Saturday, August 4, 2018
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI Hardcover – April 18, 2017 by David Grann (Doubleday)
Since the 17th century, the Osage tribe claimed land from Missouri west to the Rockies. With the Louisiana Purchase, the tribe was forced to cede land to accommodate the flood of western expansion. In Chronicle One of Grann's book, the history of the tribe is laid out. By the 1870's, what remained of the Osage tribe settled in NE Oklahoma because their chief deemed the land too hilly for white settlers to want to file claims there. The tribe negotiated with the Department of the Interior that any reservation land used for oil drilling or mining, had to be leased from the tribe and that the full blooded Osage would share in any profits from these natural resources. Logs where kept of Osage tribe members and indeed, when oil gushed from leased reservation land, head rights were claimed. The Osage tribe were among the wealthiest people in the country. Starting in 1921, Osage tribal members began to die. Some were shot in the head while others suffered from a mysterious "wasting" disease. Many suspected murder and lived in fear of who might be next.
Chronicle Two describes in detail the role of the Bureau of Investigation (the early FBI) to unravel the murders during what became known as "the Reign of Terror." The Bureau was formed under Teddy Roosevelt in 1909. By 1924, J. Edger Hoover became head of the Bureau. He wanted to highlight the expertise of the Bureau by solving the Osage murders. He hired a former Texas Ranger, Tom White, to lead the investigation. The reader discovers clues along with White as he methodically collects evidence and interrogates witnesses and suspects . This is the most exciting part of the book. Many, but not all of the culprits are brought to justice.
How are the Osage doing now? This is the gist of Chronicle Three and it is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the story. Grann checks in with the descendants of some of the murdered Osage. Their sense of unease and lack of justice is palpable. The oil has dried up and the tribal population has diminished. Some press Grann to help them bring closure to the holes in their family histories. But the ancestors are in their graves along with the murderers and the paper trail is weak or inconclusive. As Grann runs out of answers, this reader ran out of interest. It is a compelling and important story up to this point. Now that wind turbines dot the prairie of the Osage reservation, their future seems as bleak as their past and the lack of justice seems as lim