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Oatman, Arizona

Gunfights and Donkeys


Oatman is truly a fascinating place basically out in the middle of nowhere. It is authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. The burros are tame and can be hand fed.

There are some places that just grab hold of me and wont let go. Oatman, Arizona is one of them right along with Highway 261, Valley of the Gods, and Monument Valley. We found Oatman the year we planned a Route 66 Trip. It was two years before we got back there. I think about Oatman all the time and I know I will visit it over and over again.



2008

We we progressed slowly along Route 66 stopping around every turn and taking pictures. Viewing the sights around us we just about missed this sign. I hit the brakes and backed up to get another look. Surfing the net, we already knew there were donkeys in Oatman but this sign struck us as rather unique - unlike anything we had seen before that's for sure.

As we rounded the corner into Oatman, it was everything we expected and more - a truly fascinating place basically out in the middle of nowhere. It is authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. The burros are tame and can be hand fed.

Our first stop was in front of a kiosk selling carrots ($1.00 a bag) and Route Beer 66. We no sooner had a bag of carrots in our hands that the entire herd descended upon us. We had to buy more carrots just to keep them happy.

Brenda, the owner of the kiosk, moved to Oatman 15 years ago from Massachusetts. She knew all the donkeys by name and gave us a bit of history about them. One donkey was off to the side - timidly clinging to the edge of town. Apparently the male stole her from another herd and she was afraid of the town. Brenda said that this happens often - nature's way of keeping the herd from getting too inbred. Brenda assured us that it wouldn't be long before her fears would subside and she would be part of the "in town" group.

One burro, demanding attention (we were out of carrots) walked right up to Brenda's kiosk, latched onto one of her paper posters and tore it off the wall. Time to buy more carrots I guess. One would swear Brenda and the burros were in cahoots.

Oatman's burros are the descendants of the burros brought by the miners in the late 1800's. When the miners no longer needed them, they were turned loose. Although there are many herds of "wild burros" in the mountains, each morning one particular herd continues to come into town as it has done for over a hundred years. They wander the streets, fascinate the tourists, and eat. Pellets and carrots are for sale at many of the shops. Shortly before the sunset they wander back to the hills for the night.

Oatman began over 100 years ago as a mining tent camp. In 1915, two miners struck a $10 million gold find, and within a year, the town's population grew to more than 3,500. It was named in honor of Olive Oatman, who was kidnapped as a young girl by Mojave Indians and later rescued in 1857 near the current site of the town. Oatman was served by a narrow gauge rail line between 1903 and 1905 that ran 17 miles to the Colorado river near Needles, California.

Both the population and mining booms were short-lived. In 1921, a fire burned down many of the smaller shacks in town, and three years later, the main mining company shut down operations for good. Oatman survived by catering to travelers on Route 66, but in the 1960s, when Route 66 became what is now Interstate 40, Oatman almost died. With the revival of Route 66, Oatman once again is a very popular tourist stop.

The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County and has housed many miners, movie stars, politicians and scoundrels. The town was used as the location for several movies such as How The West Was Won, Foxfire and Edge of Eternity.

Probably the Hotel's most famous claim to fame is that Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned there on March 18, 1939. Their honeymoon suite is still one of the major attractions at the Hotel. Gable returned there often to play poker with the local miners and enjoy the solitude of the desert.

Unfortunately, there are no tourist accommodations in Oatman, so we were unable to spend the night there. We would have liked to stay longer to visit the shops and of course "feed the donkeys".


2010
June 16th, 2010 - Day 1
At the gas station in Karen found out that Silver Creek Road, a 13 mile gravel road, cut straight over to Oatman rather than going down to Route 66 so we headed out on it. The guy at the gas station said we needed a four wheel drive but it was no worse than any of the gravel roads we've ever travelled on.
We were late getting into Oatman and most of the donkeys had left for the hills and the shops were closing for the day. It was a bit of a disappointment to see that Brenda was closed (we hope just for the day) as we were looking forward to seeing her again. One donkey came over to our car and stuck her head right in my window for a little attention. Attention she got, but no carrots.
June 18th, 2010 - Day 2
Oatman was everything we remembered. We parked and headed up the street just in time to witness the cowboys' street gunfight. The town was full of tourists and donkeys - just like the website claimed and we were happy to find Brenda and her "covered wagon" was open for business.

We went to Brenda's kiosk to get carrots but as we arrived we watched her last bag being sold. We visited with her for an hour or so. Brenda told us that the young burrows are auctioned off each year as they have to keep the herd to twelve adults. The adoptive families go through an extensive investigation to prove they are equipped to care for the burro.

We also found out that Splotches, the male, was hit by a car in January, 2009. Tragically, he suffered quite a while before they found him. Another distressing thing we learned was that a six week old baby burro had been kidnapped in 2009.  Heartbroken, the mother wandered the street calling for her baby. Someone in a camper van just picked it off the street at the edge of town.  It is unlikely it even survived if the people are stupid enough to steal it.  There was a previous kidnapping in 1996.

The town people have no financial assistance to help with the health and care of the burros. If a burro is sick or hurt, they have to pay for the vet out of their own pockets or from the small donations made by tourists. One burrow was 9 months pregnant when she broke her ribs. The vet was called and the residents paid the bill of $1,000.00. The good news was that the burro recovered and the baby survived. It really comes to light when visiting with someone like Brenda just how much the town people care about the burros. They might be a tourist attraction, but all the burros are truly pets to people like Brenda.

We met one of the gunfight actors, Fred. We had a conversation with him about the making of the movie Tombstone. One of his friends was a stuntman in the movie so the inside information he gave us was quite interesting.

Finally it was time to say goodbye.  Unfortunately there is no motels in Oatman. By late afternoon the shops close, proprietors head for home and the burros head for the hills.  This time we exchanged emails with Brenda and promised to keep in touch - and of course to return again.

2011 - Spring Breakout - May 6-7, 2011

May 6, 2011 - Day 1

It was early afternoon before I left Calico and I still had a three hour drive to Oatman. By the time I got there, Brenda was already closed for the day. I strolled around town, fed the donkeys and did some shopping.

Cool Springs

Cool Springs is about 10 miles from Oatman. It was still open so I stopped for a cool drink and a visit with George - the only man I know that wears a pink hat 'because he can'. Today we were colour coordinated. Cool Springs

I stayed the night at Best Western King's Inn & Suites in Kingman and spent a relaxing evening sitting at the pool reading. It was also time to do some laundry. I booked the next night at the hotel too as I planned to visit Oatman again the next day. George recommended this hotel several years ago and we've never been disappointed.

May 7, 2011 - Day 2

I arrived in town just after noon and Brenda wasn't open. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to see her this year but her neighbour told me she was around and would probably be there shortly. Even a donkey was waiting for her!

Street Gunfight

Oatman is famous for burros and gunfights. I sat in the cool shade and watched the gun battle play out. Once everything was said and done, both gunfighters were dead and Fred (the real bad guy) left with the money. A good time was had by all - I suppose all but the two dead gunfighters!!

Usually it's Karen and I that seem to dress coordinated but when I ran into a complete stranger looking like my bobbsey twin, I had to get a picture.
Finally Brenda had arrived and I spent the next hour or so visiting with her, drinking Route 66 Beer, and getting caught up on all the 'donkey news'.
I had a great day wandering through the stores, taking in the gunfight, visiting with Brenda and, of course, feeding the donkeys. By the time I left Oatman, it was late in the afternoon. It's always sad to say good-bye for another year and even sadder this year as Brenda told me she was thinking of selling her business. I hope not - it just wouldn't be same in Oatman.
Route 66 - May 6-7, 2011
View Photo Slideshow

Oatman is a former mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona. It began as a tent camp soon after two prospectors struck gold. Oatman's population grew to more than 3,500 in the course of a year.

In 1921, a fire burned down many of Oatman's smaller buildings, but spared the Oatman Hotel, now a Mohave County historical landmark. Built in 1902, the Oatman Hotel is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mohave County, and is especially famous as the honeymoon stop of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard after their wedding in Kingman on March 18, 1939.

Oatman has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years thanks to burgeoning worldwide interest in Route 66. Oatman is fiercely proud of its Route 66 heritage and replicas of 66's black-on-white US highway shield are posted all over the town. Wild burros freely roam the town and can be hand-fed carrots and burro chow, both readily available in practically every store in town.


2012 - Spring Breakout - May 9, 2012
Oatman, Arizona

I stopped for about an hour to visit Brenda and get the update on all the donkeys. Peanut has a new baby Nikki and she is an absolute doll. Brenda named Nikki. Apparently the rule is that the first one to see the baby gets to name it.

A first today. I saw two sets of donkeys on the road. The first donkey crossed a few hundred yards before Cool Springs and a group of three were grazing on the side of the road about a mile after Cool Springs.

Brenda says that it's been dry up in the mountains and there is a lot of green grass along the roadside that is drawing them. Apparently it's not unusual - just that we haven't seen it before.

After a relaxing hour visiting, it was time to head out. Brenda is going to send me pictures of the new babies to put on my Oatman page.

Is that a "I might have to kill you" look?


2012 - Fall Runaway
In November, I decided to visit Sedona for a week or so. On the way home, I stopped at Oatman. I was really curious to see that it was like in the fall. The weather was still mild (to me) but Brenda was layered like it was below zero!! I told her she was thin skinned. She agreed.

June 25, 2013

Our highlight today was Oatman, Arizona. Every time we get here it's a highlight. This is the slow season for Oatman. Brenda was just starting her preparations for going home when we arrived but she didn't boot us out and we had a great visit for an hour or so. It's wonderful to see the new babies, reacquaint ourselves with the donkeys, and get caught up on the happenings in Oatman.


Dusty & Ghost

Baby Hurricane

Peanut

Karen with Harley

Karen & Brenda with Duke

Zoology Lesson

Brenda giving Karen a zoology lesson - subject today - "the anatomy of the reproductive organs and behavioral interactions of the donkey". I think when the laughing finally subsided, Karen might have been a little more knowledgeable - might.

2013 Babies  

Tornado & Hurricane

Hurricane - Jan 27th, 2013

Dusty & Ghost

Ghost - June 7th, 2013

Jelly Bean & Main

Main - July 6, 2013

Harley & Jackson

Jackson - July 11, 2013

Elmo (April) - July 17, 2013

Belle & Cookie - July 18, 2013

2014

May 30, 2014 - Day 1

It was 3:00 pm when I arrived in Bullhead City so I decided to continue on to Oatman and register at the hotel later. Temperature was 105°. There were still a few tourists left in Town so we were able to visit for an hour or so before Brenda started to close up for the day. We met for dinner at the China Buffet in Bullhead City.


Baby Millie (Tornado)

Czechoslovakian Bikers

Three hot and tired bikers came to get some cool drinks. I talked them into trying Route 66 Beer but we had to explain that there was no alcohol in it first. They had never tasted Route Beer before and were quite impressed. They flew into Chicago and for 16 days will be travelling the whole Route 66 to Los Angeles before flying home.


April

Tornado

May 31, 2014 - Day 2

Brenda and I visited for quite a while. There were not many tourists today. It was after 2:00 by the time I headed on my way. I stopped at Cool Springs to say hello to George and pick up some Route Beer for the road.


Summer & Miss Kitty

Brenda loving up Millie

October 8, 2014 - Day 1

We arrived at Oatman in time to see some donkeys but Brenda was gone. We left a note on her wagon before leaving. We can phone her before leaving the area and maybe stop in again tomorrow.

We will have to get Brenda to give us the name of this new baby.


Duke

Baby ?

Oatman, Arizona
Elevation 2700 Feet

Oatman was founded about 1906. By 1931, the area's mines had produced over 1.8 million ounces of gold. By the mid 1930's the boom was over and in 1942 the last remaining mines were closed as nonessential to the war effort.

Burros first came to Oatman with early day prospectors. The animals were also used for hauling rock and ore. Outside the mines, burros were used for hauling water and supplies. As the mines closed and people moved away, the burros were released into the surrounding hills.

The burros you meet today in Oatman, while descendents of domestic work animals are themselves wild -- they will bite and kick. Please keep a safe distance from them. Wild burros are protected by Federal Law from capture, injury, or harassment. Help protect these living symbols of the old west.

October 9, 2014 - Day 2

Around mile 30 just west of Cool Springs we came across some wild donkeys. First there were a couple of them barely visible in the valley and then there was a lone donkey heading up the hill. He watched us carefully for a while, then crossed the road and disappeared.

We arrived at Oatman in time to see something new - the arrival of the burros in town after their night in the mountains. First Duke arrived. While he strutted down main street greeting the tourists, the girls and babies followed. Most of the donkeys stopped around Brenda's wagon and quickly zeroed in on the tourists with hay cubes. It was a "grand entrance".
Brenda wasn't there yet. We had missed her again. After leaving Oatman we headed down the Boundary Cone Road toward Bullhead City and promptly passed Brenda on her way to town. We quickly turned around, flagged her down, and visited for a few minutes at the junction before heading on our way. She had left us an email telling us what time she would be there but we hadn't checked our mail before we left. If we hadn't taken the right fork in the road instead of the left, we would have missed her by 30 seconds.
2014 Babies  

Dusty and Taffy - July 13, 2014
 

Harley & Dakota - July 29, 2014

Peanut & Hazelnut - March 7, 2014

2015

January 29, 2015

I spent so much time at the Sedona quilt shop and then in Williams for lunch that by the time I reached Oatman Brenda had left for the day. Peanut was there to greet me though. It was overcast and quite cool. The girls were still in town so I was able to wander around and check out the new babies. I'm meeting Brenda tomorrow for lunch so I'll get all caught up on the gossip then.


Peanut

January 30, 2015

I met Brenda for lunch at Hooches. We spent an hour visiting and getting caught up on the Oatman news. Unfortunately, it was mostly bad news. Harley was killed in December. She was hit by a truck. Her hoof was cut very badly and she suffered terribly before she died. Heartbreaking. More tragic news. Apparently someone decided to use one of the wild donkeys along the road for target practice. Very distressing.


In Memory of Harley - 2013 with Jackson

May 16, 2015

Oatman was really busy today - probably the busiest I've ever seen it. Brenda was doing a booming business with her Kettle Korn. There were so many tourists feeding the donkeys they were stuffed and just ignoring the food. Jelly Bean never left the shade of Brenda's chuckwagon and wasn't even interested in the cubes the tourists tried to give her.

Brenda was really busy and wasn't able to visit much so I wandered around town for a while and checked out the new stores. There are so many new donkeys I found it hard to figure them out. I recognized Peanut, Belle, Jelly Bean, Tornado and April but that was about it. I didn't see Duke at all.

As usual Brenda was camera shy - but really Brenda - hiding behind Jelly Bean's ear. You know, just because you covered your eyes doesn't mean that we can't see you!

2015 Babies  

Tornado & ? - May 23, 2015
 

 

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