True Crime: Buried by History
Last semester, while enrolled in Nancy White’s Visiting Writer’s Symposium class, I attended a talk hosted by John Kane, a former classmate of White’s and the creator of “Let’s Talk Native with John Kane,” a podcast highlighting Native American topics and issues. Kane mentioned in his talk a book entitled, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The true-crime-esque story immediately spoke to me, so I decided to give it a try. However, I never expected to come upon one of the most disturbing and least known tales of injustice in United States history.
David Grann’s novel follows the Osage Native Americans in the early 1920s in the Oklahoma County of Osage. As the story unravels, the plague of betrayal, greed, and the lust for power proved to be devastating for the Osage Natives after oil deposits were discovered beneath their land on the Northern border of Oklahoma. The Osage were granted payment in return for plots of land by wealthy oilmen, and because of this, the Osage became the wealthiest Native Americans at the time. Their land today is estimated to be worth over four hundred million dollars. Granted large amounts of money, the Osage became targeted by people who previously had preferred it if they never existed. When the Osage were granted their royalties, courts ruled that the Osage were to be given guardians, usually white men, who controlled their spending. This exploitation was nothing the Osage hadn’t experienced before; however, some men decided it was their money, and that they would do anything necessary to have it. What follows between the years 1918 and 1931 are the murders of at least sixty wealthy Osage Native Americans.
Behind the murders lay a terrifying conspiracy, one of family betrayal, government corruption, and years of cover-up. State and local government proved to make matters worse, which meant an even larger, more powerful force had to be employed. A newly formed federal investigative commission was brought in: the Bureau of Investigation, now known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Directed by the infamous J. Edgar Hoover, the investigation brought some of the first-ever Texas Rangers, undercover Native Americans, and former law enforcement officers together in order to solve the case. Over the years, the investigators, led by former Texas Ranger Tom White, would uncover the plot against the Osage that had terrified entire families for years, and some were brought to justice. That is not to say, however, that they uncovered the whole conspiracy.
The author, David Grann, not only wrote the book but helped to unravel the mystery itself. What he discovered after looking at past documents and reaching out to tribe members revealed that the number of murdered Osage Natives is more likely in the hundreds, as many deaths were reported as suicide or simply disappearances. Among the killed number entire families, children, detectives in pursuit of the truth, and even those who had thought the white man was their best friend.
When I finished the novel, I was unable to understand how such a conspiracy was virtually unknown to me and everyone I knew. But, the more I thought about it, it’s not surprising at all that we don’t know about this story. The same government that conspired against the Osage buried it beneath the rocks of Oklahoma. The Osage murders are just one example of injustice perpetrated against Native Americans. This story will not be buried for long, however. Since Grann’s release, the story of the Osage has become widespread, and a film adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese and set to star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro is currently in production for a 2022 release.
Have pity on me, O Great Spirit!
You see I cry forever,
Dry my eyes and give me comfort.
-An Osage mourning prayer