479      ROYCE6     (Lyman5George4, George3, John2, Johannes1), son of Lyman and Lucy (Hartland) Oatman, was born at Middletown Springs, Rutland County, Vermont, in 1809 and was killed by Yavapai Indians 18 February 1851 in New Mexico Territory.


He was educated in western New York and removed to LaHarpe, Illinois, where he married Mary Ann Sperry in 1832; she was born 11 February 1813 in East Bloomfield, New York, and died 18 February 1851 in New Mexico Territory.  She was the daughter of Joy and Mary (Lamont) Sperry. [NOTE: Joy Sperry lineage:  Moses Sperry; Aaron Sperry (1727) and Abigail Bishop; Moses Sperry (1680) and Anna; Richard Sperry, Jr. (1651) and Martha Mansfield; Richard Sperry (1605) and Dennis Goodyear; John Sperry (1566) and Mary; John Sperry (1540) and Agnes Rawlings. The last two generations trace back to Thurleigh Parish, Bedfordshire, England.]


Royce conducted a mercantile business.  During the hard time of 1842, his business was entirely wiped out.  He removed to Pennsylvania for a time, but soon returned to Chicago, Illinois, where he engaged in farming.  Having received a serious injury while assisting a neighbor dig a well, Royce decided to go to New Mexico, where it was thought the milder climate would be beneficial. 


In 1850 they joined a wagon train led by James C. Brewster, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), whose attacks on, and disagreements with, the church leadership in Salt Lake City, Utah, had caused him to break with the followers of Brigham Young in Utah and lead his followers--Brewsterites-–to California, which he claimed was the "intended place of gathering" for the Mormons. 


The Brewsterite emigrants, numbering 52, left Independence, Missouri, 9 August 1850.  Dissension caused the group to split near Santa Fe, with Brewster following the northern route.  Royce Oatman and several other families chose the southern route via Socorro, Santa Cruz, and Tucson.  Near Socorro, Royce assumed command of the party.  They reached New Mexico early in 1851 only to find the country and climate wholly unsuited to their purpose.  The other wagons gradually abandoned the goal of reaching the mouth of the Colorado.  The party had reached Maricopa Wells when they were told that the Indians ahead were very bad and that they would risk their lives if they proceeded further.  The other families resolved to stay.  The Oatman family, eventually traveling alone, was decimated on the banks of the Gila River about 80-90 miles east of Yuma in what is now Arizona. 


Royce and Mary had seven children at this time, ranging in age from 16 to 1 year.  On their fourth day out, they were approached by a group of Indians, asking for tobacco, food and trifles.  At some point during the encounter, the Oatman family was attacked by the group, and all were killed except Lorenzo, age 15, who was clubbed and left for dead, Olive, age 13, and Mary Ann, age 7.  Lorenzo awoke to find his parents and family dead, but no sign of Mary Ann and Olive.  He eventually reached a settlement where he was treated.  Three days later, Lorenzo, who had rejoined the emigrant train, found the bodies of his slain family; "we buried the bodies of father, mother and babe in one common grave." (The Tucson Citizen, 26 September 1913)  The men had no way of digging proper graves in the volcanic rocky soil, so they gathered the bodies together and heaped a large pile of stones over them.  It has been said the remains were reburied several times and finally moved to the river for reinterment by Arizona pioneer Charles Poston. 

Today a white cross marks the site where the Oatman family was massacred. At Oatman Flats, Arizona, is the Oatman cairn and a headstone reading: "In Memory of the Oatman Family and Members of the Pioneers Massacred by Indians in 1851..."


Directions to the burial site can be found here (pictures are linked to this site as well)


Children of Royce and Mary Ann (Sperry) Oatman:


1547    Lucy, b. 1834, LaHarpe, IL; d. 18 Feb 1851, New Mexico Territory


1548    Lorenzo Dow, b. 1836, LaHarpe, IL; d. 8 Oct 1901, Red Cloud, NE; m. Edna Amelia Canfield, 3 Aug 1860, Ustick, Whiteside Co., IL


1549    Olive Ann, b. 1837, LaHarpe, IL; d. 20 Mar 1903, Sherman, Grayson Co., TX; m. Major John Brant Fairchild, 1865, Rochester, NY; he d. 1907.  Children, surname Fairchild:


A         Mary Elizabeth "Mamie", adopted in 1873; m. 1908 to Alister MacKay Laing.  Mamie’s birth name was Sarah Catherine Leonard, and she was born 8 February 1873. 


The subject of The Captivity of the Oatman Girls and innumerable other articles and stories, along with her sister Mary Ann, Olive spent her early childhood with her family in Hancock County, IL.  After 1842 the family spent brief periods in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley and in Chicago, IL, then settled in Whiteside County, IL, near Fulton, where they lived near Mary Ann Sperry Oatman's sister, Sarah (Sperry) Abbott.


The Indian captivity, 1851-1856, of Olive and her sister Mary Ann, and the efforts of their brother Lorenzo to free them, make up the contents of The Captivity of the Oatman Girls (originally titled Life Among the Indians in the first edition of 1857).  The story of the massacre was also the subject of an episode of "Death Valley Days", in which the role of the cavalry officer who was helping Lorenzo in the search for his sisters was portrayed by then actor Ronald Reagan. 


After the massacre Mary Ann and Olive were driven barefoot over very rough terrain and were soon covered with cuts and bruises from both falls and beatings.  Mary Ann was not strong enough to travel all night without stopping so a brave threw her over his back like a sack of meal and carried her.  But Olive was expected to keep up the pace and when she fell behind, she was beaten until she caught up.  During their entire captivity they were treated as drudges and slaves, enduring unending labor, carrying water and foraging for firewood.  The girls were held by the Yavapai Indians for about a year, when they were traded to the Mojave Indians and again subjected to a forced march north to the Mohave Valley on the Colorado River above Needles, California.  Both girls were tattooed with the tribal mark consisting of five vertical lines from lower lip to chin.  While their second captors treated them kindly, famine struck the village and Mary Ann, who had always been frail, died in 1853 from hardship and starvation.  Olive spent another three years in captivity before being released through the efforts of Lorenzo.  The U. S. Army paid six pounds of white beads, four blankets, various trinkets and a white horse to the Mojaves for her ransom.


After her release in early 1856, she lived briefly in El Monte, CA, with members of the original wagon train.  She and Lorenzo then went to live in the Rogue River area of Oregon, near the present city of Medford, with the families of Harvey and Harrison Oatman, sons of Royce's brother Harry. 


Returning to California with Lorenzo, Olive spent six months in school in the Santa Clara Valley.  While there, they attracted the attention of a Methodist minister in Yreka, California, Royal B. Stratton, who eventually wrote the book and who took them back east.  After a stay with the Sperry family near Rochester, New York, Lorenzo went back to Whiteside County, Illinois.  Stratton put Olive on the lecture circuit while he, in turn, furthered her interrupted education.  After Olive married Major John Fairchild, a former Indian fighter, the couple moved to Detroit, spending several years in Michigan, then on to Sherman, Texas, where Fairchild was a banker.  They lived in Sherman for about 30 years, and both died there.  On 22 March 1903, Mrs. Olive A. Fairchild, age 65 yr., was buried in West Hill Cemetery in Sherman, where Major John B. Fairchild, age 77, was buried 25 April 1907.


There have been many articles written through the years about the massacre, particularly about Olive.  Some reported that she went insane, which apparently is untrue upon viewing her later life's activities.  Others indicate that the chin tattoos which she received while a captive were painfully removed; pictures of her in later years prove this false, as the tattoos are clear in the picture. 

Yet another story about Olive revolves around her leaving behind at least two children when she was ransomed.  Although there is no indication of her having children while a captive either in Stratton's book or her lecture notes, it should be remembered that this was not a subject in that era that would be spoken of in polite society. 


Olive states that "to the honor of these savages, let it be said they never offered the least unchaste abuse to me."  (Captivity, 2nd ed., p. 188).  After her release, the Los Angeles Star reported two weeks after her arrival at El Monte, "She has not been made a wife . . . and her defenceless situation [was] entirely respected during her residence among the Indians."


Another article, entitled "Tragedy at Oatman Flat: Massacre, captivity, mystery" by Richard Dillon (from The American West, March/April 1981) states:


"Susan Thompson (Olive's dear friend on the emigrant train) stated flatly that Olive became the wife of the Mohave Chief's son and that she was the mother of two little boys at the time of her ransom.  Another story represented at least one of Olive's Indian children as a girl.  The Reese River Reveille (Austin, Nevada) of May 23, 1863, described the five Indian children adopted by Washington ('Wash') Jacobs of Austin and Jacobsville, Nevada, when he was the agent for the Butterfield Stage Company at Oatman Flat in 1858:  'One was a beautiful, light-haired, blue-eyed girl, supposed to have been a child of the unfortunate Olive Oatman, so long a captive among the Apaches [sic] . . . On returning home one day, Mr. Jacobs found the children suffering from severe diarrhoea, caused by a thoughtless fellow feeding them only on meat.  Four died before relief could be had, and among them the little girl, "the angel of the house."  It was a sad event, bitterly wept over and not to be erased from memory.'" 


Yet another article, one more of humor than of historical note, in the Arizona Republican in Phoenix, dated 30 April 1922, refers to the "opening skirmish of one of the most interesting legal battles in the history of Mohave county . . . in Oatman Court of Domestic Relations when John Oatman, wealthy Mohave Indian, was sued for divorce by his wife, Estelle Oatman . . . John Oatman claims to be the grandson of Olive Oatman, famous in Arizona history."


Without further evidence or proof, it is left to the reader to determine which of the stories is valid.


Picture of Olive Oatman



1550    Royce, Jr., b. 1840, LaHarpe, IL; d. 18 Feb 1851, New Mexico Territory


1551    Mary Ann, b. 1843; d. 1853, near what is now Oatman, AZ (see #1545)


1552    Charity Ann, b. 1846, Whiteside Co., IL; d. 18 Feb 1851, New Mexico Territory

1553    Roland, b. 1849, Whiteside Co., IL; d. 18 Feb 1851, New Mexico Territory



Sources:           Stratton, Royal B., The Captivity of the Oatman Girls, 1857

The Arizona Republican, Phoenix, AZ, 30 April 1922

"Tragedy at Oatman Flat: Massacre, captivity, mystery" by Richard Dillon

[The American West, March/April 1981]

"Following the Pot of Gold at the Rainbow's End in the Day of 1850 - The

Life of Mrs. Susan Thompson Lewis Parrish of El Monte, California"


Back to Oatman Home Page

Back to Oatman Family Index