As mentioned in my last post, we were traveling in Laughlin Nevada last week when quite by accident (or fate…) we learned about Oatman Arizona. Neither of us knew anything about it but our new friend Gary, a former Michigander, highly recommended it.
Gary had told us some of the history of this old mining town and how Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had honeymooned at the Oatman Hotel in an effort to avoid the paparazzi. Gary said “you HAVE to go to the Oatman Hotel!” but he didn’t want to elaborate as to why. “You’ll see” he promised.
I googled Oatman to get a bit more background:
Oatman is a former mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, United States. Located at an elevation of 2,710 feet (830 m), it 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 3,500 in the course of a year.
After a few other names, Oatman was named in the posthumous honor of Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who was taken captive by (presumably) Yavapai Indians and forced to work as a slave. She was later traded to Mohave Indians who adopted her as a daughter and had her face tattooed in the custom of the tribe. She was released in 1855 near the current site of the town.
In 1863, mountain man and prospector Johnny Moss discovered gold in the Black Mountains and staked several claims, one named the Moss, after himself, and another after Olive Oatman. For the next half century mining waxed and waned in the district until new technology, reduced transportation costs, and new gold discoveries brought prosperity to Oatman early in the twentieth century. The opening of the Tom Reed mine followed by the discovery of an incredibly rich ore body in the nearby United Eastern Mining Company’s property in 1915 brought one of the desert country’s last gold rushes. The boom of 1915-17 gave Oatman all the characters and characteristics of any gold rush boom town. For about a decade, the mines of Oatman were among the large gold producers in the West.
In 1921, a fire burned down many of Oatman’s smaller buildings, but spared the Oatman Hotel. Built in 1902, the now-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. (source Wikipedia)
Today’s Oatman is rustic……
With the mines long since closed, what remains of Oatman is about a city block long of old wild west style buildings with all manner of souvenirs as well as leather goods, silver and beaded jewelry and antiques. There are several saloons housed here including The Oatman Hotel. It was the hottest day of our trip and so we made a bee-line to see it and quench our thirst.
When we stepped into the bar and the restaurant further inside, we saw what Gary had eluded to – every square inch of wall and ceiling space was covered by $1 bills, generally with a message or at least the name of the donor. Needless to say, there were hundreds of thousands of dollars on display making it a one of a kind place. The waitress (they call me “Dallas” she revealed) was quite a character in her mini dress and western boots. I asked what kind of wine they had “Red, White and Pink” was Dallas response. (I chose white) As we sat at the bar, Spence ordering a cup of their famous chili with his Miller Lite, a fellow patron remarked that the burros, (who roam the streets freely) were a bit frisky that day. She said, “Oh that’s our only male – the one with the broken ear. He’s been a real asshole lately.” At this point, everyone at the bar burst into laughter. She went on to say “He gets whatever he wants, he’s the daddy of all the young burros.”
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. Wild burros freely roam the town and can be hand-fed hay cubes otherwise known as “burro chow,” readily available in practically every store in town. Though normally gentle, the burros are in fact wild and signs posted throughout Oatman advise visitors to exercise caution. The donkeys are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors, and are protected by the US Department of the Interior. (source Wikipedia)
It was a fun spot to visit, only about 45 minutes drive from Laughlin and a step back in time. Spence bought me a lovely pair of garnet and turqouise earrings set in silver….which was very sweet.
2 thoughts on “Travels in Arizona – part one – Oatman”
Great story and photos! What a fun place to explore! 😊
Thank you, it’s fun to experience and share it!