Here are two stories.
The first is fictional. The second if factual.
Imagine an African family — a father, mother, and seven children — trekking across the African Savannah to find a new home.
It’s the 19th century.
They were warned: Slave traders are lurking in the underbrush. They will take you captive or even kill you.
The father ignores the warning and begins his journey.
The family are attacked by slave traders. The father and mother are brutally murdered. Five of the seven children are clubbed to death. A fourteen-year-old girl and her seven-year-old sister are taken captive. The youngest, however, is allowed to starve to death.
The above story is fiction. The following story is fact.
• Roys Oatman and his family departed Independence, Missouri on August 5, 1850. Their destination was California.
Upon reaching Maricopa Wells, Arizona, Oatman was advised to change his intended route. Savage Indians, they said, would be his doom.
Oatman ignored the warnings and continued toward his destination.
On the fourth day the family were approached by Indians seeking tobacco and food. The conversation soon turned to a brutal massacre. Roys, his wife Mary, and four of their seven children were clubbed to death. Their 15-year-old son, Lorenzo, was left for dead but managed to survive the savage attack.
Olive Oatman, 14, and her sister Mary Ann, 7, were taken captive. Olive was forced to work as a slave. She would forage for food, tote water and firewood, and perform other menial tasks. She was mistreated and frequently beaten.
After a year of living as slaves, the girls were traded to another Indian tribe for two horses, vegetables, blankets, and other items. After being forced to walk for days to their new owners’ village, the girls were again subjected to brutal slavery. Both were tattooed on the chins and arms, marking them as property, Olive later reveals.
The girls were given Indian names.
Mary Ann died of starvation at the age of 10 or 11.
Rumors of Olive’s enslavement reached Fort Yuma. When demands were made for her release, her captors refused. The Indians were offered a white horse in exchange for her freedom. They were also warned that their village would be destroyed if they failed to comply.
Olive was escorted to Fort Yuma — a 20-mile journey — and given clothing before entering the fort. Reports say she was met with cheers. She was eventually reunited with her brother, Lorenzo.
The tragedy of the Oatman family is not unique nor even unusual. White Americans were frequently the victims of savage Indian attacks during the colonial and pioneer eras. Many were slaughtered and family members taken as slaves.
Oddly, few bother to embrace these tragic episodes of American history. We dare not admit that whites were victims or acknowledge that “people of color” were slavemasters.
There is no clamoring for monuments commemorating Indian leaders to be removed. No one is demanding that Indian place names be changed.
Rather than seek retribution, white Americans sought to provide Indians with a better life, including education. Enter the search term “19th century American Indian schools” and click on ‘images.’
• Catherine German was 17 when she wrote of camping along the pioneer trail with her family. Her diary mentions that her father dug a shallow well for water as her mother prepared supper.
“After supper the youngest children were soon fast asleep,” she wrote, “but father, mother, Jane, Stephen and I sat around the campfire talking and listening . . . Crickets chirped; owls broke the silence by an occasional ‘Who? Who?’ and the sharp bark of the coyotes in the distance were heard.”
Days later the German’s wagon was attacked by savage Indians.
“As the savages neared me an arrow stuck in my thigh. A big burly Indian jumped off his horse, grabbed me and pulled out the arrow. He kicked me several times… There I saw sister Jane lying dead … [F]ather was the first to fall and mother ran to his aid and was the next victim.”
Catherine continued to recall the painful experience of watching the scalping of her mother and sisters. She was spared, only because her hair was not long. Catherine German, like Olive Oatman, was held captive as a slave by Indians.
Slavery is, indeed, a dark chapter in American history. However, the brutality suffered by white pilgrims and later pioneers has been expunged from our history.
For more about the true history of the American West, we recommend Scalp Dance Thomas Goodrich.
Image: Excerpted from: By Unknown – http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WWwagontrain.htm (website), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2584433