Oil brought unimaginable riches to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma in the early years of the twentieth century, and made them the “richest people per capita in the world” by the 1920s. It also brought about the “Reign of Terror,” a period of time between 1921 – 1926 when racism and insatiable greed led to many of the Osage being murdered for their headrights, which were worth millions of dollars. When the newly-created FBI first investigated the case, they botched it. Once former Texas Ranger Tom White and his undercover team were put in charge, however, significant progress was made and the evil conspiracy that devastated so many families was finally exposed.
I don’t often read true crime, but I was drawn to this one because I’ve always been very interested to learn more about the cultures and histories of Native American people. I was further intrigued because it happened in my home state and I knew nothing about it.
As difficult as it was to read about the murder victims and how they died, it was nearly as upsetting to me to read about the way the Osage were generally treated and regarded. Bigotry was made worse by jealousy of their wealth, and they were regularly swindled out of their money by being charged exorbitant fees and forced to pay hugely inflated prices for everything. Many of the Osage were ruled incompetent to handle their own money, and had court-appointed guardians who decided how much money they would be allowed to access, and what it could be used for. These guardians often-times were in control of several people’s finances, whom they stole from ruthlessly and repeatedly. Once the murders and suspicious deaths began, the terrorized Osage quickly lost hope of justice ever being served, thanks to shoddy investigations (if, indeed, an investigation took place at all) that wrapped up quickly and garnered no useful leads in finding the culprit.
What interested me as much as the case details was the portion at the end of the book, detailing visits and conversations the author had with descendants of murder victims. Grann was made privy to details known only to the families of the victims, leading to discoveries that are both shocking and heartbreaking.
Meticulously researched and written in an engaging, narrative style, Killers of the Flower Moon is simply excellent. Highly recommended for history buffs with a particular interest in Native Americans and true crime.
About the Book
From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.
In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.
About the Author