‘Some day this oil will go and there will be no more fat checks every few months from the Great White Father.’ A chief of the Osage said in 1928. ‘There’ll be no fine motor cars and new clothes. Then I know my people will be happier.’p. 26
Before the nitty gritty of this true crime book, I want to share a little bit of trivia I picked up in its pages: The Boy Scouts first troop was established in Pawhuska (a city within the Osage reservation) in 1909.
That fun tidbit doesn’t demonstrate the actual content of this book but it does demonstrate how the history it tells is lasting.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage 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. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dated to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.
As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose on of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
Inquests were a remnant of a time when ordinary citizens largely assumed the burden of investigating crimes and maintaining order. For years after the American Revolution, the public opposed the creation of police departments, fearing that they would become forces of repession.p. 17
Killers of the Flower Moon tells how the FBI was birthed from injustices against Osage Native Americans but is more importantly about how these injustices cast the Osage Nation innocent lives, security, and rights. I couldn’t help but wonder how this case would’ve played out if it weren’t for the inexcusable greed of people who had already taken so much from Indigenous communities.
Grann tells this story from all sides – giving appropriate representation to 1920s Osage culture and social structures – which (shocker!) are not as outlandish as Indigenous stereotypes would have us believe. The book describes the lives of those lost and how their deaths became a central case to a budding branch of the American justice system.
The actions taken by the FBI are well-detailed and explained with both the internal and external pressures that impacted every decision made. The motives of those who perpetrated violence against Native American men and women are equally explained and expressed for what they are: senseless and sinful.
At times, it was hard to remember that these events actually happened; the chain of events, the good guy / bad guy lines, and conclusion read like fiction (or a movie but more on that later). Grann pulls the reader back to reality though. The sense that this couldn’t have happened are dashed away by the resources he used to write Killers of the Flower Moon. It’s gripping and well-researched and sensitive – all things that true crime should be.
The resolution of the case didn’t in any way remedy the mistreatment and swindling suffered by the Osage community on behalf of entitled white men but the fact that the FBI carried this case through to the end is a good foundation for equal justice moving forward.
There has never been a country on this earth that has fallen except when that point was reached… where the citizens would say, ‘we cannot get justice in our courts.’p. 219
If that’s not enough to entice you, Martin Scorsese will be directing a movie by the same name and based on the same true events as Grann’s book… featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any information on who will be portraying the Osage people at the heart of this story but in our current climate, I’m hopeful to see Indigenous actors and actresses getting greater representation on the silver screen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DAVID GRANN
David Grann is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. His upcoming book, The White Darkness, which will be published in October, is a true story of adventure and obsession in the Antarctic.
His previous book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, documented one of the most sinister crimes and racial injustices in American history. Described by Dave Eggers in the New York Times Book Review as a “riveting” work that will “sear your soul,” Killers of the Flower Moon was a finalist for the National Book Award and a winner of the Edgar Allen Poe Award for best true crime book, a Spur Award for best work of historical nonfiction, and an Indies Choice Award for best adult nonfiction book of the year. A #1 New York Times bestseller, Killers of the Flower Moon was named one of the best books of the year by the Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, PBS, Bloomberg, GQ, Slate, Buzzfeed, Vogue, and other publications. Amazon names Killers of the Flower Moon the single best book of the year, and so did Shelf Awareness. The book is being adapted into a major motion picture, with Martin Scorsese slated to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio to play a role.
Grann’s first book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, was also a #1 New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the book was chosen as one of the best books of 2009 by the New York Times, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Bloomberg, Publishers Weekly, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. It won the Indies Choice award for the single best nonfiction book of the year. New York Times critic Michiko Katukani described The Lost City of Z as “suspenseful” and “rollicking” reading “with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller and all the verisimilitude and detail of firsthand reportage.” The Washington Post called it a “thrill ride from start to finish.” The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film directed by James Gray and starring Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, and Tom Holland.
Grann’s other book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, contains many of his New Yorker stories, and was named by Men’s Journal one of the best true crime books ever written. The stories in the collection focus on everything from the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert to a Polish writer who might have left clues to a real murder in his postmodern novel. Another piece, “Trial by Fire,” exposed how junk science led to the execution of a likely innocent man in Texas. The story received a George Polk award for outstanding journalism and a Silver Gavel award for fostering the public’s understanding of the justice system, and the piece was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in his opinion on the constitutionality of the death penalty. Grann-whom Vox called a “longform-journalism legend,” and whose work Slate said “inspires a devotion in readers that can border on the obsessive” – has twice received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for excellence in journalism.
Several of his stories have served as source material for feature films. “Old Man and the Gun” in The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, which is about an aging stick-up man and prison escape artist, will be released in 2018 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film is directed by David Lowery and stars Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, and Tom Waits. A movie based on “Trial by Fire” is also being released this year. It’s directed by Ed Zwick and stars Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern. And another story, “The Yankee Comandante.” is being developed in a film by George Clooney.
Over the years, Grann’s stories have appeared in The Best American Crime Writing; The Best American Sports Writing; and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. His stories have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Wall Street Journal.
Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children.
- National Book Award Finalist
- Edgar Allen Poe Award
- Spur Award
- Indies Choice Award
Photo and synopsis retrieved from Bookshop
Author bio retrieved from David Grann website