Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon is a true-crime account of a shameful period of American history in which members of the Osage tribe were murdered for the headrights to oil-rich land on their reservation in Oklahoma. David Grann tells this shocking story, including the investigation of the murders led by J. Edgar Hoover’s newly-formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.
After the U.S. Civil War, Native Americans from the Osage tribe were forced off their land in Kansas and relocated to Indian Territory. The land was rocky, there were no buffalo, but they were a smart nation, led by Chief James Bigheart, and two things seemed to be in their favor. One, they were one of only a few Native American nations to buy their own reservation and this gave them more rights. The second advantage was that, when the United States insisted the land be divided into parcels, to parallel the system of land ownership in the rest of the country, the Osage said okay, but with a stipulation. If any land was sold or leased to a non-native, whatever was underground belonged to the Osage.
The Osage became rich in the 1920s when oil was discovered on their land and, for a period of time, they enjoyed lavish lives. But the American government deemed the Osage unfit to manage their own money and appointed white guardians to control their royalties. Many of these guardians stole from their wards, and worse.
The coveted ownership of communal headrights, which could only be inherited, led to a shocking series of murders, headed by a prominent local American businessmen and carried out by a network of seemingly upstanding white citizens and career criminals. Dozens of Osage were murdered and many of them were from the same family. In Gray Horse, Oklahoma, Mollie Burkhart watched as her family was killed, one at a time, leaving her as the only one left. As she fell ill, she wondered, would she be next?
In desperation, the Osage hired FBI to stop the killings. The investigation was filled with bogus leads, false confessions, disappearing witnesses and unreliable informants. Grann provides details of the investigation and resulting trials, including updates on the key players from both sides and an interesting follow-up of the Osage today.
The events in Killers of the Flower Moon depict a deep-seated racism against the Osage, in which the white business leaders and citizens of the Gray Horse pretended to befriend and help the Osage, only to kill them for their money. Killers of the Flower Moon is a thorough historical account of the Osage murders, but this is one story you won’t see in school history books.
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