According to the Osage American Indians, when May’s full moon shines and the Earth warms, taller plants overtake April’s tiny flowers, “stealing their light and water” until they die. This is bestselling author and journalist David Grann’s fitting metaphor for what befell the Osages in Oklahoma, beginning in May 1921. His thoroughly researched account, Killers of the Flower Moon, is a chilling tale of unfettered greed, cruel prejudice and corrupted justice.
When the U.S. government drove the Osages from their territory in Kansas to northeastern Oklahoma, no one knew about the rich oil deposits below the surface of their new land. Soon the oil would make the Osages incredibly rich—and their white neighbors incredibly jealous.
Since only a tribe-enrolled Osage could claim the profits from their allotted lands, a law was conveniently passed requiring that guardians be appointed to “manage” the Osages’ considerable wealth. The fraud and treachery that ensued, referred to as “Indian business” by anyone involved, deprived the Osage people of their money, property and even their lives. Families victimized by shootings, bombings and poisonings found no justice at the hands of corrupt lawmen, bankers and judges.
However, the travesties and tragedies unfolding in Oklahoma coincided with the rise of the ambitious J. Edgar Hoover and the new Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was the detective work of agent and former Texas Ranger Tom White that helped Hoover transform the formerly inept and ridiculed FBI into a powerful agency. The FBI was finally able to deliver a measure of justice to the Osages, albeit too late for many victims.
Grann’s tale could have ended there and served its purpose well, revealing this “Reign of Terror” that was, until now, largely forgotten by most. But he goes on to reveal the many unresolved murders that preceded 1921 and the ongoing disenfranchisement of present-day Osages, adding to the sheer power of truth in Killers of the Flower Moon.