I went into this expecting the corruption, murder, institutional racism, etc. against the Osage Indians to be very bad, and I still somehow managed to come out of this book mindboggled. This book should be taught in schools, and it is heinous that these terrible things happened, and just as heinous that so many people covered it up, and practically erased it from history.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the US were the Osage. By sheer coincidence, after their tribe was displaced from their ancestral lands, they chose new, rocky, inhospitable lands that they believed white people would not want. Years later, vast deposits of oil were discovered, an “underground reservation”, running all throughout, and due to a clause they managed to slip by white people when they first took possession, the tribe had all rights to minerals and resources mined from the earth in perpetuity. Those rights could not be sold, only inherited. They were called headrights, and they made every member of the Osage extremely wealthy. This, of course, did not sit well with white people.
Basically, the attitude of most white people as portrayed here (and in the entire history of the US) was, “Fuck you, Indians, I want that.” Actually, a lot of history can be explained that way. One person/group saying to another, “Fuck you, ______, I want that.” In this case, even despite their enormous wealth, the balance of power was not in favor of the Osage, and bad things started happening. These bad things are too complex and insidious for me to sum up in the space of this review, and the murders named in the title are just the tip of it.
David Grann researched this book for years, digging into archives and interviewing people, basically unearthing this story (which was HUGE nationwide news at the time) from the bowels of history, where all but the Osage had forgotten about it. Despite widespread corruption, the nascent FBI did manage to solve the most publicized murders, but Grann takes it a bit further, implying that there were many, many more murders, and an unspoken conspiracy of graft and fraud built into the systems that supposedly “guarded” the Osage.
I can’t emphasize enough that everybody should read this, especially everyone who lives in the US.
Read Harder Challenge 2019: A book by a journalist or about journalism.