Ransom's Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman

This book is in the "Daughters of the Faith" series by Wendy Lawton and is published by Moody Publishers.

Ransom's Mark is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Note: If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.

Plot Summary

When Olive Oatman and her large family head West with a large party of pioneers, she longs for peace and security. But when her family splits from the group, a renegade band of Yavapai Indians massacre them, taking the surviving Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, with them. Treated cruelly, the sisters cling to each other and the faith taught to them by their parents. They are surprised to find their prayers answered in the unexpected figure of Topeka, a Mohave chief's daughter, who pays a ransom for them. She takes them to her people. Over time, Olive and Mary Ann regard the Mojave as family and suffer through drought and famine with them. Olive even wears the facial tattoo of the Mojave, a permanent reminder of her ransom and rescue. Failing health and malnutrition finally claim Mary Ann, and Olive's faith falters under the weight of the "Why?" she repeatedly asks God. To her surprise, Olive learns that one of her brothers not only survived the massacre but has been searching for her. The Mojave release her to her people, despite the fact that she feels like a young woman caught between two cultures. She learns that ultimately she belongs to the God who never abandoned her and paid her ransom on the Cross.

Christian Beliefs

The author draws parallels to Christianity in the following ways:

The Oatmans' faith is present on nearly every page. Olive's mother is a nurturing mother and a submissive wife who values her Bible most among her possessions. Olive's father is troubled by the strange religious teachings and use of divination by the group's leader, which prompts him to separate his family from the leader. When Olive is discouraged, her mother reminds her that God is always with them, even when things are tough. Psalm 18 becomes important to Olive throughout her trials in the story. In the hours after her family is massacred, Olive has a strong sense that God is still with them and weeps at the evil that has been done.

After the massacre, Olive and Mary Ann encourage each other by remembering Scripture and God's faithfulness. They adhere to the family tradition of praying before work every morning. Together and individually, the sisters pray for someone, somehow, to rescue them from their captivity. When the Mojave, Topeka, ransom them, they learn that God put the desire in Topeka's heart to rescue the girls. Olive learns that God's answers to prayers do not always come in the form she expects.

As the Oatman sisters work their small field given to them by the Mojave, they pray over every shoot to prosper. Mary Ann senses the coming of her own death but tells Olive not to worry because she [Mary Ann] will be in heaven with the rest of the family. When Olive struggles with her own faith, she knows enough to pray for more of it. Her Mojave friend helps her learn to tap into her own faith by remembering God's provision and protection in her life. When Olive has a chance, she shares with her Mojave family about Jesus.

Lawton establishes the Christian themes of substitution and ransom early and often. Early on when Olive's brothers play Indians, Olive gives herself to be their captive in place of her younger sister. Olive explains clearly to her sister that Christ provided the original example of substituting one more valuable for the one in need of rescue. Olive also tells Mary Ann the story of Beauty and the Beast, emphasizing Beauty's willingness to take her father's place in the castle of the Beast. As a captive herself, Olive learns about being ransomed and being claimed. She understands that the tattoo she wears on her face forever marks her as a Mojave, just as her faith in Christ forever marks her person as His.

Authority Roles

Mr. and Mrs. Oatman are fair in their parenting, and the children demonstrate love and respect for them. Mr. Brewster, the leader of the wagon train, tries to convince the others that he is a prophet, but many of the men he is leading question his authority and reliability. When Olive and Mary Ann live with the Yavapai, the authority over them is wielded with cruelty, but the Mojave leaders (tribal and family) are welcoming, encouraging and even sacrificial.

Other Belief Systems

Little is explained about the Mojave beliefs, although they are called pagans, and Olive understands that they do not believe in God the same way she does. When members of the tribe die, they are wrapped and burned, although the chief allows Olive to bury her sister in the ground.
Note: If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.

Profanity/Graphic Violence

No profanity. Lawton handles the horror of the massacre appropriately for this age group. The confusion and fear Olive feels is described more than the scene itself. One of her brothers is briefly described being clubbed; one of her sisters is struck and falls on her; and after the massacre, Olive sees the bodies on the ground.





Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Topeka and Olive talk about their views on God, and Olive is surprised that God was able to use Topeka to rescue her and her sister. Romans 1:20 says that God makes Himself known so that no man has an excuse.
    How does this relate to Topeka and her conviction to find the Oatman girls?
  • Read Proverbs 31 and compare this woman to Mrs. Oatman.
    Now consider Olive at the end of the story. In what ways is she like — and not like — her mother?
    Is Olive on her way to becoming a Proverbs 31 woman?
  • Mr. Oatman and Lorenzo are strong men in the family, but they have different personalities.
    What are their godly qualities?
    Would you want them in your family?
  • In I Corinthians 12 and 14, we can read about spiritual gifts. Mr. Oatman seems to have had the gift of discernment; Mrs. Oatman seems to have had the gift of exhortation.
    What gift or gifts do you see in Olive by the end of the story?
  • When her faith is shaken, Olive is encouraged by Topeka to recall all of God's protection over her in the past. By remembering specific times when God revealed His faithfulness, Olive is able to grow her faith in the present.
    What experiences in your past do you need to remember to help you be more faithful in the present?
  • When Olive's fate is in the hands of the Mojave leaders, who must decide if she can return to the white men, she prays for them to come to the right decision.
    Do you sometimes rely too much on trying to talk someone into your way of thinking, or do you make it a matter of prayer and ask God to guide the wisdom of those in authority over you?
  • During the drought and famine among the Mojave people, Olive prays for God to help her find berries, which He does. Others consider her find to be a miracle. Later, the chief's wife entrusts a plot of land to Olive and Mary Ann to tend for food.
    Think about the story of Joseph, who was also used to help feed people who took him captive.
    What parallels can you draw between the two, and how do their stories glorify God?
  • The Bible tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and bring water to the thirsty. List the people in the story who did those things. Are you surprised by the diversity of their backgrounds? What can you learn from this?
  • At the end of the story, Topeka encourages Olive to remember God's love for her every time she sees her tattoo — the mark of her ransom. Is there a visual cue you can use during your everyday life to remind you that God loves you and sent His son to be your substitution and your ransom?
  • Psalm 18 is close to Olive's heart. Read it all the way through and note the comments and imagery about being a captive who has been delivered from strong enemies. Is Olive's story one of exile? Why, or why not? How might she find strength in the stories of biblical captives?

Note: If parents pursue additional study, they will learn that the Oatmans were a Mormon family.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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