Sunday, July 2, 2017
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Part of the Synopsis from the Dust Jacket:
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Buckhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under suspicious circumstances.
In this last remnant of the Wild West - where oilmen such as J.P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, the "Phantom Terror," roamed - many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the relatively new FBI took over. It was one of the organization's first major homicide cases but the bureau badly bungled the investigation. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including an American Indian agent in the bureau. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
Officially, around twenty-four members of the Osage tribe were murdered for their oil. Unofficially, the estimates I've seen start in the sixties, and climb from there. They were murdered by their friends, in-laws, spouses, and community leaders. Their lives were stolen by the very people they were supposed to trust and look to for help. The depravity inflicted upon the human soul that this book narrates is mind boggling in it's scope, and heart wrenching in the way people were betrayed by those they loved. Just when I think I've heard the cruelest examples of the way humans treat each other, I'm exposed to a story that makes the shows my roommate watches on the ID Channel, seem like child's play. It is almost impossible for me to express the full depth of emotion I felt as I read this tale of greed so base, that Charles Ponzi is a nobody in comparison to these men.
This wasn't one or two men so blinded by money, that they left their morals at the door. This was an entire community, an entire county, hell bent on taking what they could, damn the methods used. Politicians and lawmen, the ones not actually contracting the killings themselves, did the covering up and lost evidence. Doctors faked autopsies. Inquests were filled with the men responsible for the deaths.
Since Congress had decided that the Osage were not capable of taking care of their own money, white business men were assigned as executors. Many of those men ended up with dead charges, in many cases more than one dead charge, allowing themselves to "inherit" the oil rights. The white men who did actually try to investigate, ended up dead themselves. One man was actually killed in Washington, D.C.
The part that really turns my stomach, other than men marrying and impregnating women solely to kill them later, is the way in which systemic racism allowed this to happen to begin with. It was congressional actions, built out of prejudice and disdain for indigenous Americans, that laid the framework these men took advantage of. If congress had not taken many of the actions they did, I'm almost convinced this could have all been prevented.
And the part that just saddens me, is that I went to high school in Osage county. I lived in Osage county for four years, and I never heard a peep about this. It wasn't taught in state history, it wasn't talked about by the residents of the town I lived in. I never heard of this tragedy until I was listening to NPR in the car earlier this year. How can something of this magnitude not be taught in our schools? What happened in Osage county should serve as an example of what transpires when racism and greed are combined.
And yes I know, so far I haven't written much of a review, and I'm okay with that. You guys already know that I'm a sucker for well written narrative nonfiction, and Killers of the Flower Moon is a prime example of it. I'm sure you can already guess that I would do my damndest to convince all of you to get your hands on this book. That I would want you to share it with your friends and family. I would implore all of you to never let what happened in Osage county be brushed aside into obscurity again.