Saturday, December 27 – Oatman Mesa, AZ

This is one of our hiking days that I’ve anticipated for many months. Today’s hikers will pass some historic locations that have come to have deep meaning for me. The Wilson’s are joined by other families and individuals who bring our numbers to thirty-six.

To prove how small the world is, one of the Wilson girls roomed at college with one of the Lyman girls. Neither knew the other would be here, but heavens, the squeals of delight when they recognized each other!

We “swear in” the hikers and start down the original trail, passing the Painted Rock petroglyphs, through a short section of agricultural fields and into the Gila River valley at Oatman Flats.

Stopping for lunch under a huge Australian Pine beside an old stone building, we’re met by one of the local ranchers and his dad. It turns out they are Battalion descendants.

It was particularly refreshing to hear the young adults chatting together as they hiked and during the lunch break. It’s times like this that provide me a direct insight into the workings of the 1846 Battalion – the things they talked about, how they acted, what their hopes were, their fears. The discussions ranged over a wide variety of topics – something I’m sure the “Battalion boys” did as they hiked along.

The Foupp family homesteaded Oatman Flats in the late 1800’s. It was and still is a hard area. The Gila River was wild at that time with just some irrigation ditches to help move water around. At the southern edge of the Flats there is a small cemetery started by the Foupp’s after a couple of their boys died.

Next, we follow some sketchy instructions to find where the Oatman’s are buried – or at least, where some of the Oatmans are buried. In 1851, they were on their way to California and got waylaid by an unhappy band of natives. There is much more to their story than I can possibly relate here and do the story justice. IF I do a book, the story will be enlarged upon in those pages.

Leaving the Oatmans to continue their rest, we hike closer to the volcanic basalt bluff, find a Battalion Trail marker, cross an old Gila River meander, and take a radio call from Denny who says happily, “I think I’ve found the trail!” She had driven ahead with the equipment truck and found the correct place even though we’d not been there before.

Denny pops her head over the ridgeline and the hiking group winds its way towards her. On Google Earth, this section of trail looks very artificial, but in person, it’s apparent the original trail has been undisturbed. Paul Lyman shares his expertise gained from researching the Mormon Handcart Trail. He points out wagon tire ruts, rust stains from slipping wheels and other trail features.

Most of the group gets intimate with the history, touching the basalt rocks smoothed by repeated passages of wagon tires, getting nose-to-nose with the grooves worn in these hard rocks and walking up and down the road cut into the hillside. The rocks are piled to the sides forming a surprisingly wide road and uncharacteristically placed on the side of the hill rather than directly up the front. Examining the structure, it’s my belief the hillside had suffered a small landslide forming a natural “cut and fill” structure that the road builders capitalized upon. Every rule has the exception and this is one.

Before sundown, we sit at the Oatman Massacre site to hold a sharing time. Peter shares his history through the Wades. The Willis’s share a bit of their ancestors’ story. I share the Oatman’s background and the decisions that led them to their deaths.
Sadly, twilight comes all too quickly. The non-campers have to exit the area before darkness falls. They have about fifteen miles to go back to the blacktop though a series of poorly marked lava fields. The rest of us put up camp, get dinner and spend another evening around the campfire.

Shortly after sundown in the western sky Venus, Mercury and Jupiter are visible, Mercury being a planet few people ever recognize. It’s a nice apparition of Mercury. It’s New Moon and we are quite remote from towns, so the night is particularly dark and the skies are brilliant with stars.

The cold is so deep again that most of us head off to bed quite early. It has been an exceptional day.

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