July, 1963: America is uneasy. As American schoolchildren are enjoying the hot summer, the country as a whole is reeling from the effects of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis is a recent memory. In four months, the President will be dead.
In this time of uncertainty, the oldest person in the world was largely dissociated with what was happening. This supercentenarian was a woman who was born in the United States, but did not speak a word of English. Martha Lincoln, who lived in a retirement home in Roosevelt, Utah, was the subject of a short feature that month which was crammed between various period advertisements in the back pages of the Salt Lake Tribune. This is her only known acknowledgement by the media. The 115-year old was also known by a different name, the one her parents gave her: Tavian.
Tavian was born to Ute parents Tabby and Uncatowie in present-day Colorado in 1848. That year the Ute Tribe’s traditional tribal land was signed over to the United States by Mexico. The next year, the first of the Ute Wars, with violent conflicts between the United States government and the Utes, began.
When Tavian was a young woman, she married another Ute, Towiup. In many records still on file with the government, they used the names Martha and Abe Lincoln. The couple lived on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in northern Utah. Abe worked alternatively as a farmer and day laborer, Martha was a homemaker, and the family included many children. They divorced shortly after the turn of the century, and Abe remarried, while Martha lived alone or with her adult children.
She was moved to the Stewart Rest Home in the town of Roosevelt, Utah, in 1962. The 1963 article concludes with, “Is Martha Lincoln Utah’s Oldest Person? The record, scanty though as it may be, seems to indicate that she is.”
Evidence to solidify her claim is on file with the State of Utah, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Census Bureau. What was not realized is that, when she died at the age of 116, she was not just the oldest Utahn ever, but was also the oldest full-blooded Native American ever, and one of the twenty oldest people in history.
Her first appearance in a government record—an 1885 Indian census—indicates she is 38, and all records thereafter follow a steady age progression. Her oldest child was born in 1869. Her husband and half-brother are listed in multiple records as being born in 1850 and 1851, respectively.
On September 16, 1964, after seven years as the world’s oldest person, Martha Lincoln passed away after a brief battle with pneumonia. She was interred at John Harmes Cemetery in Whiterocks, Utah. Because she never sought recognition for her age, thus leaving it largely ignored, her legacy also passed into history.