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5 Reasons You Need to Visit the Small Town of Oatman, AZ

Cheyenne Reed

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Oatman, AZ is a small town in Northwestern Arizona off the historic Route 66. This old mining town has stood the test of time and has great stories to tell.

1. Oatman, AZ is a Tiny Historic Town That’s Been Around Since 1915

A storm is coming to downtown Oatman, Arizona
A storm is coming to downtown Oatman, Arizona | Photo credit: Ken Arneson

Like many small towns that sprung up across the west, Oatman, AZ owes its existence to the gold rush. Its humble beginnings were that of a tent camp, but when two miners uncovered $10 million worth of gold, you can imagine how quickly the town appeared on the map! In under a year, nearly 4,000 people had flocked to Oatman.

Of course, to get anywhere back in that time, you had to take the railroad! From 1903 to 1905 Oatman, AZ boasted their own seventeen-mile rail line.

2. The Way That Oatman Got Its Name is a Little Sinister…

Wild West Show in Oatman, Arizona.
Wild West Show in Oatman | Photo credit: Patti S via Flickr

You might expect that the miner who discovered the gold in Oatman, AZ would have named the town after himself. In fact, though, he discovered two mines! One of these he named after himself, Moss, and the other…. was named after Olive Oatman. Perhaps this Olive Oatman was Moss’s wife, daughter, or long lost love that he wished to commemorate? Well, not exactly. Olive Oatman was actually a woman who had been kidnapped by Arizona Indians as a young girl. Taken by the Apache tribe, she was later sold to the Mojave Indians. Some sources report that the Indians treated her well, despite the common concern that she wasn’t because of photos of her tattoed face. Oatman was ultimately rescued during a trade in 1857 near the town.

3. Oatman Thrived For a While… But Not For Long¬†

Old gas station in Oatman, Arizona.
Old gas station in Oatman | Photo credit: John Hardison via Flickr

As the thirst for gold grew, so did Oatman’s population. More than 10,000 people lived in the town between 1900 and 1940. Three significant events can be pinpointed that most contributed to Oatman’s eventual decline. In the 1920s, many of the town’s buildings were damaged in a fire, which led to the closure of the primary mining company, United Eastern Mines, not long after.

The town soldiered onward, at least until the United States became involved in WWII. With a war looming on the horizon, gold was no longer the most precious metal. Instead, minerals that could be used for the war effort were in demand. Even still, Oatman, AZ survived, by virtue of being along the famous Route 66. Their new specialty became catering to travelers. But when Route 66 was replaced by Interstate 40 in the 1960s, there wasn’t much hope left for saving the once-booming town.

4. Thankfully, Oatman, AZ Survived and You Can Visit it Today!

Downtown Oatman, Arizona
Downtown Oatman | Photo credit: M&J via Flickr

Lucky for Oatman, AZ, there are plenty of people who are interested in historic Arizona and traveling what remains of the iconic Route 66. These days, they survive as a charming tourist attraction.

One of Oatman’s most well-known attractions is their Oatman Hotel. The Oatman Hotel has been steadily gaining character since 1902 when it was built. It’s officially the oldest adobe, two-story structure in Mojave County! The list of people who have stayed there over the years is practically never-ending. From politicians, scoundrels, miners, to movie stars. The cast and crews of the movies How The West Was Won, and Foxfire, stayed here while they filmed in Oatman, AZ.

The locals love to share the story of the most famous visitors the hotel ever hosted: Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. Not only did Gable often visit the town to play poker, but he and Lombard also spent their honeymoon there in March of 1939. Their honeymoon suite is a place you can visit even today!

Keep a wary eye out during your visit, though. Legend has it that there are some guests who simply refuse to check out — like Oatie the friendly ghost!

5. The Real Stars of Oatman, AZ Are the Burros

The burros attract a lot of attention in Oatman.
The burros attract a lot of attention in Oatman | Photo credit: SuperGlider via Flickr

As with most tourist-centered locations, there are many things to do in Oatman, AZ. You could easily spend the whole day perusing the eclectic shops full of handmade goods. Or visit other attractions with names like Fast Fanny’s, Ore House, or Classy Ass. You could even watch the gunfights they stage on the weekends during the Wild West performances. You can also chow down on some local grub. But, whether you’re looking to or not, you’re bound to meet the town’s adorable burro population.

Back in Oatman’s mining days, burros were the preferred form of transportation. When the miners didn’t need the burros anymore, they simply set them free. Ever since, the burros stroll into town each morning looking for a meal. Most of the shops sell pellets or carrots that will make you quite a celebrity among the burros, at least until your hands are empty. Most of them will keep munching as long as there is food to be had. Near sunset, they head back out of town for the day with full bellies.

This unexpected population makes Oatman, AZ not only an awesome historic tourist destination but also pretty great for some adorable photo opportunities!

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