Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project


Internet Presentation

Version 120612-1





By: Neal Du Shane


Members of the Oatman family. 2

What is Known of the Massacre and Gravesite at Oatman Flat 3

December 6, 2012 Update. 4


Map from Gila Bend, Arizona


Close-up Map to the Oatman Massacre and Fourr Cemeteries


Members of the Oatman family

 involved in the Massacre


Royce Boise Oatman, Male 48 Years Old. Born 1809 Middletown Springs, Rutland, Vermont, Died March 19, 1851 Yuma County, Arizona.


Parents Father Lyman Oatman, Mother Lucy Hartland


Married to: Mary Ann Sperry, 38 Years Old, Born Feb. 11, 1813, Married 1834 East Bloomfield, Ontario, New York.


Children (7)


Lucy Oatman:                   Female 16 Years Old, Born 1835 in Illinois, Died March 19, 1851, Yuma County, Arizona.

Charity Ann Oatman:       Female 5 Years Old, Born 1846 in Illinois, Died March 19, 1851 Yuma County, Arizona

Roland Oatman:               Male 1 Year Old, Born 1850 in Illinois, Died March 19, 1851

Olive Ann Oatman:          Female 66 Years old when she died, Born 1837 in Illinois, Died March 20, 1903, Buried West Hill Cemetery, Sherman, Grayson, Texas

Lorenzo D. Oatman:        Male 65 Years old when he died, Born 1836 in Illinois, Died October 8, 1901, Buried Red Cloud, Webster, Nebraska

Mary Ann Oatman:           Female 10 Years Old, Born 1843 in La Harpe, Hancock, Illinois, Died March 19, 1851 Yuma County, Arizona

Royce Oatman Jr.:           Male 11 Years Old, Born 1840 La Harpe, Hancock, Illinois, Died March 19, 1851 Yuma County, Arizona


What is Known of the Massacre and Gravesite at Oatman Flat

Quote from book written by Hal & Doris Clark who is believed to be related to the Oatmans.

Chapter 14- “What is Known of the Massacre and Gravesite at "Oatman Flat": The bones were buried 3 times according to her story, but this is what she says:

“The Oatman Massacre Gravesite is located Township 5 South, Range 9 West, Section 11, Lot 2 on the south side of the Gila River. A fee patent issued To the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, according to the Act of Congress approved 15 June, 1926, was executed on 12 January 1954 by the Bureau of Land Management. The area described contains 1.00 acre in which is situated the common grave of the Oatman Family”.
The original burial of the Oatman family was narrated in a letter of Mrs. Wilder to her father, quoted in "The Olive Branch" Sept. 1851: 
"While we tarried here (Mericopa Wells),(sic) Willard and Robert Kelly went down to Oatman's wagon....to bury the dead."
In the journal of Maj. Heintzelman while at Fort Yuma under date of Sat. March 8, 1851:
"When I got back I learned my men have returned from their search after the distressed emigrants. They found the wagon diverted over a hundred feet from and two dead bodies, covered over with large stones.  One they took to be a man but could not decide about the other.  
There was nothing of an consequence left in or about the wagon.
In the Florence Arizona Enterprise for 13 June 1891, Mr. Charles D. Poston said: 
"In after years I was passing Oatman Flat with a train, and stopped long enough to gather the bleaching bones and inter them in one grave which was surrounded with pickets."
This gravesite has been noted and described by a number of desert travelers during subsequent years.  One of these was Mr. Waterman L. Ormsby the only through passenger on the first westbound Butterfield Overland Mail Stage in 1858: "The graves of the father and mother are directly in the road, and the teams often pass over them. They lie some distance from the scene of the murder, which took place on a hill half a mile off.  Mr. Jacobs, the road agent on this section of the line, intends having the graves enclosed with a fence so as to turn the road aside."

December 6, 2012 Update




Incorrectly identified  by many over the years as the Oatman’s grave site

There were no graves found at or near this Memorial. The actual Oatman family graves are one third of a mile to the west on top of the bluff


After 150 plus years, much has been written regarding this historic encounter of the Oatman family. Nothing has been written or documented that the Oatman family defended themselves in any way, not even one shot but then why is there one extra male grave? Could it be the Oatman’s got off one shot before or during the massacre? Or was this person killed before and this action caused the massacre? Or did this person parish as a traveler and was buried with the Oatman’s in later years? Reading the various articles, several things don’t seem logical and conflict with each other. Case in point: what is the date of the massacre? Some articles and plaque at the memorial say March 19, 1851 while the sign at the massacre site put up by the Yuma County Historical Society says Feb. 19, 1851. As with most if not all, historical research, often there are more questions than answers. We have found there is no clear factual accounting of history, rather what people remember and these remembrances very greatly. Who is to say what is written or repeated in relationship to history is accurate and factual, the primary reasons seem to be Bias, Urban Legend and Old Wife’s Tales.













APCRP subscribes to the belief you can’t set in an office behind a desk and write history; potentially all you do is repeat inaccuracies as previously written. It is critical to actually physically visit where the events took place, stand and observe the surroundings, searching for any clue that may resolve unanswered questions. Granted surroundings can and do change over the years but mountains remain constant. Thus was Certified APCRP Coordinator Gary Grant and Neal Du Shane’s sojourn after compiling and reading all the written information regarding this event, to actually witness the area to observe it for ourselves.









Steps to/from the river bottom trail

Photo courtesy: Gary Grant

Hobbit environment on the hiking trail

Photo courtesy: Gary Grant


After we stopped and researched the old Fourr Ranch and the Fourr Cemetery (1868) near the location of the original Stage Stop (operated from 1857-1861) we observed the old road from the east coming off the east bluff down into the valley. We traveled to the Oatman Memorial, and then traveled as far as we could go with a vehicle on the road west. Parked, walked down some crudely made wooden spike steps and hiked through what Gary called a nifty Hobbit environment for several hundred feet, then followed the path of fellow historians in search of the Massacre site from the North and East side. There is a four wheel drive road a.k.a. trail that comes in from the south that we could see at the Massacre site. It was not too difficult foot path but would be advised to not take it if you have limited mobility or if it has recently rained as the soil could be muddy and the lava rocks would be slippery. Combine the mud on hiking boots with the slippery rocks and the results would not be pleasant. I was amazed at the amount of footprints on this route, while not an official hiking trail it was well used by interested parties searching out this historic site.










 After standing on the top of the cliffs, at the location where the massacre allegedly happened, it was obvious any activity in the valley below could have been observed for over a mile with approximately one hours travel time. The Stage Stop established approximately 6 years after the massacre, was clearly visible as was the fields below us. If the Indians were to pick a strategic location to observe travelers coming from the east, this was an excellent observation point. Interesting to also observe the Fourr ranch house was on the east side of the valley only 1.12 miles away. We speculate that if there was a ranch house there at the time, the sound of any massacre should have been heard, especially if gun fire was involved from that distance. We have found no research documentation to indicate guns were used in either an offensive or defensive scenario. Even if the massacre were heard by these individuals, we believe little could have been done in the way of assistance based on distance and time required to reach the massacre site.


Our research revealed two of the members were killed with arrows (Mr. Oatman and one child) and one person was knifed to death (Mrs. Oatman). It has been written all were clubbed to death and this could have possibly occurred after the fact. Our research identified six graves plus one male in almost a straight line from the maker indicating the Massacre site on the bluff. Extensive research by two Certified APCRP Coordinators found no graves or burials at or near the memorial down in the valley – it is just that – a memorial of this tragic event in Arizona History.

















It is APCRP’s belief the graves/remains are laid out with Mr. Oatman at the Massacre sign below the pile of lava rock at the most NE grave. Next is Mrs. Oatman in a much less obvious pile of scattered lava rock, then the one year old Roland, then a girl, boy, girl, laying in a S. S.W configuration. Unexplained is another male grave about 4 feet from the others at the end of the row, but in the same configuration as the others. Research was completed within 200’ of Mr. Oatman’s grave site but no other internments were found or identified. We found nothing indicating a mass grave either at the Massacre or Memorial site. It was written above, that the graves were in the middle of the road at that time, depending how the old road traversed this area this could have been possible. Currently no bones or historical artifacts were visible at or on the surface. We speculate they would have been above ground graves by piling rocks on top of the deceased. The best preserved and obvious is Mr. Oatman’s grave. The elements and wild life are potentially responsible for scattering the lava rock from around the remaining grave sites. It is unlikely the Oatman’s fell and died in a straight. Likely someone did move the remains to a central location and laid them out in a straight formation, so it would seem logical they were moved at least once from the spot where they died.






Looking up the former road from the river bottom











The historic road, later referred to as the “Stage Road”, to the top of the cliff from the river bottom is approximately 700 feet in length with an elevation gain of 75 feet, representing a 10.7% grade. While this is a fairly steep grade, one needs to factor in the soft clay earth at the bottom and the solid lava rock with a stair step effect for the last half of the climb up the incline, this was a tough pull for the teams of horses or oxen that had to navigate up this grade. Interesting to observe near the top of this road/pass you can still see the wear ruts in the rocks from the wagon and stage coach wheels traveling this route years ago leaving a historical lasting impression in the rock. Which clarifies this was an extensively used route by travelers as a major East/West road. After 1858 stage coaches could have passed by here at least daily from either direction for approximately three years.





Currently the lower end of this road has been completely washed out and only accessible by hiking as no vehicle can access it at the lower end (River bottom) and can no longer travel up or down it in either direction.






All opinions shared are the beliefs of the researchers. Nothing was disturbed at the site, no rocks overturned or moved. No earth moved, to come to our research conclusions, only foot prints were left and photos taken joining the many others that have respectfully visited this historic site.










It is believed this sign reads:


Photo courtesy Gary Grant


All photos except those noted, are by the Author

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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