The story of Olive Oatman. Face Negotiation TheoryVersion 4 

Olive O

In this version I have looked at the story itself and how is it directly connected with american history and the genocide of Native Americans.

The story of Olive Oatman begins in 1850 when they joined a wagon train of about 90 other Mormons disillusioned with Brigham Young’s leadership headed for California. The party arrived in New Mexico territory, now Arizona, in January of 1851. However, along the way disagreements broke out over which route should be taken and the party divided into two groups. The Oatman’s went with a group of 8 wagons and about 20 others on a route from the Rio Grande. When they arrived in Tucson the small band was exhausted and entirely out of provisions. Many others who had arrived earlier were in the same shape and had decided to stay a while to recuperate. The travelers there had planned to plant crops to replenish their supplies and form larger groups to continue later on. But, the crops hadn’t yet been planted. Rather than risk starvation from failed crops the Oatman’s and two other families, decided to push on across 90 miles of desert with what few supplies they could get.

They made it to the Pimo Indian villages a little over a month later, where they hoped to get more supplies. But, it had been a bad season and there was little to be had. The two families accompanying the Oatman’s decided to stay not willing to risk 200 more miles of desert to Fort Yuma. There had also been rumors of horrifying Indian attacks. But a scout by the name of Dr. Lecount coming from the fort said he hadn’t come across any hostile Indians. So, the Oatman’s  went on alone.

About 7 days out Dr. Lecount and a Mexican guide on their way back to Fort Yuma came across the Oatman family on the verge of starvation at a point below the Big Bend of the Gila River. It was obvious they would never complete their trek without assistance. Dr. Lecount told them he would send assistance from the Fort, about 90 miles away, as soon as possible.

However, the next night, Lecount and his guide were set upon by a band of Indians who stole their horses and supplies. They had no choice but to continue on foot. The Oatman’s continued on as best they could.

On the 18th of March the Oatman’s spent a night on a little sand island in the Gila River. They weathered a howling rain storm which ruined most of their meager supplies. The next day a band of Yavapai Indians approached the destitute family.

Royce Oatman conversed amicably to them in Spanish, and asked them to sit down a while. As they did they asked for tobacco and pipes, which Royce freely shared with them. Shortly afterwards, they asked for something to eat. Mr. Oatman told them his family was near starvation themselves and could spare little if any. He gave them a few crusts of bread and apologized it couldn’t be more. After conversing in whispers a few seconds they attacked. Fourteen year old Lorenzo was struck on the head and knocked unconscious. He fell, appearing dead. The rest of the family, with the exception of Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, were quickly massacred and robbed.

Hours later, Lorenzo slowly regained consciousness. The sight of the mutilated, bloody dead bodies of his family sickened him. He knew his sisters Olive and Mary Anne had been taken captive.

About two days later, the injured boy was spotted by a couple of Pimo Indians who gave him some food and promised to send help. They told him to wait, but Lorenzo was unsure whether they would or not so continued on. Sometime later he sighted two covered wagons in the distance. They were the two families who had decided to remain in Tucson. He told them what had happened and about the capture of his sisters.

Olive and Mary Anne had been dragged away barefooted and were soon covered with cuts and bruises from both falls and beatings. On the 3rd day of their journey, they came to a cluster of thatched huts. The tribe of about 300. The two girls were subjected to cruel and harsh treatment and forced to work from morning till night in servitude. They had to gather whatever they could find to eat, such as roots and insects and sometimes went without food for days.

Several months later a band of Mojave Indians stopped in the village to trade and a deal was struck for the purchase of the 2 girls. They were traded to Mojave Chief for two horses, some vegetables, several pounds of beans and three blankets. Afterwards the girls went on a 10-day journey to the Colorado River and the Mohave village. The 200 mile journey to the Mojave village in what is now Needles, California.

The Mojave tribe was more prosperous than their former captor’s and the chief's wife took an interest in the 2 girls. The girls were allotted land to farm and were both tattooed on their chins and arms as was their custom. But, about a year later, there was a severe drought and the tribe experienced a shortage of food. Mary Ann, who had been so weakened over the course of her previous ordeals, succumbed and died of starvation at the age of 10. It was the custom of the Mojave to burn their dead, but her benefactor pitied Olive and intervened to let her bury her sister instead.

The art of tattoo was important to the Mojave. They tattooed their faces with lines and dots - a cosmetic, fashionable practice. And at death, the Mojaves used cremation to enter the spirit world. The property and belongings of the deceased were placed on a pyre along with the body, to accompany the spirits. Mourners often contributed their own valuables as a showing of love. The names of the dead were never again spoken.

American mountain men led by Jedediah Smith appeared in Mojave territory in 1826, and though the Mojave welcomed the trappers, death and hatred loomed in the future for the two groups. The Mojave believed all living things belonged where they were placed, so it was hard to understand why the trappers were so brutal, throwing beaver carcasses on the river bank after skinning the animals. In 1827 another party of trappers led by James Ohio Pattie marched through Mojave territory, ignoring Mojave demands for a horse in trade for the beaver taken from the river. Four days later two white men and 16 Mojaves lay dead. Late that year Jedediah Smith returned and was attacked, losing nine men, and for the next 20 years violence flared, reaching a peak when trappers from the Canadian Hudson Bay Co. killed 26 Mojave. In 1850, territory including Arizona was annexed by the United States, and with it began encroachment by the US Army. The parade was led in 1851 by Capt. L. Sitgreaves, a stern regimentarian, and followed in 1854 by Lt. Amie Weeks Whipple, an amiable man who gained the confidence of the Mojave. Whipple’s company surveyed and mapped a railroad route from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to the Pacific Ocean, which most Mojaves favored because it meant opportunity for trade.

From 1851 to 1856, the U.S. military was ever present, but it never found out that two white girls, Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, were living with the Mojave.

Olive later married Major John Brant Fairchild, a former Indian fighter and banker, in 1865 at Rochester, NY.

The story made national headlines and raised a furor among non-Indians. The girls, from the Mojave point of view, were lucky to have fallen into their hands, away from the Tonto Apaches. Under the circumstances, they were fortunate. The chief attached them to his household, and they were afforded the best Mojave facilities, seeds for planting, love, divergence from Mojave customs.

In 1858 the seeds of Fort Mojave were planted when Lt. Edward Beale and troop of 12 camels cleared and opened a wagon road along Whipple’s survey route. He suggested a fort be built to guard the river crossing near present-day Needles. In August a wagon train that lingered too long near the crossing was attacked. Spurred by public clamor to "Wipe out the Mojave!" 700 Indian fighters led by Col. William Hoffman were sent in 1859 from San Francisco. Though there was no combat, and the Mojaves insisted that the attack was instigated by the Hualapais, Col. Hoffman on April 24 threatened to take the Great Chief Homoseh awahot to Yuma Prison as a hostage to show the Mojaves the might of the US Government. The great chief was elderly, so his nephews, along with the sub-chief Cairook, went in his place. They were told releases would be in one year, but a year passed, so an escape was planned. By holding the lone guard at noon while the other, younger hostages dived into the river, swimming underwater to escape, Cairook gave his life.

The late 1800s were years of change for the Mojave. In 1861, constraints of the American Civil War forced the military to abandon Ft. Mojave. Tribal leadership was in upheaval as the Great Chief Homoseh awahot relinquished his post to Yara tav, who favored peace with the Americans. He had seen their power, having traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco and to Washington, DC to visit President Lincoln. In March 1865 the US Government created the Colorado Indian Reservation near Parker, the southern range of the Mojave. Yara tav, though disapproving of the poor farmland, led 500 to 800 Mojaves to the new reservation at Parker Valley. Homoseh awahot resumed his post as great chief to lead those who refused to leave the Mojave Valley. The people were split into two tribes. Homoseh awahot was succeeded by his son Empote awatacheech, John Potachecha in 1875, who when he died two years later was succeeded by his 8-year old son Hobelia. Those living around the fort were called Ft. Mojaves when the building and 14,000 acres were transferred from the War Department to the Interior Department in 1890. The fort became an industrial boarding school for the Ft. Mojave and other non-reservation Indians. The plan was to eradicate native language and culture. A compulsory education law was passed, and truant children forcibly returned to school were often whipped and locked in an attic for days, and given water and a slice of bread for meals. The Indians were taught Anglo farming methods, but with no land of their own, they looked elsewhere for work. Many turned to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later the Santa Fe), which came to Needles in 1883. Others worked on river boats, in the mines, some sold beadwork and pottery dolls to train tourists. The Mojave became urban Indians living in Needles. The Great Chief Hobelia, now 10 years old, went to school in 1892, his name anglicized to Pete Lambert. He was the last great chief of the Mojaves. In 1905 students were required to adapt English surnames in place of their traditional clan and individual names.

In 1911, by executive order, the Ft. Mojaves were granted a reservation consisting of the old military reserve, areas called the hay and wood reserves on the California and Nevada side of the Colorado River, and adjacent checkerboard land on the Arizona side, a total of about 31,300 acres. The checkerboard arrangement came about because the government gave the railroad every other section of land. The boarding school closed in 1931, and children began attending school in Needles. The 20th Century was closing in. In 1936 a great flood washed out Mojave homes in Arizona, Needles too was flooded. To replace these homes, a new village was built outside Needles in 1947 on land bought by the tribe, and later declared part of the reservation. 
The traditional tribal leadership was changed forever in 1957 with the approval of the Ft. Mojave Constitution, and with it the creation of a seven member tribal council.

Ting-Toomey’s face negotiation theory[1]  would recognize Mojaves culture as collectivistic.

In Face negotiation theory first proposed by Stella Ting-Toomey in 1985 we learn to understand how different cultures throughout the world respond to conflict. Our self-image, or “face”, is at risk in conflict and our culture is attached to the way we deal with this issue and communicate.

In essence, the theory applies specifically to conflict, and is based on identity management on an individual and a culture.

The various facets of individual and cultural identities are described as faces. Faces are the image of an individual, or that of a group, that society sees and evaluates based on cultural norms and values. Face can also be defined as "the claimed sense of favorable social self-worth and/or projected other-worth in a public situation" (Ting-Toomey & Kurogie,1998). Conflict occurs when that group or individual has their face threatened. Faces can be lost, saved, or protected.

During my participation in the course Introduction to Artstic Research in spring 2014, I ask participants during one workshop to change each others faces with help of paint which can easily be washed off and as such an “old face” easily returned. It was a change based on a free form.

The exercise arises among others questions about trust and integrity and relates to so called “Locus Face”.

The "Locus of Face", according to Stella Ting-Toomey, is known as the degree of concern for self face and others' faces. It is important to observe Locus of Face because it provides the frame work for studying face and face work because it is a direct indicator of how important it is to the individual to maintain face (for him or herself of the face of their culture/group) and in turn it can directly effect the direction of the interaction. The Locus of Face is also valuable because it reflects both self and -other concerns for preserving face, and is relevant to the communicators when navigating through an interaction or negotiation.

People from collectivistic cultures usually adopt conflict styles of avoiding or integrating because the "mutual face" or the face of the group is the top concern. People from an individualistic culture adopt a conflict style of dominating because their main concern is maintaining self face because they have a "face" independent from that of the group.

There are many different strategies and factors affecting how cultures manage identity. Ting-Toomey argues that in collectivist cultures, the face of the group is more important than any individual face in that group. In individualist cultures, the face of the individual is more important than the face of the group.

Face negotiation theory addresses intercultural communication on cultural, individual, and inter-relational levels. Individualistic and collectivistic cultures will have different methods of maintaining face and resolving conflict. What comes naturally to people from one culture may not seem an appropriate communication style to individuals from another culture.

In individualist cultures, such as the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, there is great value on personal rights, freedoms and the “do it yourself” attitude. In collectivist cultures such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Colombia, place more value on “we” vs. “I”. The needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual. It is interesting to note that one third of the world lives in an individualist society, while the other two thirds are identified with collectivist cultures.

Dr. Ting-Toomey asserts that several conditions must be perceived as severe in order for a negotiator to feel his face is threatened; the importance of the culturally approved facework that is violated, feelings of mistrust because of a large distance between cultures, the importance of the conflict topic, the power distance between the two parties, and the perception of the parties as outgroup members are all conditions which must be made salient for face-threatening communication to occur. Whether or not a person engages in a conflict depends on how face-threatening the situation is perceived.

In an individualistic culture, the more self-face threatening the conflict, the more likely the individual will engage in an attack. In a collectivistic culture, where mutual-face concern is important, avoidance of conflict may prevail in order for the situation to be defused. A combination of the two cultures may require a third-party negotiation to make progress in finding a resolution.

The colapse of native americans culture and invasion of their land followed by their displacement and resettlement can be compared to Lebensraum. The Nazis supported territorial expansionism to gain a habitat for all healthy and vigorous peoples of superior races to displace people of inferior races; especially if the people of a superior race were facing overpopulation in their given territories. The German Nazi Party claimed that Germany inevitably needed to territorially expand because it was facing an overpopulation crisis within its Treaty of Versailles-designed boundaries that Adolf Hitler described: "We are overpopulated and cannot feed ourselves from our own resources". Thus expansion was justified as an inevitable necessity for Germany to pursue in order to end the country's overpopulation within existing confined territory, and provide resources necessary to its people's well-being.

It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, or enslave the Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and other Slavic populations, whom they considered inferior, and to repopulate the land with Germanic people. The entire urban population was to be exterminated by starvation, thus creating an agricultural surplus to feed Germany and allowing their replacement by a German upper class. The policy of Lebensraum implicitly assumed the superiority of Germans as members of an Aryan master race who by virtue of their superiority had the right to displace people deemed to be part of inferior races. The Nazis insisted that Lebensraum needed to be developed as racially homogeneous to avoid intermixing with peoples deemed to be part of inferior races. [2] As such, peoples deemed to be part of inferior races living within territory selected to be Lebensraum were subject to expulsion or destruction.

The Nazi regime invoked a variety of precedents to justify the pursuit of Lebensraum. One was invoking the precedent of the United States [2] Hitler declared that the size of European states was "absurdly small in comparison to their weight of colonies, foreign trade, etc.," which he contrasted to "the American Union which possesses at its base its own continent and touches the rest of the earth only with its summit." [2] Hitler noted that the colonization of the continental United States by Nordic peoples of Europe that had a large internal market, material reproduction, and fertile biological reproduction, provided the closest model to that of Lebensraum.


[1]  Tina-Toomey, Stella, and John Oetzel. (2003). Face Concerns in Interpersonal Conflict: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Test of the Face Negotiation Theory. Communication Research. 30.6 (2003): 599-624.


[2]  Shelley Baranowski. Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler. Cambridge University Press, 2011.


Other references

Hitler on Lebensraum

© Aleksandra Jarosz Laszlo 2020