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Travels with Grama

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.

Oatman Photo Album
Oatman Slideshow - 2008
Oatman Slideshow - 2010

Spring 2008

We progressed slowly along Route 66 stopping around every turn and Doreen had me taking photos of every Mile sign, just in case something interesting happened in between so we'd know where we were.  Sometimes I think the lady is touched - but we aim to please.

Viewing the sights around us, we just about missed this sign. Doreen hit the brakes and backed up to get another look.

We already knew there were donkeys in Oatman from surfing the net, but didn't realize there were herds of them wandering wild in the desert.

Oatman's burros are the descendants of the burros brought in 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. They are quite entertaining, even following tourists into the local shops. Then, shortly before 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.

As we rounded the bend into Oatman, it was everything we expected and more - a truly fascinating place basically out in the middle of nowhere. It is an authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. The burros are wild but adapted to humans 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 when the entire herd descended upon us. We had to buy more carrots just to keep them happy. 

The owner of the kiosk, a lady named Brenda, had 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 still afraid of the activity. 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 subsided and she was 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.

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 other 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, now 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".

June 2010

June 16, 2010- Day 1

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, one of the local proprietors was already 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 Doreen's window for a little attention and carrots. Attention she got, but no carrots.

June 18, 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 and got quite a bit of history of how the town and it's burros have survived.  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.

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 it out of their own pockets or from the small donations made by tourists. One burrow was 9 months pregnant when a car hit her and she broke her ribs. The vet was called and the residents paid the bill of $1,000. 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 most of the town people care about the burros. They might be a tourist attraction to us, but all the burros are truly pets to people like Brenda. She knows everyone of them by name and is affected deeply when one is injured or lost.

We also met one of the gunfight actors, Fred. We had an interesting 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.

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 and Baby Ghost
Baby Hurricane
Brenda and Karen

Zoology Lesson

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

2013 Babies
Tornado & Hurricane
Hurricane - Jan 27, 2013
Dusty & Ghost
Ghost - June 7, 2013
Jelly Bean & Main
Main - July 6, 2013
Harley & Jackson
Jackson - July 11, 2013
Elmo (April) - July 17, 2013
Belle & Cookie - July 18, 2013


Day 1 - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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.


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.

Day 2 - Monday, October 20, 2014

Between Goldroad and Oatman, we came across this burro. As soon as we stopped, she came to the car and stuck her head inside the window. We realized then that this was not a wild burro but quite possibly one from the town herd. Brenda thinks she looks like Peanut but wasn't sure why she would be so far away from the rest of the burros.

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.

May 18, 2016

We took the Silver Creek backroad and connected with Route 66. It's a gravel road but totally passable. We arrived in Oatman about 1:30 and spent a couple hours of visiting and catching up with the Oatman news and meeting the new donkeys. Brenda said that the herd is now down to 11 but by September they will be back up to 18.