David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI has been on my to-read list for a while, but with so many physical books actually on my shelf, it has been relegated to the wish list. This summer, while at the beach, my best friend handed me her copy and told me I had to read it. I was ecstatic.
In the early 1920’s members of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma began dying off, some suspiciously and others through outright murder. At the time, most white settlers could not care less, as they viewed the Indians as less than human and despised the Osage for their shrewd maneuvering of the oil system to claim headrights to the liquid gold underneath their reservation, making them all wealthy beyond belief. The headrights, however, were the key to this mystery, as they could only be obtained through inheritance — no Osage could sell their rights. Could there really be a cold-blooded plot to murder dozens of men and women simply for their fortunes? As Hoover’s FBI is in its infancy and the feds as we know them were just starting to take shape, this case, known by the Osage as the Reign of Terror, would become the cornerstone of the bourgeoning agency and would remain a source of devastation to the descendants of a people who deserved so much better.
I found this story, and this book about it, to be absolutely fascinating. I didn’t want to put it down, and I was thrown by the calculated, cold-bloodedness if it all. Interestingly, the mastermind of a large amount of the murders comes out mid-way through the story, and it’s almost unbelievable because you’ve come to know the man as someone doing good. I found it odd that as much as I love murder and mayhem, and as much true crime as I read, that wi would be flabbergasted by the white man’s lack of limits for wealth. To look at a group of people as genuinely inhuman and as lacking the same humanity that you have is just something I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around. It’s not that I don’t believe it — after all, we have all seen how cruel humanity can be — it’s just that when confronted when something this diabolical and cruel, it’s difficult for someone like me to grasp it. I wouldn’t even begin to imagine a plot like this, so it’s not a surprise that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.
Grann’s writing is wonderful and easy to read without being pedantic, and I appreciate the adaptability of the journalist to reach a lay audience. I loved the weaving of the Osage murder plot with the beginnings of the FBI, and he was wonderful at combining the information that we needed to know about the FBI and which would enhance our understanding of the Osage murders without burdening us with minutiae. I can see why this book was a bestseller and why it was consistently rated as one of the top non-fiction titles of the year it was published.
It’s a strong and important retelling if a piece of hurtful history in Osage history and, frankly, in American history. Our country’s treatment of the Natives in so many ways was beyond cruel, and then to read it as personalized as Grann has made it here slaps you in the face. It only started with displacement and genocide and then it continued on with guardianships of the Osage fortunes, declaring Natives as incompetent and essentially forcing them to marry white man and women, and then turning a blind eye to their systematic murders for greed. When we say that as Americans we are “better than this,” we can pick up a book that extols the history of our dehumanization of the people who owned our land before we did and we can hopefully recognize that no, we aren’t — but that we can learn from history and choose to be better from here on out.