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Arizona Flag - Legends of the High Desert IconARIZONA LEGENDS

Oatman - A Living Ghost Town

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Oatman Arizona, 1900

Oatman, Arizona around the turn of the century, photo courtesy Arizona Images, Phoenix Public Library



Just across the Colorado River and up the hill from Laughlin, Nevada is the historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Often described as a ghost town, it doesnít quite fit the category, but close enough, considering that it once boasted almost 4,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this lively "ghost townĒ that provides, not only a number of historic buildings and photograph opportunities, but the sights of burros walking the streets, as well as costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies strolling.

In its heyday, from the early 1900s to the 1940s, Oatman and the nearby town of Gold Road were the largest producers of gold in Arizona.

Gold was first discovered in Oatman in 1902 by a man named Ben Taddock who, while riding along the trail, saw free gold glittering on the ground and immediately filed a claim. A tent city soon sprang up as other miners heard of the gold find and flocked to the area.

The Oatman Hotel Today

The Drulin Hotel was built in 1902, which did a brisk business to the area miners. This old hotel, now called the Oatman Hotel, is still in operation today.


Lacking the funds to develop a mine, Ben Taddock sold his claim in 1903 to Judge E.M. Ross and Colonel Thomas Eqing, who in turn sold it to the Vivian Mining Company. The mining camp was named Vivian and in 1904 the first post office was established for the growing population. Between 1904 and 1907 the mine yielded over $3,000,000. 


In 1909 the town changed its name in honor, Olive Oatman, who was kidnapped as a young girl by Apaches after they had massacred her family. The Apaches then sold her to the Mojave Indians, whom she lived with for five years. Olive was rescued in 1857 near the site of the town.


The settlement began to fall on hard times until another rich vein was discovered by Ely Hilty, Joe Anderson and Daniel Tooker. In no time at all, Oatman was in the midst of a second boom when The Tom Reed Mine was established in 1910. The new Tom Reed Mine breathed life into the town, just as the Vivian Mine was about to close.


In 1915, two miners struck a $14 million gold find, providing yet another boom to the settlement. Soon, the town had its own paper, the Oatman Miner, as well as dozens of other businesses.


When Route 66 was first built in the 1920s, several supporters worked to have the road parallel the railroad through Yucca, where its supporters lived. However, Oatman was at its peak as a mining community and had more clout. So, even though it made the drive more difficult on those old Model-Tís, the road took the hazardous journey up Sitgreaves pass and bypassed Yucca.


In 1921, a fire burned much of Oatman,, but the town was rebuilt. Just three years later the main mining company, United Eastern Mines, shut down operations for good. But with the birth of Route 66, Oatman hanged on, catering to the many travelers along the new highway.


By 1930, it was estimated that 36 million dollars worth of gold had come from the mines. The town boasted two banks, seven hotels, twenty saloons and ten stores. There were nearly 20,000 people living in Oatman "area".



Continued Next Page


tom Reed Goldmine in Oatman Arizona

Tom Reed Goldmine, vintage postcard



Oatman Arizona Main Street

Oatman, Arizona Main Street, April, 2008,

Kathy Weiser.


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