How a Native American tribe became the richest people per capita in the world and why they died because of that.
The following is a review of “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann by Marc Primo Pulisci.
In David Grann’s (“The lost city of Z”) new book the author dramatizes a series of events which occurred in Oklahoma at the turn of the century when Osage Indians endured a “Reign of Terror” because of the land the U.S. government exiled them to.
Osage Indians were first discovered by French explorers in the 17th century in Missouri. In 1804, president Thomas Jefferson purchased this territory from the French and the Osages had to move from their native land. They ended up in Kansas but were soon moved from there by white settlers.
As David Grann recalls in his new best-selling history book “Killers of the Flower Moon and The Birth of the FBI”, the Osages had to look for a new land. In the 1870s they found it in hilly Oklahoma, a barren land unsuited for cultivation and bought it from the Cherokees. Some years later, they added a provision for owning the land’s gas, oil, coal and other minerals too. Nobody cared for that at the time.
The author focuses his attention on the period known as the “Reign of Terror” in the 1920s when a series of unsolved and brutal murders of Osage Indians took place. By that time, the Osages were known as the richest people per capita in the world. This came about when they discovered that their patch of “barren” land in Oklahoma had some of the biggest oil deposits in the United States. All the Osages had to do is rent the land to the prospectors and accumulate their enormous wealth.
Grann tells tails of the way the lifestyle of the Osages changed in these years. They bought big houses, cars, and planes and hired white men as their servants. But this couldn’t have lasted long. Soon enough a large number of hopefuls, smugglers, and criminals flocked to the Osage reservation in hope of benefiting from their wealth. Some were petty robbers but others had more long-term plans.
The only way to claim the right to this rich land was by inheriting it. And this is exactly what the hopefuls were intending to do. They began marrying into the tribe and waiting, and often helping their rich wives and their families to die. The central story of the book concerns the fate of Mollie Burkhart who married a white man and lost her family one by one. Her mother was poisoned, her sister Anne shot dead and other sister Rita blown up. Mollie narrowly escaped death by poisoning and finally got her justice in court but not everybody was so fortunate.
The FBI, with its new ambitious director J. Edgar Hoover, took the credit for solving some 24 Osage Indians killed in the “Reign of Terror” but more recent studies suggest numbers in the hundreds.
David Grann has again masterfully used personal stories such as the struggles of Mollie Burkhart to bring to life one of the most brutal periods of American history and in the process, present us the unusual early days and the creation of the institution known as the FBI.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann reviewed by Marc Primo Pulisci