The Oatman murders

In the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others category, there is a September 12 letter to John LeConte from Asa M. Abbott regarding the Oatman family. The letter was undated, but given the subject matter and contextual clues (references to a four month wait for the initial news and the general paucity of information) I felt pretty confident dating it as 1851.

Google the Oatmans and you find a familiar tale of Indian savagery and abduction. (Familiar in the sense that the players and themes had stewed in the public imagination for over a century—relocating the stage to the southwest results in only superficial changes.) You’ll also find a couple different editions of Captivity of the Oatman Girls on Google Books, which includes a very nineteenth century description of a brief encounter with a “Dr. Lecount” and his efforts to assist the family (and heroically restrain his apparently suicidal Mexican guide and treacherous Apaches from killing one another—really, all he needs is the hat and the whip and he’ll get down to doing some two-fisted science).

There is something prurient about the letter, which offers apologies and explanations for its existence, then asks for details about the family’s last days. It is somewhat perplexing: why not ask the surviving son, rather than a third party? A desire for an impartial narrative, consideration for Lorenzo’s feelings…there are a host of possibilities, which either reflect well or very poorly upon Abbott’s character and motivation.

As noted in the finding aid, the vast bulk of correspondence is incoming. I wonder whether and how LeConte replied to Abbott’s letter.

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  1. Pingback: Asa M. Abbott « Owls all the way

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