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Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

 

OATMAN, ARIZONA and OATMAN CEMETERY

 

By

Kathy Block

APCRP Research Staff

 

Oatman, Arizona, is a town established by a mining boom for gold and silver in the early 1900s. Today, it is a "tourist" town of about 200 permanent residents. Oatman is located on historic Route 66, about twenty-eight miles southwest of Kingman, Arizona, on the western slope of the Black Mountains, twelve miles east of the Colorado River. At the south end of town, past the historic Tom Reed Mine, is the forlorn, abandoned historic Oatman Pioneer Cemetery.

 

Oatman Cemetery. Courtesy Neal Du Shane

 

The first prospecting near Oatman began about 1862. General J. H. Carleton and the Fifth California Volunteers occupied Arizona to prevent it from falling into the hands of Confederate irregulars. Many of the men were experienced miners who varied the monotony of garrison duty by gold prospecting. Camp Mohave had a main trail eastward up Silver Creek to a settlement about four miles north of the future town of Oatman. Some ore was found and treated in arrastres and at a mill in Hardyville, but in 1866 attacks by the Hualapai Indians forced abandonment of this area.

 

In 1863 - 1864, a mountain man named John Moss found free gold in a large lode, now known as the Moss vein, about a mile north of Silver Creek. He reportedly took out $340,000 worth of rich ore from a pocket close to the surface, but further efforts were disappointing.

 

Close-up of the historic Oatman Cemetery. Courtesy Neal Du Shane

 

The  mining at Oatman itself began with a mining claim filed by a man named Ben Taddock or Paddock, who supposedly found gold "glittering in the sun" while riding on a trail east of town in 1902. He sold his claim to a judge, then in 1905, Vivian Mining Company bought his claim and by 1907 had mined over three million dollars-worth of gold in the area. Oatman was originally named Vivian after this company. In 1908 Tom Reed Mine developed more productive claims and the name of the town was changed to Oatman. The story of Olive Oatman and her captivity is well-known, and the town's name was changed, according to some accounts, to Oatman after a miner in the Vivian area, John Oatman, claimed to be her son, and influenced a name change. This may or may not be true, as most biographers of Olive Oatman state that she never had any children.

 

 

Another productive mine was the United Eastern Mining Company nearby, that developed an incredibly rich ore body in 1915, bringing about one of Mohave County's last gold rushes. Oatman became a gold rush boom town. For about ten years their mines at Oatman were among the largest gold producers in the West, but closed in 1924.

 

Tom Reed Mill, Oatman, AZ, 1922. Contributed by Author

 

The Tom Reed Mine, closed in the 1930’s after producing over $13 million in gold. Other mines in the area were the scene of some mining accidents that killed miners as was the Tom Reed Mine. The town began to decline and the 1942 shutdown of non-essential mining during WWII (Congressional Law 208) limited availability of supplies and miners, causing small towns dependent on gold and silver mining to die. Even before this time, though, the deposits of gold and silver were limited. For example, a report from 1932 - 1933 in "Arizona Gold Placers" indicated that minor gold placers in the vicinity of Silver Creek, about five miles northwest of Oatman, had insufficient gold to make it worthwhile to work the area with a "large centrifugal bowl machine for which water was piped several miles."

 

The gold and silver mines were located in an irregular pediment of volcanic rocks overlain by a mantle of gravels firmly cemented with caliche, with about 100 pounds of black sand per cubic yard.

 

Hard rock mining was dangerous. A newspaper article from October, 1919, gives an example of the dangers:

 

"MEN GASSED MONDAY IN RECORD LODE SHAFT

 

Three men of the morning shift on the Record Lode mine, near Oatman, had a narrow escape from death on the 500 level of that property, when they were overcome by gas. The men had just gone down and entered the crosscut on the level when they encountered the gas. One of the men had presence of mind enough to get to the station and give the signal that an accident had occurred and then started to climb to the surface. General Manager McCarthy immediately went down to the level, passing the miner at the 300, He got to the station and managed to put one of the men in a bucket and had him hoisted to the surface. Two men then came down and got all the others safely to the surface. While the men all recovered immediately they had a narrow escape. McCarthy was himself overcome before getting to the surface."  (Mohave County Miner and Our Mineral Wealth, October 18, 1919.)

 

Other miners were killed in accidents, and some were buried in Oatman Cemetery.  A few newspaper accounts give the grim details.

 

"MINER KILLED IN SHAFT OF EASTERN

 

Edward Lang, a miner, was killed early this week at Oatman. Lang was working in a stope, and was just coming down from it, when a loose boulder fell and crushed him. The remains were brought to the Van Marter Undertaking Parlors in Kingman, where they were prepared for shipment." (The Cococino Sun, October 1, 1920.)

 

Van Marter Undertaking Parlors handled many burials. Edward Lang age 66, was buried in Oatman Cemetery. United Eastern Mine paid for his coffin and embalming, on an order given by the superintendent, total cost was $239.70.

 

A somewhat amusing note in the Arizona Sentinel, Yuma, on October 14, 1915, gave this advice from a speech by one Fred E. Pierce to the National Convention of Funeral Directors in Los Angeles: "The fashion for Funeral Directors should be neat and un-gaudy. (They) should be serious but not gloomy, dignified but not morose, gentle but not fawning, self-possessed but not self-conscious, quietly masterful but not bossy, alert but not fussy, sympathetic but not lachrymose."

 

Ad for Van Marter Undertaking Parlors, Mohave County Miner, June 10, 1921

 

Invoice for funeral services. Courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

 

 

Another grim mining accident happened in December, 1921. "A. N. Lewis was crushed to death last Tuesday night by a cave-in at a stope on the 800 level of the United Eastern. Lewis was a mucker and had been at work in the mine a considerable time. His back was broken by the slide of ore and death was at most instantaneous. He was aged about 57 years and had been in the district several years working in the various mines." (Mohave County Miner, December 2, 1921.) He is buried in Oatman Cemetery.

 

One other example of a mining accident mentions the Tom Reed Hospital in Oatman, located above the town near the Tom Reed mines: "Grover Skelton, a miner, working in the Gold Ore mine at Goldroad, near Oatman, sustained fatal injuries on March 25 when he lost his balance and fell 40 feet to the bulkhead. He died two hours later in the Tom Reed hospital in Oatman.  Skelton, with another miner, was engaged in repairing and re-timbering the shafting in the mine and working underground about 200 feet . . . This was the second fatal accident to occur in Arizona mines this year."  (Tombstone Epitaph, April 2, 1922.) The remains of Grover Skelton, age 37, were shipped to Phoenix, according to his D.C.

 

Tom Reed Hospital (lower right). Courtesy Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

1921 Oatman. Courtesy Wikipedia

  

During this mining boom, the population of Oatman grew from about two hundred to over 3,500 within a year! The post office was established June 24, 1909. The town had its own newspaper, the Oatman Miner.  There was a seventeen mile long narrow-gauge railroad that operated 1903 to 1905, and connected the Leland and Vivian Mines with the east bank of the Colorado River, opposite Needles, California. All the rails were removed after it was abandoned.

 

The Oatman Cemetery was established approximately in 1912 with two recorded burials of infants: 

 

Edward Scott, Born Feb. 11, 1912, Died Feb. 11, 1912.

 

Chauncey Clyde Drabek, Born Dec. 7, 1911, Died Nov. 2, 1912.

 

The last recorded burial was Raymondo Vallinez Jr., Born May 21, 1942, died May 21, 1942. The cemetery roster lists sixty-one documented burials. There likely are more burials in unmarked graves. The dimensions of the cemetery could accommodate up to one hundred graves.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:

 

Research obtained, using Google Earth Satellite Imaging, APCRP estimates the dimensions of the historic Oatman Cemetery to be 130’ X 90’ approximately. This 11,700 square feet represents .27 of an acre. Within this space we can identify approximately fifty-three existing pioneer graves. In other pioneer cemeteries APCRP has researched there has always been a few “midnight burial” graves outside of the fenced area but these are not visible with our current research methods using Google Earth.

 

In total, this 11,700 Sq. Ft. could accommodate up to 100 graves, leaving space for an additional forty-six grave sites. For whatever reason, normally 20% to 50% of the identifiable grave sites, there is an additional amount that are occupied but are in unmarked grave sites. Identifiable only by a small pile of rocks at the head of the grave or a slight depression in the earth, or a bush or plant doing extremely well in the harsh surroundings. Often it takes a trained eye and research techniques of an APCRP Certified Coordinator, to identify these unmarked graves.

 

Contrary to popular Urban Legend, vandals represent 110% of the blame, when in actuality they represent 1% or 2% percent of the actual destruction. Time, the elements, wild life, apathy and neglect, create the largest amount of destruction to these abandoned cemeteries.

 

APCRP’s research of historical records, has found and documented sixty-one death certificates indicating burial in the Oatman Cemetery.

 

1918 SPANISH INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC

 

A devastating "Spanish influenza epidemic" killed 25 people in Oatman, in November, 1918. At that time there were 373 cases recorded or 46.7 percent of the camp's entire population of 699; the 25 deaths were 6.5 percent of the total number of cases. Many died in the hospital at Tom Hill Mine. According to a newspaper account listing the deaths, the first death in Oatman occurred on November 2nd and the last reported was at 6:28 A.M. on November 22, of Attorney Edgar Sharp, "who had been lingering for several days in the verge of the shadow and while his death was expected, his many friends had hoped against hope for his recovery.  Among the list we see the names of many of Oatman's respected citizens and in consequence we will say that sad will be the pall o'erhanging Oatman for many months to come, with true grief of friends and relatives who have passed on to the great beyond at the call of the Grim Reaper through his agent the Spanish Influenza."  (Mohave County Miner, November 23, 1918.)

 

Edgar Sharp (Dec. 4, 1880 to Nov. 22, 1918) was buried in Santa Paula, Ventura County, California.

 

Of the 25 people listed in the news report, 10 had Death Certificate’s showing burial in Oatman Cemetery, others were shipped to Kingman and California.

 

The flu epidemic affected the ability of mines and others to obtain enough workers. After the epidemic, a newspaper reported that the first dividend in several years for the Tom Reed Mine was paid, being two percent on its capitalization. "Were it not for the epidemic of influenza in the Oatman Camp, it more than probable that the company would maintain its payment of dividends at the rate of two percent or better for years to come, and it may do so, but the lack of miners is quite an impediment to overcome. The Tom Reed has the ore and every requisite to the payment of dividends, but the labor to produce." (Mohave County Miner, November 3, 1918.)

 

Minutes of a Mohave County Board of Supervisors for January, 1919, lists expenses for a Red Cross hospital set up in Oatman during the influenza epidemic for the month ending Dec. 21, 1918. Here are a few: 24 days nursing at Oatman Hospital for Mrs. A. J. Prim = $120.00; Josephine Southard, nursing at Oatman Hospital = $44.00; Car service for influenza cases, $54.00; Pathology lab influenza vaccine sent to Kingman and Oatman = $42.00; Van Marter funeral parlor for burial of indigents = $66.00, and Van Marter for services at Oatman Hospital = $154.55. (Mohave County Miner, January 11, 1919.)

 

Two years later, Oatman's existence was threatened by fire! On June 27, 1921, starting at 2:30 PM, fires destroyed most of the business district. The frame wooden buildings, huddled together, with passages in between only wide enough for an automobile, had little resistance. The post office, the four principal stores, three hotels and both its garages, together with many lesser structures and 20 residences were reduced to ashes. Only three or four buildings were saved by dynamite and a firewall. Four people were severely burned and many were left homeless. An inadequate supply of water, from a spring four miles away, hampered the "scores of volunteer firemen who, despite every conceivable handicap, mastered the blaze finally."  (Prescott Journal-Miner, June 29, 1921.)

 

Special deputy sheriffs were sworn in to guard the town and injured were taken to the hospital. People whose homes escaped damage cared for those who were homeless.

 

Total damage was estimated from $150,000 to $300,000 total. Various mining companies and the highway department donated relief funds. None of the buildings or homes were insured.

 

Historic Oatman Hotel. Photo courtesy Author

 

The cause of the fire was a mystery, with two possible theories listed. One was that a woman in the St. Francis Hotel was cleaning clothes with gasoline and the clothing caught fire. She threw the burning clothes into a pile of rubbish between this hotel and the Oatman Hotel annexes. Another theory was that children threw firecrackers between the two buildings, igniting trash. When firemen reached the scene within two minutes of the alarm, the fire was burning fiercely and reached the eves of the Annex. "The heat was terrific, making it impossible for the firemen to get within hose distance. Within seven minutes from the ringing of the fire bell the flames had completely covered the St. Francis and Oatman Annex . . . the flames spread rapidly in every direction and in half an hour the town was an inferno of heat and flames . . . the heroic efforts of the firefighters (were) reinforced by a favoring breeze that caused the flames to sweep up the gulch back of the Picture Theatre, stopping the fire on Main Street, saving the lower end of town." (Mohave County Miner, July 8, 1921.)

 

Gunfights staged in front of historic Oatman Hotel. Photo courtesy Author.

Real "shotgun weddings" are held across from Oatman Hotel. Photo courtesy Author.

 

The merchants and residents of Oatman immediately began to rebuild their homes, stores, cafes and hotels. Most of the buildings today that tourists wander into and cafes they eat in were rebuilt after this fire. One famous building, The Oatman Hotel, was originally built in 1902, and preserves the honeymoon suite of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who stayed there on March 18, 1939, after their marriage in Kingman. Clark Gable was said to have returned to Oatman often to play poker with the local miners and enjoy the solitude of the desert.

 

Glory Hole store on Main St. Oatman Cemetery is SE of the side street. Photo courtesy Author

 

A number of films have been made in Oatman, including "How the West Was Won," "Foxfire" and "Edge of Eternity."  One building, currently a used book and magazine store, the Glory Hole, was shown in some of the scenes of "How the West Was Won."  From the side street, the site of Oatman Cemetery can be seen to the south and then east towards the mountains and the old mines, though not the cemetery itself.

 

Oatman Cemetery is to the right of the third tram tower – NOTE: on private property - do not trespass.

 

A final attraction at Oatman are the burros! They are descendants of burros brought to Oatman by miners in the late 1800s. They live in hills above Oatman and descend almost every morning to beg for carrots (sold by the shops) and return back in the evening before sunset. Visitors are wisely advised not to walk dogs near the burros. They will attack dogs (thinking maybe they are coyotes) to protect any baby burros nearby. The locals have a tradition that whoever is the first to find a newborn burro gets to name it. The babies wear triangles pasted on their foreheads to tell people not to feed them!  Even in the 1920’s these burros were famous. A news item from the Jackson Citizen Patriot, July 16, 1922, humorously claimed: "Judge Zadock Sheffield . . . ruled that any man, woman, child or jackass has a legal right to howl in the streets of Oatman at the slightest provocation and at any time of the day. Even howling at night will be permitted . . . if the provocation is great enough and the howler can show good cause for his action!”

 

"Lately we have had trouble with our burros . . . summer has come to Oatman and the howling season for burros is on, in its full efflorescence.  The burros don't care where they howl. During the winter months the burros seldom come into town, but as soon as hot weather arrives they seem to take delight in howling . . . Attorney H. C. Topp calls them 'love songs.' "

 

“The other loud howlers are the prospectors and miners. Whenever a rich ledge is struck, the diamond drillers come into town, led by the lucky prospector who owns the ground. In the old days all would have headed straight for a bar. But in these degenerate days the boys line up at the ice cream counter of the Oatman Drug Company for a general howl and ice cream treat."

 

Burros grab carrots from author’s hand. Photo courtesy Judy Bryant

“Paws up rover . . . Where yuz stashing the carrots!” Photo courtesy Author

 

The Oatman Cemetery is on private property is posted and not accessible to the public.

Do not trespass - trespassing is a felony in Arizona.

 

However, some photos of the cemetery are presented here. When you read the roster, you will see that there are many stories of the deaths of people in Oatman who are buried in this cemetery. Contemplate the early history of Oatman as you visit the town today.

 

Four photographs above, were taken in 1994. Contributed by an anonymous local Oatman historian.

 

 

 

A special "Thank you" to various friends who went to Oatman with me at different times for research and to experience the burros and tourist attractions. A good time was had by all, but most of all by the carrot scrounging burros.

 

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

                                

Copyright ©2014 Neal Du Shane
All rights reserved. Information contained within this website may be used
for personal family history purposes, but not for financial profit or gain.
All contents of this website are willed to the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (APCRP).

 

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