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Killers Of The Flower Moon | Podcast

Updated: Jan 23




Hey, you! 😊


Today's episode is a tribute to the Osage nation. Killers of the Flower Moon exposes a tale of prejudice, betrayal, corruption, and greed, which sadly knows no limit.


 


By now most people know the book Killer of the Flower Moon because of, or better yet, thanks to the movie. I recommend reading the book and then watching the movie, which is why I was so glad to read it for our book club last November. Because I ended up watching it a week later and I was happy to have the information that I had from the book 


This is an excellent true crime book and I strongly think it should be included in every American history class. I am ashamed to say that as a history buff, I have very little knowledge about the history of Native Americans and I knew nothing about the Osage! So for me, reading this book felt like a slap in the face and a punch in the gut.


 

Here is a short history I gathered about the Osage: 


The Osage Nation is a Midwestern American tribe of the Great Plains. They were known for being bold warriors, skilled hunters and farmers, and preservers of family life.


In 1872, the United States government forced the Osage to move from Kansas to Oklahoma Indian Territory. This was one of the many times the Osage were removed from where they were but this expulsion was worse in terms of lives lost and hardships. This move almost destroyed the Osage people. In fact, many young mothers and infants died. 


When the Osage moved to Oklahoma, they were able to buy 1.5 million acres of Oklahoma land outright from the federal government. Several years later, In 1897, as it turns out, oil was accidentally discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation. 


The United States Department of the Interior managed leases for oil exploration and production on land owned by the Osage Nation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later managed royalties, paying individual allottees. These oil royalties were known as “headrights.” The headrights could be inherited by legal heirs, including non-Osage. The tribe held the mineral rights communally and paid its members money from leases by a percentage related to their holdings.


If you were to compare it to modern currency, the Osage Nation was worth about 400 million dollars annually. In 1923 alone, the Osage earned $30 million in royalties, the equivalent of roughly $540 million today.


Oil transformed the daily lives of the Osage people and turned them into what was then considered the richest nation on Earth. As more and more money was brought in, each Osage was entitled to more wealth— unfortunately drawing the interest, then interference, of non-Osage. 


Money management became a concern regarding the Osage people and their newfound wealth. It was reported in newspapers that they had chauffeured cars, mansions, fancy clothing, and that they sent their kids to go to school in Europe, which upset those who thought the Osage should spend their money more wisely. 


There were a lot of protests and outcries about the Osage Nation’s supposed inability to manage its money and so in 1908, the US Congress gave county probate courts in Oklahoma jurisdiction over land held by Native Americans who were deemed “minors and incompetents” by a judge. If a person was considered incompetent, the probate court could appoint a white guardian to oversee their financial affairs—and lease or sell their land.

In 1921, Congress went even further to specify that any person with Osage blood under 21 years of age, in addition to anyone who was half or full Osage, had to prove their competency or have a state-court-appointed guardian assume management of their finances. Even the slight suspicion of irresponsibility was enough for the court to appoint a white guardian with the right to disperse an Osage person’s money. They would even be charged steep administrative fees—and pocket any funds above a threshold of $1,000 per quarter. Historian Dennis McAuliffe wrote that 600 guardians took $8 million in surplus funds alone with no oversight and no accountability over the course of just three years.


During this period numerous white men married Osage women to become guardians of their estate. David Grann explains in his book that “headrights” were not allowed to be bought or sold, so it’s not like White people could simply use blackmail or extortion to steal money from the Osage. The “headrights” could only be inherited, which is why marriage was used for non-Osage men to gain access to Osage money. Therefore, some of the murders were committed in order for some whites to take over the headrights of Osage members when inheriting property after deaths.


In May 1921, the bodies of Anna Brown and her cousin Charles Whitehorn were discovered on the same day in different parts of the county. Two months later, Brown’s mother Lizzie Kyle, who had inherited headrights, was killed by poisoning. Then, Lizzie’s nephew was killed in February 1923—and on March 10, Lizzie’s daughter, her son-in-law, and a domestic worker died in a mysterious explosion at their home. 


Meanwhile, the massive wealth of the Kyle family was inherited by the only survivors—Mollie Kyle, a full-blooded Osage who was Lizzie’s last remaining daughter, and her white husband Ernest Burkhardt.


But the Kyle Family weren’t the only Osage people who died around this time, all under suspicious circumstances that included suspected poisonings, supposed suicides, and even being thrown off a train. Between 1921 and 1925, at least 60 Osage people were murdered or disappeared. All possessed wealth due to their headrights—and the Osage Tribal Council suspected that a prominent local white man was behind all of this. 


Newspapers described the increasing number of unsolved murders and deaths among the Osage as the Reign of Terror. The deaths sparked panic throughout Osage County. 


But it also led to the involvement and structuring of the FBI, which was then called the Bureau of Investigation. 


And most importantly, they revealed the country’s dark side. 


 

I am so thankful to the author, David Grann for meticulously writing Killers of The Flower Moon and bringing this story to the public. You can't read this book and not feel appalled and furious by the diabolical nature of this story. This book exposes a heartbreaking tale of prejudice, betrayal, greed, and let's not forget, corruption.


The pace is a bit slow, but I personally feel like I need a story like this  to be slow so I can digest the horribleness of it.


The Osage Indians were driven from their homeland in Kansas to a rocky, reportedly worthless reservation in North East Oklahoma where they were finally left alone to live until much to everyone's surprise, the USA's largest oil deposit was discovered just under the land. The sad part of the Osage story is that I think that they would have been completely content just having a permanent place to live in with no one telling them to leave. But instead, Oklamaha turned out to be a poisoned gift. Due to human greed, the black gold was their downfall, and this story showed that indeed greed knows no limit.


The story is told in a very emotion-free way from the FBI’s point of view. It feels like a documentary but in a book format. You'd think that it would be hard to feel emotions while reading this, but in fact, it's quite chilling and moving. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like if it had been more from the POV of an Osage. I'd probably be crying from start to finish, kind of how I was while watching the movie. (I'll definitely write a review soon!)


Some of the parts of the book that marked me were first, the auction of the leases at the Million Dollar Elm. One of the highest single bid sold for nearly 2 million dollars and the total of millions collected climbed to nearly 14 million dollars. Keep in mind that this was in the 1920's. Just imagine what that is in 2023. Reading the names of the oil barons sickened me. If they were willing to pay 2 million dollars for a lease, how much do you think they made in the end? If that's the way they created their fortune, I wouldn't want any of it.


And the crazy part about this is that the Osage didn't have access to that money because the US government thought "that something had to be done" about these Osage Indians becoming so rich. They appointed them financial guardians, usually white men. That's how outsiders had access to money - that and marriage.


Second part of the book that marked me was the feeling of paranoia "the reign of terror" left the Osage. They were fearful of being out, fearful of others, - they weren't even safe in their own home! I can't ever imagine living like this. At that time, any osage was a target and time was ticking on all of them.


What I come away from reading this book is that justice was never really served for the gruesome murders of the Osage. So not only the Osage were treated in a horrific way, but there was no real punishment for it. In fact, up to now, we don't really have a clear idea of how many murders there were. So with that said, how can justice be truly given? What a sick joke!


I think the way we can honor the victims of the Osage murders and their families is by reading this book, talking about it, and watching the movie. We need to get more people talking and reacting to this, which is why I'm so glad Lily Gladstone, who grew up on a Montana Blackfeet reservation, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. I hope she wins an Oscar as well. It's a great honor for her, but again, it gets people talking about the Osage Nation.


We can't change the past, but we can always do something about the future. This is why I love history so much and why I think it's so important to read about it- you don't want to make the same mistakes again. Never again.


xoxo Elodie


 

Link for Season 2, Episode 3🎙️


 

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