Oatman Travel Guide: Best of Oatman, Arizona Travel 2024

Oatman is best known for its beloved burros—small donkeys descended from miners’ beasts of burden. The town is home to more burros than people, and it’s not unusual to see dozens of donkeys in Oatman wandering the main drag, sticking their heads through the rails along the wood-plank sidewalks, nudging people for treats and otherwise delighting visitors. The burro has become such an integral part of Oatman’s identity that the town now plays host to an annual Burro Biscuit Toss, where residents and visitors alike compete to see who can throw a dried-out, gold-painted burro dropping the farthest.

The name Oatman was chosen in honor of Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who was captured and enslaved by Indians, likely from the Tolkepayas tribe, during her pioneer family’s massacre while on their journey westward in 1851. She was later taken in by the Mohave people, who adopted her and respected the facial tattoos she received in captivity. Olive Oatman was eventually released in 1856 at Fort Yuma.

In 1863, prospector John Thomas Moss discovered gold in the Black Mountains and staked several claims, one named after himself and another after Olive Oatman, whose story had gained national attention. For the next half-century, mining activity in the remote district fluctuated. However, new technology, reduced transportation costs, and fresh gold discoveries brought prosperity to Oatman in the early 20th century. The opening of the Tom Reed mine, followed by the discovery of a rich ore body in the nearby United Eastern Mining Company’s property in 1915, triggered one of the desert’s last gold rushes. The boom of 1915-1917 transformed Oatman into a classic gold rush boomtown, with all the associated characters and dynamics. For about a decade, Oatman’s mines were among the largest gold producers in the American West.