers singing, “Joy to the West!” Nope. A holiday blog post means it’s time to go global.

It used to be that children would tune in to the news on Christmas Eve in order to see the Doppler radar graphic of Santa as he makes his rounds. Now, of course, there’s an app for that and you can keep tabs on Santa by using Google Earth. Whatever the methodology, one thing is certain: For a rotund man traveling by flying reindeer, he makes excellent time. This year, I thought it would be fun to explore what is happening in some of the countries around the world as Santa is whizzing past. And I have to say that what I found was pretty curious . . . witches, goat heads, pudding flung onto the ceiling, spider webs, fried chicken and roller-skating to Mass!

1So, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin. Fasten your seatbelt and make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position. Today, we’re going do a little e-maginary traveling. I will be your tour guide as we learn about some of the holiday traditions that bring joy to the world!

Norway

Blog2Gledelig Jul, or, Merry Christmas, and welcome to Norway! Norwegians of yesteryear believed witches came out on Christmas Eve. They may have been superstitious, but that didn’t impede their critical thinking skills. What do witches ride? Brooms, of course! How can you prevent a witch from hijacking your broom and taking it on a joyride? Um, you hide it! I feel it fair to warn you that if you happen to be a compulsive cleaner, you will want to complete all of your sweeping before Christmas Eve. Norwegians still have a tradition of hiding all of their household brooms on December 24, thereby leaving the witches longing for an O’Cedar to make their lives easier.

Blog3The Halloween/Christmas crossover will continue between Christmas and New Year’s Day with the tradition of Julebukking. Julebukking is similar to trick-or-treating, with a splash of Christmas caroling thrown in for good measure. Julebukking gets its name from the Julebukk, or the Yule Goat. It’s a carryover from the pagan worship of Thor, the god whose chariot was drawn by two goats. During the Yule holiday, people would dress in a goatskin and carry the head of a goat. Goat ornaments still hang on many Christmas trees throughout Scandinavia.

Italy

Blog4Buon Natale! Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) delivers his gifts on Christmas Eve, but Italian children can look forward to yet another magical gift giver. While the people of Norway are trying to keep the witches at bay, the citizens of Italy are very eager to welcome one witch-like character. La Befana is a tattered old woman who flies around the world on a broomstick and delivers candy and presents to good boys and girls on Epiphany Eve. Just like the man in the red suit, she goes down chimneys. Also, like Santa, she is known to leave lumps of coal to kids whose behavior didn’t quite hit the mark.

Legend tells that La Befana was asked by the Three Wise Men to take them to the stable to see the Christ child. She refused the invitation because she had too much housecleaning to do. She soon regretted her decision. She gathered up some gifts and set off to find the babe in a manger. Even though she followed the star, she never did find the stable. That is why she continues to travel the world on Epiphany Eve, searching every house for Baby Jesus.

Slovakia

Blog5Vesele Vianoce! In Slovakia, the family patriarch flings a spoonful of loksa (a type of pudding) at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the better his next harvest will be. I hope that the next tradition involves the patriarch getting a ladder and wet rag to clean the pudding from the ceiling, but I’m skeptical!

Japan

Blog6Meri Kurisumasu! The Japanese don’t let a little thing like having a scant number of Christians prevent them from getting in on some of the Christmas fun. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but there is still plenty of celebrating. Japanese Christmas Eve more closely resembles Valentine’s Day in America . . . couples exchange gifts, look at Christmas lights and go out for a romantic meal.

On Christmas Day, the traditional food may surprise you. It’s fried chicken! It’s the busiest day of the year for the KFC restaurants in Japan. How did this tradition come about? I would love to say that it has to do with Colonel Sanders’ resemblance to Santa Claus. But, the truth is that KFC had a 1974 ad campaign in Japan, encouraging people get some finger licking good food on Christmas.

Venezuela

(1)BRITAIN-LONDON-CHRISTMAS-SANTA SKATEFeliz Navidad, and welcome to Venezuela! In this country, San Nicolás (St. Nicholas) will have some help bringing the presents from Niño Jesús (Baby Jesus). Venezuelans typically attend early morning mass on the nine days preceding Christmas. There’s nothing weird about that. But, the capital city of Caracas brings a kitschy twist to that sacred tradition. On Christmas morning, it is traditional for residents to roller skate to mass! The streets are so crowded with this “all skate” that they are closed to traffic.

Ukraine

Blog8Z Rizdvom Khrystovym! Don’t worry you have plenty of time to learn how to pronounce that because Ukrainians don’t celebrate a “Merry Christmas,” until January 7th. In case you happen to suffer from arachnophobia, I feel it fair to warn you that Ukrainian Christmas trees are decorated with silver and gold spider webs. While that might sound a little wacky, the tradition comes from a story about a peasant woman who had no money to decorate for Christmas. The philanthropic spiders came to her rescue by spinning webs of pure gold and silver to decorate her tree. Not only did she have a beautiful Christmas tree, she also had wealth for the future.

Cleared to Land

Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent. I hope you have enjoyed your trip. We know you have many options for virtual travel and we thank you for choosing The Campfire Chronicle. And however you choose to celebrate, we hope you have the happiest of holiday seasons!

Happy Holidays, all y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Klondike Kate, the Belle of the Yukon

Klondike KateI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Names are important. A good nickname can set the tone for your whole life. Kathleen Eloise Rockwell Warner Matson Van Duren is a catchy moniker, if you’re a character on a soap opera, but it doesn’t exactly scream, “Old West!” No. Capturing the heart of the Old West required Kathleen Eloise Rockwell Warner Matson Van Duren to have a nickname with pizzazz, and “Klondike Kate” really fit the bill.

Today, as you might have guessed, we’re going to talk about the life of Kathleen Eloise Rockwell Warner Matson Van Duren and how she came to be known as Klondike Kate, the Belle of the Yukon. As fate would have it, her life was a little bit of an Old West soap opera. But, first, I have a confession. Drat it all! I am now finding myself with odd cravings for both a Klondike Bar and Yukon gold potatoes. I should really eat before I sit down at my computer.

She Wasn’t in Kansas Anymore

Klondike KateBefore she started collecting last names, Kathleen Eloise Rockwell was just a girl born in Kansas in either 1873 or 1880, depending on the source. Her family relocated to Spokane, Washington, where Rockwell spent most of her early years. Her family lived in a mansion, but her life was not exactly as it appeared to outsiders. Despite the elaborate digs, her family had financial woes. Young Kathleen wasn’t content to sit around learning how to become a lady when being a tomboy was so much more fun. In a last ditch effort to tame her wild spirit, her mother and stepfather sent her to boarding school, where she was promptly expelled. Education and obedience weren’t really her strong suit, but her life was about to take a turn for the better!

Klondike KateWhen Kathleen’s mother divorced her stepfather, Kathleen and her mum moved New York. What was an adventure seeking-young woman to do in New York, in the 1890s? Why, break into show business, of course! She had dreams of becoming a showgirl. She wanted fame. No matter how hard she knocked, the doors of New York weren’t opening to her. So, in 1899, she left the Big Apple for snowier pastures.

What Would She Do to be a Klondike Star?

Klondike KateGoing to the Klondike was one thing. Being allowed in was something else. There was a gold rush going on and the Mounties were acting as the gatekeepers. The Royal Canadian Mounties weren’t letting women ride down the Yukon River. If you’ve ever seen the episode of “I Love Lucy,” where Lucy was trying to get into show business, you know that giving up was not an option for Kathleen. Nope. In true Lucy Ricardo fashion, Kathleen disguised herself as a man and kept going.

Klondike KateKathleen tap-danced her way across Alaska and into the hearts of the gold miners. It was in Dawson City where Kathleen joined the Savoy Theatrical Co. It was the big time! The Savoy Theatrical Co. had a full orchestra and 173 performers. The crowds loved her. They loved her so much that they named her Klondike Kate. Klondike Kate performed her famous flame dance and the miners tossed gold nuggets at her in gratitude. She was tap-dancing and singing her way to riches, earning up to $750 a night! In terms of constant dollars, that is $20,000.00. Yes, per night!

Soap Opera Digest

Klondike KateKlondike Kate was in Dawson City when she met the love of her life, Alexander Pantages. You will note that Pantages is not one of the last names included in her soap opera name, but the two did have a love affair worthy of a soap opera. Pantages was a Greek immigrant who was working as a bartender when he met the beautiful showgirl. But the bartender had greater ambition than learning how to mix the perfect Moonshine Spritzer. He had aspirations of becoming a theater owner.

OrpheumPantages sweet-talked Kate into leaving the Savoy and headlining at his new theater, the Orpheum. The fine print with that arrangement was that Kate also funded the venture. It must have been a good investment because the pair began buying theaters in the Pacific Northwest. They were known for their shrewd business dealings. By, “shrewd,” I mean that they were known for swindling miners. The thing with dealing with a swindler is that you can’t trust that he won’t swindle you, as well. Klondike Kate was right in her distrust of Pantages. He ended up robbing her of a fortune and marrying another woman.

Dress for Success

Klondike KateBy the early 1900s, Klondike Kate was ready for a change. She ended up in Brothers, Oregon, where she homesteaded 320 acres. Up to that point, the only seeds she had ever known were seed pearls, but she managed to stay on the claim for the required five years. And she did it in style! Klondike Kate may not have been on an actual stage anymore, but the world was still her stage. She wore the Parisian gowns from her showbiz days to work in her garden. Maybe she knew the old adage about dressing for the job you want and not the job you currently have.

A Kate by Any Other Name

Klondike KateIt was during this time that Kate began collecting last names. She married Floyd Warner while she was still homesteading. They sold the land shortly after earning the title. Kate and Warner divorced and Kate moved to Bend, Oregon. She was easily accepted in Bend society. Her charitable work and winning personality earned her the nickname of “Aunt Kate.” During the Great Depression, she is said to have made gallons of soup to feed the homeless.

Klondike KateAt some point, she married a miner from the Yukon named John Matson, who had been crazy about Kate since the time she had Klondike in front of her name. It was an idyllic marriage. Matson continued living in the Yukon and Kate stayed in Oregon! While Kate never again achieved the fame of her heyday, she did enjoy making public appearances. During the 1940s, she even spent some time training Hollywood starlets. That marriage lasted as long as Matson did. He died in his cabin thirteen years after they wed.

She married her final husband, William L. Van Duren, at the age of 71. Van Duren was a former beekeeper and accountant and a longtime friend of Kate’s. The two made their home sweet home in Sweet Home, Oregon. In 1954, Kate Van Duren appeared on an episode of “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Grouch Marx. She remained Mrs. Van Duren until her death in 1957.

Klondike KateAs with any soap opera, there are dozens of smaller storylines that could be examined. We could talk about the confusion of some people thinking Klondike Kate was a prostitute. That’s because three women actually called themselves Klondike Kate and two out of three were prostitutes. We could talk about the fact that Alexander Pantages, later ended up the defendant in a highly publicized rape trial. Oh, yes, there are many, many great subplots to this story. But, for now, I’m still really hungry and I’m ashamed to tell you what I would do for a Klondike Bar.

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots

Combat Boots to Cowboy BootsFor someone who doesn’t even pretend to like most types of math and has an aversion to numbers in general, I have an odd obsession with statistics. It probably stems from my early love of pie graphs, which may stem from my early love of pie, but… At any rate, I like statistics because they give you a better picture of the entirety of a subject. I am, however, having a really difficult time looking at some statistics pertaining to U.S. veterans.

There are approximately 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States. It is estimated that at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At least 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide every single day. In 2013, 9% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were unemployed. Then there are the statistics that are more difficult to measure: the divorce rate among returning veterans, the silent depression, and on, and on…

Everyone agrees that someone needs to do something. The issue is so big and so deep and so wide that it is easy to feel overwhelmed, to develop a “drop in a bucket” mentality and do nothing. Fortunately, there are some people who realize that drops in a bucket add up and that a partially filled bucket is better than an empty bucket! One such person is a lady named Jennifer Elliott, who founded the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program. Today, we’re going to talk about how Jennifer has dedicated her life to helping homeless veterans find new careers and a new future.

A Different Kind of Basic Training

Combat Boots to Cowboy BootsWhat is Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots? It’s a program that might just as easily have been called, “Rifles to Rawhide,” or “Sandbags to Saddles,” but then I couldn’t make quips about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Veterans already know all about basic training. But the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program provides a whole different kind of basic training for them. It’s way better than having a drill sergeant yelling in your face. This sort of basic training is specifically for veterans who have a love of animals and the great outdoors.

The full name is the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots Equine Professional Program. It is a five-week, hands-on course, located in Ocklawaha, Florida, that gives veterans practical experience in the basics of horse handling. Participants learn grooming and ranch maintenance. They also learn about equine behavior and psychology. By the end of the program, students are qualified for work on local ranches. That’s right. This isn’t just an equine training program; it is also a job placement program.

The Woman Behind the Program

Jennifer ElliotJennifer Elliot, the woman behind this ingenious program, is a woman on a mission. She rescues both horses and people by giving them the respect they deserve. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being more perfectly suited for the job she does. Elliot didn’t just wake up one morning and set out to change the world. She put in years of preparation and allowed her mission to evolve as new needs presented themselves.

Here’s an abbreviated list of her unique qualifications:

  • Elliot is a licensed R.N. with training in Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
  • She completed 6000 hours of working with horses to receive her EAGALA Equine Specialist certification.
  • She also received certification in veteran/equine training through the OK Corral Series.
  • Elliot has operated a horse rescue ranch for twenty years. Currently called, Horse in Miracles, it was originally named Last Chance Ranch. Over the years, she rescued, rehabilitated, and re-homed numerous race horses.
  • She has taught what I estimate to be a bazillion classes in horsemanship, including equine psychology, behavior and body language, and daily care. (Okay, I might be slightly off on the number of classes, because, as previously mentioned, I don’t like math. But it’s up there.)

On top of everything, Elliot is married to a Vietnam veteran. Her father was a WWII Air Force pilot. Her uncles served in WWII. And, her nephew is retired from the Marines. Caring about military veterans comes naturally to her. In short, Jennifer Elliot is no slouch when it comes to qualifications. And she’s really no slouch when it comes to putting those qualifications to use.

Pulling Themselves Up by Their Bootstraps

Jennifer ElliotThe Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program is a winning proposition for everyone. The horses benefit from being handled by new people. The veterans benefit from the calming influence of the horses. And, as they learn new skills, their confidence increases.

Combat Boots to Cowboy BootsIn an interview with the Ocala StarBanner, Jennifer Elliot said, “Horse are hyper vigilant, combat veterans are hyper vigilant. Both don’t like to be cornered. They can read body language, and both work in herds. I can use the strength that they bring back from the war to make them great horse people.” It sound like a match made in heaven. Elliot went on to say, “As they bond with the horse, they are healing themselves.”

Combat Boots to Cowboy BootsThe Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program meets each of the four Wounded Warrior Goals for Veterans, by addressing mind, body, economic empowerment and engagement:

  • Mind—Program participants actively learn about the psychology of horses.
  • Body—The veterans are able to maintain an active lifestyle required for maintaining horses and farming equipment.
  • Economic Empowerment—People who complete the program gain skills that lead to immediate employment.
  • Engagement—Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots allows participants to learn how to bond and interact with horses. They are able to take those skills and begin to become more active in their community.

Statistically Speaking

Combat Boots to Cowboy BootsThe cost of the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program to interested veterans is $0. That’s right! When it comes to job placement, there is no shortage of possibilities. In the area surrounding Ocklawaha, Florida, there are over 600 horse farms and, Elliot says there are approximately 29,000 people employed in the horse industry. Now, those are the kind of statistics I can get behind!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

I Will Survive: The Story of Olive Oatman

Olive OatmanWe all love survival stories. They give us hope . . . hope that if we were ever snatched off of our comfortable sofas and forced to endure unspeakable hardships that we would, in fact, endure . . . rather than crumple like the stale potato chips that fell between the couch cushions. One of my favorite survival stories is that of Olive Oatman. She was a strong woman of the Old West whose remarkable story of survival brings to mind that old Gloria Gaynor song, “I Will Survive.”

At First She Was Afraid, She Was Petrified.

Olive Oatman was one of seven children born to a Mormon family that joined a wagon train in Independence, Missouri, headed for California. They began the trek in 1850, when Olive was about thirteen-years-old. No one quite knows why, but the Oatman family found themselves separated from the security of the rest of the group. Oh, that was bad, bad, bad!

Olive Oatman

As they were traveling through the Gila River Valley, a group of Indians attacked their lone wagon. The Oatmans were no match for the Yavapai. Olive and her seven-year-old sister, Mary Ann, watched what they believed to be the massacre of the rest of their family. In reality, their brother, Lorenzo, did survive the attack by pretending to be dead.

Kept Thinking She Could Never Live Without Them By Her Side

LorenzoOlive and Mary Ann were taken captive. Lorenzo, who was almost fifteen-years-old at the time, managed to find the wagon train from which the Oatmans had been separated. He vowed to find his sisters, if it was the last thing he did.

Olive OatmanFor a year, Olive and Mary Ann were slaves of the Yavapai. At the end of that time, they were sold to a Mojave chief. The girls had no idea what sort of treatment to expect from the Mojave. They had been purchased for blankets, horses and vegetables. How much value would their new captors put on the girls’ lives? For ten days, the girls followed the Mojave on foot. They ended up near what is currently Needles, California.

She Spent So Many Nights Thinking How They Did Her Wrong

Olive7While Olive and Mary Ann desperately missed their former lives, they were happy to learn that they were not slaves to the Mojave. They were, instead, treated as family members. Their beatings decreased and their food increased. Their lives may have improved, but the girls still had the horrible memories of the slaughter of their family members.

Yet, this was definitely a step in the right direction for the sisters. They were adopted by a family in the tribe and given the family name, Oach. Olive and Mary Ann were called, “ahwe,” which means stranger. While “stranger,” may not be a term of endearment, it’s a heckuva lot better than, “slave!”

Olive OatmanThe girls were given blue tattoos on their chins. The blue cactus design was common among Mojave women. I’m not one to question the cultural choices of a tribe, but I will say, that to my modern idea of beauty, the chin tattoos were a bold choice. Still, things were looking up for Olive and Mary Ann. They had gained acceptance by the tribe.

However, when a drought struck the area, the tribe faced starvation. The tribe lost many members. And Olive lost Mary Ann, her last known tie to “home.”

And She Grew Strong, She Learned How To Get Along

Her parents were gone. Her siblings were gone. Her old way of life was gone. And she had a massive blue tattoo on her chin that would mark her for the rest of her life. Olive Oatman had a choice. She could shrivel up and die or she could survive.

People have questioned why Olive never attempted to escape. Over the years, there were multiple white men who traded with the Mojave. In 1854, two hundred white men who were surveying for the railroads met with the tribe. Why didn’t Olive hitch a ride with one of them and high tail it out of there? That question may be impossible to answer, but I have a few guesses:

  • Maybe she truly wanted to stay with the only “family” she believed she had, at that point. Remember that she had no idea Lorenzo had survived.
  • Maybe she was afraid of getting caught trying to escape.
  • Maybe she wasn’t sure how a girl with a massive blue tattoo on her chin would be accepted in white society.

Olive Oatman

 

Anyway . . . as I said, those are just some of my thoughts. It doesn’t really matter why she stayed. But she did stay until the winter of 1856, when the U.S. Army caught wind of the fact that she was living among the Mojave. Lorenzo, true to his vow, had never let people forget about his sisters’ capture. Negotiations occurred and Olive was ransomed on February 28, 1856. She was taken to Fort Yuma, Arizona, where she and the brother she had believed to be dead were reunited.

She Had All Her Life to Live, She Had All Her Love To Give

Do you know how it is when you talk to a friend you haven’t spoken to in years, but it’s as if you just pick up where you left off? That wasn’t the case for Olive and Lorenzo. She wasn’t the fresh-faced Mormon pioneer that Lorenzo had last seen. She was a tan young woman wearing a skirt made of tree bark. Oh, and she had a blue cactus tattoo on her chin and was struggling to remember how to speak English. But they did eventually get reacquainted. Lorenzo worked hard to help her acclimate to her new life.

Olive OatmanOlive became the subject of a book written by Rev. Royal B. Stratton. Life Among the Indians was a smashing success. The surviving Oatman siblings received enough money from the sales of the book to pay for them to receive degrees from University of the Pacific. After they graduated, Olive and Lorenzo moved to New York with Stratton. They hit the lecture circuit and the books continued to fly off the shelves. Olive routinely wore a veil to cover her face, but she removed the veil to show audiences.

Olive met cattleman John Brant Fairchild in 1865 and the couple married that same year. Her new husband burned the remaining copies of Life Among the Indians and Olive’s career on the speaking circuit ended. Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild settled in Sherman, Texas, where John was president of City Bank of Sherman. Olive and John adopted a daughter, Mamie.

She Knew That She, She Would Survive!

Olive OatmanThere are rumors that Olive died in an insane asylum. That isn’t true, although goodness knows I can see how it might have happened. Olive did battle depression, but she lived out her life as a respected member of Sherman, Texas society.

Even a survivor can’t live forever. Olive Oatman Fairchild died of a heart attack in 1903. She is buried in West Hill Cemetery in Sherman. Olive’s story has survived, though. Elements of her story have even been integrated into the popular television series, Hell on Wheels. The character Eva Toole shares some similarities with Olive Oatman. Of course, television has spiced up the account so that you might not recognize the similarities to Olive, if not for the tattoo.

The Blue TattooIf you would like to learn more about Olive Oatman, I recommend The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, by Margot Mifflin. The book includes letters and diaries of Olive’s friends and relatives. It also includes enough stories about her triumphant survival to make Gloria Gaynor proud!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia