Margot Mifflin's The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman narrates the true, traumatic, and fantastic life of a young girl breaking cultural and racial boundaries in early-America.

The Blue Tattoo is well-researched history that reads like unbelievable fiction, telling the story of Olive Oatman, the first tattooed American white woman. Margot Mifflin based her book on historical record, letters, and diaries of family and friends, and what she found makes this story anything but dry.


In 1851, when Olive was 13, her Mormon family began their trip out West to what they thought of as the Promised Land. They ended up being attacked and slaughtered by Yavapai Indians, save for Olive and her sister, and, unknown to the girls, their brother. Olive and her sister became slaves. Later they were bought by a Mohave tribe, in which they eventually were accepted as equals and acquired the facial tattoos that would mark Olive her entire life. Olive’s sister died, but Olive happily assimilated into the tribe, so when her brother tracked her down and brought her back to white society, it was against her will.


Mifflin weaves together Olive’s story with the history of American westward expansion, the Mohave, tattooing in America and captivity literature in the 1800s. It’s a remarkable story of a woman who not only was a survivor but also went on to inspire artwork, fiction, television, and movies; her story was told on an episode of Death Valley Days (with Ronald Reagan) and was one of the inspirations for The Searchers.

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