After being pushed off of their land and settled in what the government assumed was worthless land in northern Oklahoma, oil was discovered under the Osage reservation, and overnight the Osage tribe members became the richest people per capita on the planet. Each member of the tribe was granted headrights–mineral rights–and received vast payments annually from the oil production. It changed the tribe’s culture overnight, but also brought out every evil element in white society you can imagine.
In the early 1920s, the Osage began to be murdered, some poisoned, some shot, some blown up. A striking number of intermarriages between whites and Osage tribe members seemed tied to the deaths. Whites would marry a tribe member, then kill their spouses to inherit the headrights. And while the FBI identified twenty-four such murders, solving only a few, the reality is that the number is more likely in the hundreds.
Killers of the Flower Moon is both a history and detective story surrounding the Osage murders, but also a recounting of the blundering start of the agency under J. Edgar Hoover that would become the FBI.
The FBI ultimately solved one landmark case, which paved the way for it to become a genuine national law-enforcement agency, but as David Grann explains, it barely scratched the surface of the murders in Osage County and the depth and breadth of corruption throughout the entire society that kept so many of the murderers and profiteers from ever getting prosecuted.
It’s impossible to read this without feeling devastated, even one hundred years later, by the injustice and prejudice that led to such systemic mistreatment and villainy. It’s the same feeling I remember having as a boy when I read about the Trail of Tears and the endless broken promises and treaties for so many Native American nations. It’s fascinating, compelling, and leaves one completely bereft in the end because so much of it will forever remain unresolved. "This land is saturated with blood." There was simply no justice here.