Olive Oatman and her family traveled from Independence, Missouri, to settle in California in 1851. Or that was the plan. While traveling through Maricopa Wells in Arizona, the family was attacked by a group of Native Americans, thought to be Yavapai. The two parents and four of their seven children were killed. Lorenzo, the 15-year-old son, was wounded and left for dead, and 14-year-old Olive and her 11-year-old sister Mary Ann were taken by the tribe.
The Yavapais had taken the sisters, very much alive, to their village about 60 miles away, along with selected prizes from the Oatmans’ wagon. Tied with ropes, the girls had been made to walk for several days through the desert, which triggered serious dehydration and weakened them in general. When they asked for water or rest, they were poked with lances and forced to keep walking. Once they reached the Yavapai village, the girls were treated as slaves, made to forage for food and firewood. The tribe’s children would burn them with smoldering sticks while they worked, and they were beaten often. The girls, Olive later said, were sure they’d be killed
The girls lived as the Yavapais’ servants for approximately a year, until some members of the Mohave tribe, with whom the group traded, stopped by one day and expressed interest in the Oatmans. The Yavapais ended up swapping them for some horses, blankets, vegetables, and an assortment of trinkets. Once the deal was done, the sisters were again made to walk for several days through the desert, this time north to the Mohave village, near the not-yet-founded city of Needles, California, and unsure of their fates all the while.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo vowed to somehow find his sisters. He made sure the US government and everyone he knew stayed on the lookout for Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, even years later. Read the rest of the story at mental_floss.