American History is chock full of tales of terrible people doing terrible things protected by terrible governmental structures or terrible public servants. One of the benefits (drawbacks?) of my History degree and work in History museums is that I am not often surprised anymore with how terrible it truly all is, and I’ve got at least a passing familiarity with many of the darker chapters in our history. A few years ago when reviews of Killers of the Flower Moon started showing up on Cannonball Read I realized that it covered a corner of history I knew nothing about, something that had seemingly been completely erased from our national history based on whose story it was, so I added it to my to read list.
Killers of the Flower Moon chronicles the story of the murders that stunned the Osage nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s, right as the oil boom led to the discovery of vast oil fields under the Osage reservation. While the Osage were forced onto land parcels it in turn allowed them to lease rights for mining which made the Osage people extraordinarily rich. But, the Osage were under the maddening policies of the Dawes Act which forced assimilation tactics and custodianships that complicated the story further and made them targets of those that would abuse the system.
And then the murders started. Grann tracks the murders starting within one family and expanding into the community. Almost anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage (and possibly over a hundred before all is said and done), the newly created F.B.I. took over the case, one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually former Texas Ranger Tom White puts together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.
It’s a heavy topic and David Grann does a good job of giving the facts and the narrative context to keep the events from being sensationalized but it never stops being an engaging read.