Oatman, Arizona sits on U.S. Route 66, about 45 minutes from Kingman. Mining there sprang up in the beginning of 1900’s. Oatman once had a population of 10,000, people however in the 1950’s, the population was condensed when the I-40 rerouted Route 66. Nowadays, it has a population of about 200 and residents rely primarily on the industry of tourism.
Oatman’s history begins in 1902, when Ben Taddock, who was riding along a trail in the area, spotted gold glittering on the trail. One year later, Ben sold his claim to a judge and a colonel. Then in 1905, they sold it to the Vivian Mining Company. The next three years, the mine boomed and produced over $3 million worth of gold. This is when the town of Oatman came to be. It was originally
called Vivian, however, it was renamed Oatman after Olive Oatman. Olive Oatman and her family were attacked in 1851 by Apache or Yavapai Indians. Only three of the children survived, one (Mary Ann) died in captivity. Several years later, Lorenzo went looking for Olive and found her living peacefully with the Mohave Indians.
In 1910, the strike of the Tom Reed vein boosted the small town of Oatman. Then, in 1913, the United Eastern mine was opened after striking a huge vein of gold. This is when Oatman reached its peak population of about 10,000. These two mines, along with Goldroad, were combined in 1916 into the Oatman Mining District, considered by many to be the richest gold mining district in Arizona. The Tom Reed had produced over $13 million by the time it shut down in the 1930’s. Together, by the 1930’s, the mines in the Oatman District produced over 1.8 million ounces of gold. In 1942, the
Goldroad in 1903*
The United Eastern Mine in Oatman, AZ*
Remnants of the Tom Reed Mine in Oatman, AZ
mines were closed because they were non-essential to the war effort.
Goldroad, located 3 miles east along Route 66 and just west of Sitegreaves Pass, was first crossed by Lieutenant Edward Beale in October, 1857. Five months later, Lt. Ives traveled this area and named the pass after Lt. Sitgreaves, a soldier from the first expedition. In the early 1860’s, John Moss discovered signs of gold in the area. True credit for the establishment of Goldroad is given to José Jerez, who struck pay dirt here in 1899. He was grubstaked $12.50 by Henry Lovin. In 1901, they sold the claim for $50,000 but what they did not know was that within 5 years, it would be worth more than 40 times that. Henry Lovin used part of the money to open a store. At this time, Goldroad was known as Acme. In 1903, a post office was established and the name officially became Goldroad. By 1907, the high grade ore was exhausted and the mine collapsed. The post office opened and closed occasionally until 1949 when the site was grazed for tax purposes. Between 1995-1997 however, Addwest Minerals bought the mine and extracted 92,500 ounces of gold from the Goldroad Mine. In 1998, they temporarily stopped working and opened for tours. Currently, the mine is back open for mining and no tours are allowed. All that is left of Goldroad (besides current mining equipment) is mining remnants including walls and concrete foundations.
As the mines began to shut down, Hollywood found Oatman. Oatman was home to many famous movies, including How the West Was Won, which meant an increase in tourism as well as the development of several false-front buildings still standing today.
Oatman’s final blow came in 1952, when Route 66 was closed and I-40 opened, sending traffic around rather than through Oatman. However, tourists travel from around the world to see Oatman, a true definition of the Wild West.
Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. 10th printing. Phoenix, AZ: Department of Transportaion, State of Arizona, 1994. 39-42. Print.
Trimble, Marshall. Roadside History of Arizona. 2nd edition. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2004. 299-301. Print.
Photos with * were taken in the Mohave Museum of History and Arts