27 July 2017

Books: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017)

“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."

Killers of the Flower Moon is a stand-out work of non-fiction by The Lost City of Z writer David Grann, a searing tale of corruption that –oddly- still seems to be going on today-murder and arrogance of our white forefathers. There is also the sometimes subtle, but mostly, blatant prejudice against these Native Americans. Driven from their lands they lived and died since the beginning of time and sent to scrub a life in an area that once was thought as worthless. “Under the policy, the Osage reservation would be divvied up into 160 acre parcels, into real estate, with each tribe member receiving one allotment, while the rest would be opened to the settlers (think the 1992 film Far and Away).”

But when oil is discovered under this land, the US government still tried to control them. “Many Osage, unlike other wealthy Americans, could not spend their money as they pleased because of the federally imposed system of financial guardianship. (One guardian claimed that an Osage adult was “like a child of six or eight years old, and when he sees a new toy he wants to buy it’)". Full blooded American Indians had a better chance of being a guardian to the money, but those whose quantum of blood as less than others, the government handed to it over to a white man. This, in effect, “rendered an American Indian” as “’a half citizen’”. It also opened the door for corruption and as told in this book, multiple murders.

A Harper’s Monthly Magazine wrote of the monthly auctions on Osage lands that were skyrocketing in value, “Where will it end? Every time a new well is drilled the Indians become richer. The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”

As prophetic those words were, as Grann investigates, he discovers that murders began long before anyone knew what was going on, long before the “Reign of Terror” became public. And some may have continued after real killer is brought to justice.  

No comments: