#BookReview – Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

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 Burkhart, 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 mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like 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 FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. 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 one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

Release Date: April 18, 2017

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My Review

America has an ugly history of racism and abuse of the original Americans. This book takes on part of that history, with a look at how racism against Native Americans allowed white European Americans’ greed to practically decimate the Osage Indians. At the heart of it all is the almighty oil, which always seems to leave a bloody trail in its path. Some things never change.

By one account, the amount of oil money had surpassed the total value of all the Old West gold rushes combined, and this fortunate had drawn every breed of miscreant from across the country.

David Grann does an excellent job of reconstructing the events of this tragedy. The writing is straight forward, with a style that’s a mix of narrative nonfiction and history textbook. We get a clear picture of what it must have been like for the Osage to have gone from living off the land, their land, free and independent, to being tossed into a white man’s world in which they were confined, controlled, ruled over, and murdered at will.

Mollie pressed the authorities to investigate Anna’s murder, but most officials seemed to have little concern for what they deemed a “dead Injun.”

We also get a look at the fledgling FBI, and one investigator in particular who cared enough to delve into the heart of the Osage murders. Had any form of justice for Native Americans existed back then, these murders would never have gone on as they did. In retrospect, the killers and their motives are blatantly obvious. Sadly, the power of a select few over an entire race, along with the abject indifference of the masses, allowed greed and perceived entitlement to prevail.

“The blood cries out from the ground.”

I’d like to say that we, as a nation, have learned something from these past events, and that we have become more tolerant of “the other”. But I think too many people have only gotten better at justifying racism, while wrapping it up in a patriotic flag.

For those who are interested in American history and Native American culture, this is a powerful but uncomfortable read.

*I was provided with an advance ebook copy by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. 🙂