Saturday, January 27, 2018


We should be grateful that authors for whatever reason are able to dig up forgotten history.  Some gets buried because it might seem trivial or non relevant.  Some gets buried for other reasons.  "Killers of the Flower Moon" contains elements that should be remembered.  We are aware of discrimination against indigenous people, but it is easily dismissed.  The FBI  is revered today, but was heavily involved in politics and cover-ups.

The title comes from an Osage memory.  In April small flowers start to bloom, but in May under a large moon, larger flowers cut off the smaller plants that then die.  Hence the larger flowers are the killers of the flower moon.

The book focuses on a series of murders that happened between 1921 and 1926.  That is, the first part of the book does.  It was a national concern, but there was a preliminary and a followup to what was publicly viewed.

The Osage Indians had been forced to move a few times in their history.  Like other Indian tribes they got in the way of settler ambitions.  When they were located to Oklahoma they were clever enough to ask for mineral rights.  A few years later oil was produced in a big way.  The likes of John Paul Getty participated.  They were given headstone rights which meant they derived a portion of the oil revenues that in fact made them the richest per capita group in America.  One catch was that the majority of them had guardians that restricted their spending.

Many of the murders were first thought of as suspicious deaths.  In fact the death rate for the Osage who were very wealthy was well above the national average.  Some of the murders were more conventional including shootings and bombings.  Many of the suspicious deaths turned out to be poisonings.  Local law enforcement seemed incapable of determining who was responsible.  Intimidation, prejudice and bribery all played a role.

The F.B.I. was under J. Edgar Hoover who was very anxious to prove the justification and expand bolstering of his agency.  They had had failures.  The Osage murders were botched at first and because of national attention Hoover was determined to sort it out.  There were jurisdiction issues which were bent a little at times.  J. Edgar was fastidious in his expectations always wanting to improve the image of his agents.

He called in Al White, a former Texas Ranger, who was willing to put in the necessary effort to unravel available facts.  Undercover agents were used.  It took countless details to realize the many hidden connections.  At last there was a conviction and it was revealed the motivation was to gain the headstone rights.

The author visited the area several times and checked out sources in other parts of the country. Talking to some of the descendants of the victims he realized the mystery had not really been solved.  He became almost certain a particular banker was heavily involved in some of  the deaths.  He realized there were many deaths that were not explained.

We all love a good mystery and this book provides an enjoyable read, but it also highlights the unfair treatment indigenous people have had to endure.  It also lets a little light on how the F.B.I. got established.  David Grann writes a good narrative backed by some meticulous research.  I saw a movie based on his "Lost City of Z" which was about uncovering an ancient Amazon civilization.  You can find out about his other books and projects at

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