Oatman, Arizona is a mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County (elevation 2700'/896 m) which began as a tent camp soon after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, though the area had been already settled for a number of years. Oatman's population grew to more than 3500 in the course of a year.
Oatman was named in honor of Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who was kidnapped by the Yavapai Indians and forced to work as a slave. She was rescued in 1857 near the current site of the town bearing not only the psychological marks of her ordeal, but physical marks as well. Traded to the Apache tribe who adopted her as a daughter, Olive had her face tattooed to identify her as an honorary Apache and photographs of her clearly show the markings.
In 1921, a fire burned down many of Oatman's smaller buildings, but spared the Oatman Hotel. Built in 1902, the Oatman Hotel is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mohave County, a Mohave County historical landmark and is especially famous as the honeymoon stop of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard after their wedding in Kingman on March 18, 1939. Gable fell in love with the area and returned often to play poker with the miners. The Gable/Lombard honeymoon suite is one of the hotel's major attractions. The other is "Oatie the Ghost." "Oatie," actively promoted by the hotel's current owners, is a friendly poltergeist whose identity is believed to be that of William Ray Flour, an Irish miner who died behind the hotel, presumably from excessive alcohol consumption. Flour's body wasn't discovered until two days after his death and it was hastily buried in a shallow grave near where he was found.
From gold mining to tourism
1924 would see United Eastern Mines, the town's main employer permanently shut down operations. By 1941, the remainder of the town's gold mining operations were ordered shut down by the US Government as part of the country's war effort since metals other than gold were needed. Oatman was fortunate insofar as it was located on busy U.S. Highway 66 and was able to cater to travelers driving between Kingman and Needles, California. Even that advantage was short-lived as the town was completely bypassed in 1953 when a new route between Kingman and Needles was built. By the 1960s, Oatman was all but abandoned.
Oatman has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years thanks to burgeoning worldwide interest in Route 66 and the explosive growth of the nearby gaming town of Laughlin, Nevada which promotes visits to the town as part of the area's total experience. Wild burros freely roam the town and can be hand-fed carrots and "burro chow," both readily available in practically every store in town, much to the delight of visitors. Though quite tame, signs remind visitors that the burros are in fact wild and to exercise caution as such. The burros are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors and are protected by the US Department of the Interior. Weekends in Oatman can see anything from classic car rallies to mock "Wild West" shootouts right down the middle of old 66. Independence Day celebrations include a contest where participants attempt to cook an egg on the sidewalk with the aid of solar devices. Along with the rest of Arizona's US 66 towns, Oatman is fiercely proud of its Route 66 heritage and replicas of 66's black-on-white US highway shield are posted all over the town. Route 66 souvenirs abound and many a passing tourist has pasted autographed one-dollar bills on the walls and ceiling of the Oatman Hotel's bar and restaurant. An exact count of the bills isn't available, but estimates run into the thousands.
From Laughlin, Needles or Bullhead City, Arizona, Oatman is a short drive on Arizona State Highway 95 to its intersection with Boundary Cone Road in Fort Mohave. About 10 miles (16 km) east of AZ-95, Boundary Cone Road meets with old 66, now named the "Oatman Highway." Oatman is only about four miles (6.5 km) from there.
- Oatman and Gold Road Chamber of Commerce (http://www.oatmangoldroad.com/)
- Information about the egg-frying contest (http://www.2camels.com/festival28.php3)
- More about Oatie the Ghost (http://www.route66azlastingimpressions.com/oatie.htm)