Old historic Oatman Ghost Town is located next to the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada and Bullhead City, Arizona. The town of Oatman began as a small riverside pioneer community in the mid 1800s, but this town did not attract many residents till gold was discovered here in the early 1900s. The local mining operation produced quite a bit of pure gold, so thousands of folks with gold fever moved to this area and Oatman became a sizable community. After a few years, the gold deposit played out and most of the miners moved on, but enough residents remained to keep this small town on the map.
Shortly after the age of automobile tourism began in the mid 1920s, Route 66 was constructed and this long road soon became America's western vacation corridor. Route 66 passed directly through Oatman on the way to Kingman through the mountains. This town quickly turned into a tourism hub or bottleneck, depending on the point of view, because the stretch of Route 66 to Kingman was so dangerous, many tourists hired local drivers to get their cars safely through.
Eventually in the 1950s Route 66 was rerouted to a safer alignment because the road through the mountainous terrain from Oatman to Kingman was definitely something to avoid. Oatman ended up being completely bypassed, which caused this town to suffer a major loss in tourism income. The town’s population eventually dwindled down to about 60 citizens. Ghost town tourism income was meager for a few decades, till renewed interest in Route 66 tourism took shape in the late 1900s. Old historic Oatman was reborn as a modern Route 66 ghost town tourist attraction and business has been booming ever since.
Oatman actually was not the original name of this ghost town and Route 66 was not the event that originally made this small town famous. This small riverside community had several different names in the early years, till Olive Oatman made this settlement famous worldwide back in 1856. Olive Oatman was 14 when her family was killed while going through the Arizona territory on a Mormon pioneer wagon train heading to Utah in the early 1850s. Olive Oatman was captured and enslaved by the Yavapai Tribe of the Arizona Territory. Later on, the Yavapai or their Paiute allies pawned Olive Oatman off to the Mojave Tribe, which were a more peaceful people that lived further south in the desert near the Colorado River. The Mojave Tribe adopted Olive Oatman as one of their own and she learned the native ways. Chin tattoos are part of Mojave tribal tradition, so Olive Oatman was given a Mojave black chin tattoo. Olive Oatman actually was the first caucasian female in America to have a tattoo of any kind.
In 1856 Olive Oatmen was cut loose by the Mojave Tribe and she was rescued near the little pioneer settlement by the Colorado River that later became famous for gold. After Olive Oatman was returned to the European American riverside community, the town was renamed as Oatman in her honor and soon the newspaper reporters and novelists made Olive Oatman famous. Olive Oatman did a nationwide publicity tour and everybody wanted to see her Mojave Tribal Chin Tattoo. Olive Oatman made a comfortable income while touring and she called the town named Oatman her her home. Olive Oatman has been a legendary symbol of the wild west in this part of Arizona ever since.
The historic town of Oatman is a fun ghost town to visit and there is plenty for tourists to see and do. Oatman Ghost Town is most famous in modern times for its high population of wild burros. After the gold mining operations came to an end in this region, the burros were set free to live in the wild and now the local burros roam the streets of Oatman. The wild burros mingle with tourists that stop by to visit this old ghost town, which is quite a unique experience!
Wild burros are protected animals and they have the right of way on the Oatman streets. This can lead to some frustrating moments, because if a stubborn burro refuses to move, it can mean playing the waiting game for quite a spell before getting room to roll the car on down the road. Wild burros do kick and bite, but for the most part they are quite docile. Even so, standing near the hind quarters of a wild burro is not advisable by any means, because these animals are powerful enough to kick a victim into next Tuesday! Wild burros have been known to grab onto shirt collars, sleeves and even ears, so it wise to keep a little distance as a buffer zone.
It is illegal to feed wild animals in most western states, but in Oatman it is okay to feed the wild burros. Official legal Burro food can be purchased at a few places along the old Route 66 main street area in Oatman, so feeding the burros is part of the entertainment venue. In late winter and spring, there are plenty of baby burros around and feeding these cute critters is really good entertainment for children. On the flip-side, the burros in Oatman can be likened to a gang of food thieves at an endless buffet. This is because any human food items that a tourist carries while touring the town, will surely be grabbed a hungry burro food thief! The wild burros even go as far as to gang up on people that carry food, so it is like dealing with a roving burro street gang!
Old ghost town restaurants, like the ones in Oatman, serve traditional Southwestern style tourist food. Everything from sarsaparilla to chili dogs and old fashioned ice cream can be found on the snack bar menus. There are plenty of fun curios shopping opportunities in Oatman at the antique shops. Oatman also has saloons, staged outlaw gun fights and there is even a place for kids to pan gold.
Oatman Ghost Town is well worth visiting when staying in Laughlin or Las Vegas. When touring old historic Route 66 in this region, Oatman is simply a must to do and driving on the old alignment to Kingman will earn bragging rights. It is very easy for a planned one hour visit to turn into an all day excursion in this place, so be sure to allow plenty of extra time to explore this historic ghost town. Oatman is one of the most popular living ghost towns in the west and the intriguing history will captivate visitors just as much as the official welcoming committee, which happens to be the local wild burros!
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