The Oatman Burros
Should you decide to take a leisurely drive along Historic Route 66 and down through Oatman, don’t be surprised if your journey comes to a sudden halt thanks to some stubborn jackass in the middle of the road. The town is full of them.
I’m not talking about the people, of course. I’m talking about burros. And they’re the reason most visitors stop in Oatman to begin with, whether they’re blocking the way or not. Sure, Oatman’s got a gold-mine tour, Wild West shootouts and an annual egg-frying contest, but it’s the braying beasts of burden everybody comes to see. Come to think of it, it’s probably the only vacation spot tourists flock to in order to be surrounded by asses entirely on purpose.
The burros, though they’ve gotten quite comfortable among humans, are actually wild. It’s estimated there are about 600 feral burros meandering between Kingman and Lake Havasu City, and about a dozen of them enter Oatman on a daily basis. They come down from the Black Mountains of their own accord and invade the town as though commuting to work. When the shops begin to close and the tourists start to leave, they head back out again.
They’re direct descendants of pack animals that were once used in local mining operations. When the federal government shut the mines down in the 1940s in response to the war effort, workers simply let the burros go. They never really left, though, and due to their obstinate charm, Oatman has survived becoming a ghost town, though just barely. As a nearby sign admits, “If it were not for these burros, in all probability, neither you nor this plaque would be standing here today.”
These days, the burros willfully amble among Oatman’s small collection of storefronts, planting themselves along the shoulders and walkways. They persistently beg for handouts, which come in the form of carrots sold in many of the town’s shops. The animals aren’t subtle about it, either. They head-butt their way into car windows and wander directly into the shops to get what they’re looking for. Tourists who neglect to have treats on hand are sometimes chased down the street. Those with an ample supply quickly find themselves outnumbered and drowning in donkey slobber.
Oatman insists the burros are friendly, but still advise visitors to beware. The more zealous of the bunch have been known to mistake fingers for carrot sticks. Kicking isn’t unheard of, either. In fact, the locals recommend you leave the pets at home, as some of the pack tend to see dogs as furry soccer balls.
Donkeys Rule in Oatman
There is a little town northeast of Bullhead City, Arizona called Oatman. It’s on old Route 66. The road is narrow, twisty, and pot-holed. The town is an old gold and silver mining town with lots of character and weird history. Many donkeys roam the streets and they have the right of way. These donkeys are descendants of the pack donkeys the old miners brought to the area. I’m sure that this place is rife with weird stories. —Ken Karnes