I first heard about Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI when a friend sent me an NPR article about it. I was immediately intrigued and downloaded the audiobook. After listening to a few chapters and finding out that the author, David Grann, was going to be at my local bookstore, I joined Book of the Month Club just so I could order this book and have the author sign it.
I was completely captivated by the author’s writing and the story.
Grann’s writing reminds me of Jon Krakauer or Erik Larson, whom I love. Grann tells the story of the murders in three parts: from the view of an Osage woman who was connected to the killings, an FBI agent who solved a few of the murders, and through Grann’s own eyes when he visited Osage Territory.
This book is about murder, so many murders, conspiracy, and racism.
The Osage people were being killed for their oil money and because of racism the justice system looked the other way. At the turn of the 20th century, after the Osage were pushed out of their lands to Oklahoma, the U.S. government found oil on Osage land. The U.S. had to pay the Osage for the oil, which made the Osage people very rich, very fast. This infuriated the white settlers.
The U.S. government had the idea to appoint white guardians to the newly rich Osage people to help them spend their money. The government reasoned that the Osage would spend their money frivolously and needed white guardians to help them spend their money frugally. This led to a lot of abuses of power. Grann tells a few stories of Osage people living in poverty, even though they were rich, because their white guardians would not let them spend their own money, or had robbed them of their money.
He tells one story of a young Osage child who died because the white guardian would not let her mother pay for a hospital stay.
This racist practice led to many more deaths. When I saw Grann at my local bookstore he said that when he was going through the archival records of the guardian system he found that some guardians had a 50-100% death record, meaning that most of the Osage they were guardians for had died. “DEAD” was the word that kept appearing next to Osage names: most of the people involved in these deaths would never be caught.
Grann calls the systematic killing of the Osage a crime against humanity and I agree.
We will never know the true death toll from the killings of the Osage people during that time. The Osage were shot, poisoned, and even bombed in order for white guardians to inherit their oil money. The Osage were killed not only for their oil money but also because of their race; since they were Native American, many white settlers didn’t care about their deaths. The justice system turned a blind eye because of the race of the victims and perpetrators, which it did so much in the past and still does today.
One quote from the book that really stood out to me was from an Indian Affairs agent. After settlers massacred and scalped Osage people in 1870, he stated
“The question will suggest itself, which of these people are the savages?”
The white settlers pointed their fingers at the Native Americans, calling them savages. But what we were doing (not only to the Native Americans, but also to African Americans) made us the savages.
We can see that now and I wonder if history will look back at America as we point our fingers at other countries and call us the savages?
I think this book is really important for the political climate we are in. Reading this book made me think of how the Native Americans and other protesters were treated during the Standing Rock protests. They do not want a pipeline going through their lands yet what do we do? We pepper spray them, sic attack dogs on them, and beat them.