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Boomtimes and Boomtowns – Lou and Oatman

Lou of Oatman pictured in approximately 1920.

Lou of Oatman pictured in approximately 1920.

This is Lou of Oatman, Ariz., sometime about 1920 in front of the building that served as his place of business. Most of the information on the sign to his right appears to be listing real estate he was selling or renting. Oldtimers remember him going up and down the street with a megaphone inscribed “International Cigars” giving stock market quotes, the news of the day and offering to list anything you wanted to buy or sell. He always ended his spiels with “The wind blew, the bull flew, for information, see Lou the Jew.” Those words may fall harshly on modern ears, but that is what he called himself.

No one is certain of his last name, although it may have been Grossman, and sadly, no one seems to know where he came from or what happened to him. He was one of the many men who showed up in boom towns on what was still a frontier – even as late as the 1920s – and then moved on. He was probably drawn to Oatman by gold discoveries in the area.

The rich ore vein at Oatman was discovered by a Mohave Indian named Ben Taddock, who is said to have discovered gold ore glittering on a trail he was following sometime around 1900. He filed a claim he later sold to the Vivian Mining Company, and the town was first called Vivian.

During the three-year period from 1904 to 1907, more than $3 million in ore was mined from the area. The town’s name was changed from Vivian to Oatman in 1909. It is said that Harry Knight and L.P. Hansen gave the community the name of Oatman to honor Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, who were captured by Indians during the massacre of their family in 1851. Mary Ann died in captivity, but Olive survived and was rescued in the Oatman area. Another story is that a wealthy Mohave Indian named John Oatman, who claimed to be Olive’s son and was active in mining in the area, influenced the name change.

Additional ore bodies were discovered in 1910 and 1915 and two smaller communities – Mazona and Old Trails – sprang up in the area. From the initial discovery until 1931, the district produced $36 million in gold. At one time, more than 10,000 people lived in Oatman. By 1958, however, only 60 remained. Mazona was destroyed by fire in 1918, and by 1925 only a few people lived in Old Trails.

Today, more people live in Oatman than did in 1958. With its close proximity to Bullhead City, it has become a tourist stop.

— Loren Wilson and Ed Edwards of the Mohave County Historical Society discovered the photograph and provided much of the research material. Photo courtesy of the Mohave County Historical Society, written by Jane Eppinga.

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