Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Blue Tattoo

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman
by Margot Mifflin
University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 280 pgs. Biography

In 1851, Olive Oatman was just another pilgrim trekking westward with her family as thousands had before them. Her journey however, took an unexpected turn to a new life, a new family as an adopted member of the Mojave tribe - made official with a blue tattoo. After her "rescue, "Olive's story captured the country's attention and bred several retellings, including a collaborative memoir written by Olive and pastor Royal Stratton. But none of these stories line up with Olive's accounts told soon after her ransom - including her "memoir." What really happened to the girl with the blue tattoo? Was it a reminder of years of suffering among strangers - or another life and family stolen from her by fate?

I first heard about Olive Oatman a few years ago while reading about tattooing in America. While being the first white woman (on historical record) to be tattooed in the United States is fascinating in an of itself, there's so much about Olive's life to explore. The great thing about this biography is that it delves into all those parts, not just telling Olive's story of captivity, adoption, and "rescue," but it really gets into the cultural, historical, and gender politics at play during this time and how life was for this woman caught between worlds. This book doesn't just set the record straight, it also gives Olive power over her story again.


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