I recently read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann.
The book was an exploration of the murders in the 1910s and 1920s of Osage tribal members in Oklahoma. I had NEVER HEARD of these murders – it was surprising to me that they have been so completely forgotten among the collective memory in the United States.
The Osage Nation were one of the tribes who were relocated first to Kansas, then to Oklahoma during the early to middle 1800s; previous to their time on reservations, they had moved around quite a bit over history and had been a dominant power in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. This book does not delve into that earlier part of their history. As it turned out, the Osage Nation earned millions at the turn of the last century when oil was discovered on their reservation land and they auctioned off mining rights to white speculators and oil companies. The tribe also went to court to create some protections for its members, including stipulating that rights to land (and the oil wealth that lay beneath) could not be sold outside of the tribe; they could only be inherited by tribal descendants.
However, in the days of the patriarchal U.S. Government, which was still permeated with racism, the government appointed “guardians” to oversee the money that tribal members received from the oil extraction. The government’s agents assumed that tribal members could not be trusted to effectively manage their money. Unfortunately, this guardian system had an unintended consequence – murder. Several Osage Nation members were killed and while rumors flew about who was responsible, they went years without being solved. After the tribe requested assistance from the federal government, the newly formed FBI investigated and eventually uncovered the truth.
The author did a great job of telling the story, weaving in strong character development and excellent research. I can imagine it was difficult to research this topic, as the news articles, primary sources and witnesses have been mostly lost to time. To put it bluntly, in those days, few outside the Native American community cared about a “dead Indian.” I appreciate that this book has brought these murders back out into the light, and gives us a chance to examine one of the shameful pieces of our history. I would highly recommend giving it a read.