Killers of the Flower Moon-David Grann, author; Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, Danny Campbell, narrators
Although the book concerns itself with a time in history that covered about four years, from 1921-1925, the story really begins in the 1870’s when the Osage Indians were forced to leave their lands in Kansas and resettle to lands they purchased in Oklahoma, land the government thought was useless and worthless. Instead, the land turned out to be so oil rich, the Osage never had to work again, once it was discovered. They were rich! Unfortunately, there were many unscrupulous men and women who actively sought to bilk them out of their money and their land by whatever means they could devise, and they were often the most diabolical plots.
The year 1921 marked what the Bureau of Investigation believed was the beginning of a series of about two dozen murders. Unexplained deaths of otherwise healthy people began to occur as well as unexplained murders or suicides. At first, there was resistance to investigate any of the odd occurrences since Indian lives were not much valued by the white people of that time. Racism toward Indians was rampant and widespread. As investigations led nowhere private investigators were hired by the wealthy Osage. Still, solving the crime was elusive as investigators also seemed to die in unexplained and unresolved circumstances. As the numbers of dead Osage piled up, it became more and more suspicious, but not only racism had to be fought, so did the corruption throughout the justice system which was not as interested in solving the crimes as they would otherwise have been if the victims had not been Indians.
David Grann does an amazing amount of research, drawing a picture of a time that feels lawless and brutal. Men literally got away with murder because of their power and influence. Each of the Osage Indians had a guardian who supposedly represented their interests and controlled their income from the oil wells; they were unable to use their own money at will. Often, the guardians who schemed to control their finances also were engaged in embezzlement of their funds. The Osage people had to jump through hoops to get control of their own money and generally the judge ruled against them and in favor of the white guardian who retained the ability to not only control their money, but to steal it.
In order to rob the allotted portion of the oil lands granted to the Osage Indians, diabolical plans were made to eliminate the Osage owner of headrights and inherit what could not, by law, be given away. Although the Osage tried to protect themselves, they were thwarted by a political system and judicial system that did not value them and adjudicated the cases unfairly.
As the mysterious deaths piled up, the Bureau of Investigation became more engaged and the investigation of the Osage murders (led by Tom White, an old-fashioned honest lawman from a rich background of law enforcement in his family), became its first major homicide investigation, an investigation which led to the creation of Hoover’s FBI. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, as it is known today, has more power than it did at the time of the Osage investigation. Today they can make arrests and carry weapons.
The two dozen or so murders that occurred from 1921-1925 were not solved until 1929, and then most of the unsolved cases were dropped when the accused were convicted and sentenced.
As Grann investigated the history of the Osage, other Osage came forward and asked for his help. He discovered that there were many other murders that had not been uncovered and that were unrelated to the murders that were masterminded by the King of the Osage Hills, William H. Hale, who had finally been found guilty in 1926. From 118-1931, murders were still occurring which may or many not have been related to stealing from the Osage and which were seemingly unrelated to the murders planned by Hale. It seemed there were other who had devised evil schemes to cheat the Osage out of their wealth.
Fiendish methods were used. Clues were well hidden or destroyed. People were bought or frightened off. Homes were blown up, people were poisoned with moonshine, corrupt doctors may have injected tainted medications, some victims were shot or thrown from trains. Because there was no one pattern, it was difficult to solve the crimes. Also, they occurred randomly. Most of the Osage were afraid to speak out lest they be murdered also. The only way for anyone to inherit the headright for the allotted land was to be bequeathed it, or to be married to the one that was granted it, or to be a direct descendant. Murder, although heinous, seemed to be the only option in many cases.
Lawmen were corrupt, judges were bought, jurors were bribed. The book is about a time of which little is known, but David Grann has done a wonderful job uncovering even more facts about this odious period. It was a wonderful retelling of history.
*The Flower Moon is a period of growth. In the spring, flowers bloom. In Osage County, the flowers were dying, but the flowers were the Osage Indians.
*Over 2000 members of the Osage tribe were allotted. Each received a portion of land on the reservation, designed to break up their communal way of living. Each granted a headright, a legal grant of land.