Published by Doubleday
Publication date: April 18, 2017
Genres: Book Clubs, Crime, History, Non-fiction
You don’t need to be well-versed in history to know about the systematic decimation of Native American tribes by the American government as this country was being settled. What you probably did not know was that in the instance of one tribe in Oklahoma, the Osage, they were still being hunted in the 1920s. Why? They had already been forced off their lands and onto barren and inhospitable land in Oklahoma in the 1870s. Except…that land held some of the country’s largest reserves of oil and to get at it any and every prospector who wanted oil had to lease the land from and pay royalties to the tribe. By the 1920s, the Osage were the wealthiest people, per capita, in the world, taking in more than $30 million annually. This made them an easy target for anyone wanting their money.
David Grann’s book, Killers of the Flower Moon, meticulously details the murders of twenty-four Osage as well as several people with information or working to find the killers. What started with the murder of one young woman slowly builds as more and more Osage die mysterious or violent deaths. Wealthy Osage. The murders were initially investigated by local law enforcement which was sketchy at best. The case later captured the news all the way up to the Justice department where its leader, J. Edgar Hoover, was finally forced to assign Justice agents to investigate. Their work led to the birth of the FBI which is the second story within the book.
Nothing aggravates white men more than people they believe should be subjugated having power. In the case of the Osage, the government responded by claiming that the Osage were incapable of managing their money and so must have guardians. Basically, a man, often with no ties to the individual, was given complete control of their money. This was accomplished even more easily by men marrying Osage women. When/if the woman died, all of her property and her headright (as the oil land rights were known) went to her spouse. Or, in the case of males, when there were no other family members left then the headright went to the guardian. It was, literally, a vicious circle, that again left Native Americans being wantonly killed for something they had that others wanted.
Killers of the Flower Moon, is fascinating non-fiction about two aspects of American history I knew nothing about. Despite two such large stories, the book does not get bogged down in data. Grann covers a lot of ground but does so in a way that makes the book read like fiction—always a bonus for me. The ‘plot’ of finding the killers is as twisted as any fictional thriller, but depraved because it’s fact. Another brutal chapter in our history and a reminder of our government’s shameful behavior.