Skip to main content

As a public health precaution, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will temporarily close to the public starting Saturday, March 14 until further notice. Please continue to check back frequently at or for updates. In the meantime, please explore our website, resource materials and online exhibitions. 

Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman
Unidentified Artist
Olive Oatman, c. 1837 - 20 Mar 1903
c. 1856
Image/Sight (oval): 7 × 5.7 cm (2 3/4 × 2 1/4")
Case Open: 9.5 × 17.1 × 1 cm (3 3/4 × 6 3/4 × 3/8")
Case Closed: 9.5 × 8.4 × 1.9 cm (3 3/4 × 3 5/16 × 3/4")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Object number
Exhibition Label
Born Whiteside County, Illinois
The abduction of fourteen-year-old Olive Oatman by Yavapai Indians in 1851 became one of the most sensational stories of the American West. After killing six members of the Oatman family, the Yavapais enslaved Olive and her younger sister for a year before trading them to the Mohave Indians of California. Treated as members of that tribe, the Oatman girls were tattooed on their chins according to tribal custom. Following her sister’s death, Olive remained a captive until 1856, when military author- ities secured her release. A year later, the publication of a lurid account of her captivity catapulted Olive Oatman to fame.
Nacida en Whiteside County, Illinois
El secuestro de la niña de 14 años Olive Oatman por indígenas yavapais en 1851 se convirtió en una de las historias más sensacionales del Viejo Oeste. Luego de matar a seis de sus familiares, los yavapais tuvieron como esclavas a Olive y su hermana menor durante un año, hasta que las intercambiaron con los mojaves de California. Estos las trataron como miembros de la tribu y les tatuaron la barbilla según la costumbre ancestral. Su hermana murió, pero Olive siguió cautiva hasta 1856, cuando las autori- dades militares lograron liberarla. Un año después, la publicación de un relato sensacionalista de su cautiverio la lanzó a la fama.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits
On View
NPG, East Gallery 134