In the late 1800s, the bustling town of Oatman, Arizona, was overflowing with miners who hoped to stake their claim on some of the millions of dollars in gold and silver from the surrounding mountains. The town was named after a Mormon teenager named Olive Oatman who, as the locals tell it, was captured by Apache warriors, sold to a Mojave tribe, and eventually freed after five years of captivity.
While there are still a few operating mines today, Oatman is most famous for its burros than its gold nuggets. Over 500,000 visitors a year flock to Oatman for a glimpse into what life was like in an old mining camp. While the human population has dwindled to about 200, the burro population is booming. The little donkeys freely roam Oatman’s streets and sidewalks, much to the delight of tourists.
As one of the mining towns that narrowly escaped ghost town status, Oatman experienced a period of revitalization when Route 66 brought new travelers to the area in the 1920s. Today, Oatman’s small group of permanent residents work to preserve the town’s heritage with authentic, western storefronts and restaurants, and even a daily “gunfight” in the streets.
The Oatman (Durlin) Hotel is one of the town’s most popular attractions. While visitors can’t book a room at the hotel anymore, they can enjoy a meal fit for a hungry miner and take a peek at the honeymoon stop of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard after their wedding in Kingman on March 18, 1939, preserved inside the historic adobe building.
Oatman is a tiny town with a big, colorful history. The local businesses that depend exclusively on tourism to keep the lights on work hard to give visitors an authentic taste of life in the Old West. It’s well worth a stopover for Route 66 road trippers.