Herds Across the West: Oatman Burros

Our blog series, Herds Across the West, examines wild horses and burros by herd, Herd Management Area (HMA) and state to provide a deeper understanding as we report on roundups and actions affecting each region.

Oatman Burros | Oatman, Arizona

As you drive the historic Route 66 deeper into no man’s land, you will eventually stumble across the historic town of Oatman, Arizona. Although it is dubbed a ghost town, Oatman is a vibrant reminder of the genuine spirit of the Wild West and its gold mining days. With its wooden sidewalks, staged shootouts, and bustling streets, the small town indeed fulfills its slogan of “the town that refused to die.”

Oatman started with just a few tents in the mid-1800s. Shortly thereafter, in 1863, prospector and miner Johnny Moss struck gold in the area and the Oatman boom began. The gold rush held steady until 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II. At this point, all miners were ordered to stop mining for gold, and start mining minerals for war use.  By this time the Oatman gold mines had already generated $40 million in revenue, which is about the equivalent of $2.6 billion in today’s market. 

The Oatman burros were key to this gold boom. They were brought by the prospectors and have lived in Oatman since its founding. These adorably long-eared creatures are a true testament to the qualities of strength and resilience that burros embody. Despite the hardships the town and its residents faced -- including a fire that burned down part of the town in 1921 and the fierce heat and challenges of living in a desert -- the burros thrived. Their population grew and so did their popularity! Now they are the town’s main tourist attraction. Visitors flock to Oatman from all over the world to see the burros come down to the town from the high desert each morning. The burros just wander the streets, through the hustle and bustle of the town, and of course, they get some snacks along the way. Many of the artisan shops sell burro feed and carrots, along with t-shirts and souvenirs emblazoned with images of the town’s famous burros. 


The burros are ingrained in the Oatman culture. When a new baby burro is born, the first person who spots him or her dashes to the bulletin board to post a public notice, and the whole town gets to choose a name for him or her! Perhaps the most burro- involved event is the annual Burro Biscuit Toss. The biscuits aren’t really biscuits, but scavenged, dried out burro droppings from the desert. The burro deposits are then painted gold to look like golden nuggets and visitors pour into the town to see who can throw their biscuit the furthest. The winner gets a cash prize, some burro merchandise, and a bar of soap.


The Oatman burros are part of the population that lives on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA). You may recall the name from back in April when AWHC asked wild horse and burros advocates to submit public comments on BLM plan to round up hundreds of Black Mountain burros. Over 7,000 of you took action! As of today, there is no news on this pending roundup, but AWHC will keep you updated on any new developments. 


The Oatman burros represent a prime example of the ecotourism value that America’s historic mustangs and burros hold for local communities. Please continue to stand with us in speaking out for their protection and against the unjust, inhumane treatment of these American icons.