Friday, December 15, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

The plight and treatment of Native Americans in this country cannot be overemphasized as we become more aware and sensitive to the way they have been treated throughout our history. Killers of the Flower Moon stands out, at least partly because it has provided both the title and the source for a hugely popular movie, just released for streaming on Apple+. However, the book was a best-seller, listed as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2017. Author David Grann, spent a number of years digging into the story of exploitation, murder, government disinterest, and simple graft which allowed this too typical rape of a people and the land during the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The Osage people were settled on a barren piece of unwanted territory in Osage County, Oklahoma, the largest county in the state, with Tulsa anchoring it at the southeast corner. It was sandy, dry, and unwanted until oil was discovered underneath it in 1897. The Osage people owned the mineral rights underneath land, making them, for a while, some of the richest people in the world. Soon, a number of white entrepreneurs and politicians realized the could gain control of the oil money only by marrying some of the women on the reservation. This led to a period, between 1917 and 1925 of local and imported men marrying Native people. Soon, a strange increase in the death rate of these Indian wives and the increased riches of the men, who gained control of much of the oil, began to occur. 

When called upon to investigate what was happening in Osage County, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI was just at the point of organizing his agents as a national police force and creating the FBI myth for integrity and efficiency that lasted for nearly eighty years. He had little time and less inclination to seriously investigate the situation. Moreover, there were numerous investigation of the deaths and trials, all featuring extensive corruption, the the increasing exploitation of these not well educated or sophisticated people. 

The story, told by David Grann, brings the characters and the setting to life. Furthermore, his deep dives into archives long gathering dust in the State Library and other depositories lay waiting to be carefully collated, read, and interpreted. While the Osage people knew much of the history, they were not able to become good advocates in their own interests. As he digs through the various archives he uncovered, the horror of the treatment the Osage people received becomes increasingly horrifying to Grann and to his reader. This is a story you should read to shed additional light on the story before seeing the film. 

David Grann

David Grann is an award winning writer whose works have received best-selling status. Several of his books have been New York Times best-sellers, and he was a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. I bought the book and read it on my Kindle reader. 

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