Chautauqua player sets record straight

WARREN – The story of Olive Ann Oatman’s life is one of extreme opposites. Oatman experienced at an early age the absolute worst of humanity, as most of her family was slaughtered by Native Americans. Yet through that tragedy, Oatman would come to see that humans are all the same and the values of family and love were not exclusive to early American settlers.

In the 1850s, a 14-year-old Oatman and her Mormon family were traveling west in search of religious freedom when they were attacked in Arizona by a band of Tolkepayas. Oatman’s mother, father and most of her siblings were murdered in the attack, while Oatman and her younger sister were captured and forced into slavery.

Dianne Moran will portray Oatman during the 2014 Ohio Chautauqua program, sponsored by Ohio Humanities. Warren is among the four communities to host the program this year. The event features daytime workshops for adults and children, and nightly presentations. The theme of this year’s program is “Journey Stories.”

On each of the five evenings, a scholar dressed in full costume will portray a featured character and interact with the audience. There will also be a question-and-answer period at the end of each performance.

This year’s historic characters also include Edith Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., J.G. Bruff and Henry David Thoreau.

After experiencing the loss of her family, Oatman’s story took a radical turn when she and her younger sister were sold to the Mohave people. In contrast to the Tolkepayas, the Mohave treated Oatman like one of their own and formed an unusual bond with the white woman. When Oatman was eventually released and allowed to return to the “white world” at the age of 19, she did not forget the kindness shown to her by the Mohave people.

Oatman went on to write about her experiences with the Mohave and traveled the nation on a lecture tour. While her story was framed in a way that was tolerable by the people of her time, a keen eye could still see the fondness she held for the Mohave people.

“There was no way that the people of Olive’s lifetime would have accepted the idea that she had a loving relationship with the Mohave people,” Moran said. “The Native Americans were fighting for their land that was taken from them, but the white man thought of them as less than human. That made it easier for them to justify the way they viewed the Native Americans at that time.

“But it is clear in Olive’s story that she had developed a loving relationship with the Mohave people,” Moran added. “They were an open and extremely warm people, and I believe that she had grown accustomed to life with them (by the time she was freed from captivity).”

Moran said she will be portraying an older Oatman who is looking back at the experiences of her youth. Removed from the stigmas of her day, this Oatman wants to give the audience a chance to understand how she really feels about her life.

“I’m playing an Olive Ann that wants to set the record straight and wants to tell the truth,” Moran said. “She wants to tell a truth that is really horrific, but is also very warm. There are a lot of aspects to (Oatman’s story) that I believe the audience will be able to identify with.”

Ohio Chautauqua is presented by Ohio Humanities. It is hosted locally by the Tribune Chronicle and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and is in partnership with Trumbull 100 and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, with support from the Warren Library Association.