I first saw Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann on NPR’s Best Books of 2017. It is also a National Bestseller, a National Book Award Finalist, and just the kind of non-fiction that I would find interesting. However, with all the books out there, it took me some time to get around to reading it–which I finally did halfway through 2019.
The Osage tribe was forced from their lands and confined to a barren part of Oklahoma. However, the Osage kept their mineral rights, and their fortunes changed drastically when a large oil reserve was discovered on their land. Suddenly tribal members had access to large amounts of money, and they could afford nice cars and large homes. Following this new stream of income were people ready and willing to do anything to get their hands on all that money. What made this easier is that the federal government required most of the Osage to have guardians to “safeguard” their money. The guardians were white and could use their positions to control and steal from their charges. It also put the Osage in an incredibly vulnerable position.
This book is split into three parts. The first section discusses a short history of the Osage tribe and the impact of the discovery of oil on tribal lands. It goes on to detail a number of unsolved murders and the initial murder investigations that occurred in the 1920’s. The book begins with the murder of Mollie Burkhardt’s sister, who was found shot in the head in a riverbed. In addition, another sister of Mollie’s was blown up in her home with her husband. Also, Mollie’s mother died of an unexplained illness. The deaths were so frequent and so suspicious that it affected almost everyone on the reservation. People moved away and lived in fear.
The second part of the book details when the FBI finally got involved in some of the murder investigations. Tom White was the son of a lawman, and he comes across as a decent, hardworking man who broke much of the case. White was under a lot of pressure from J. Edgar Hoover, who was eager to showcase the FBI, but he did a very good job in following leads and gathering enough evidence to make a difference.
The third part of the book shows just how widespread the murders of the Osage were and how little was done about it. I realize this was the wild west in a very different time, but it’s shocking how cavalier the murder of so many innocent people was. We’re definitely dealing with some very bad people, but there must also have been some deep racism involved for this to even happen, let alone go on for as long as it did.
I thought this book was very interesting, and I learned a lot. My only complaint was that there were so many different names and people thrown at you in the beginning, it could get a little confusing. However, the town comes into focus as I read more. The scope of the tragedy is almost too large to contemplate, but this was a fascinating read on the subject.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.