Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (2017) – Nonfiction
Nonfiction may not be your cup of tea, but sometimes there is nothing more engaging than history. The book you want is Killers of the Flower Moon. At 352 pages, it reads quickly. Writing nonfiction and not sounding like a textbook is difficult but David Grann, an American journalist and staff writer at The New Yorker, is able to do it flawlessly.
Nonfiction is a way to learn history and to understand stories that you may have no familiarity with. Prior to this book, I had no background knowledge about the history of the Osage tribe. The Osage were settled in southeastern Kansas before being forced by the United States government to move into an area that no one wanted — Oklahoma. That was until people discovered the most important resource was also in that same area: oil. By then, the Osage owned the land and everything underneath it, eventually becoming one of the most wealthy peoples to live in North America.
Grann’s research delves into the early 1900s, at a time where oil was booming and the Osage were incredibly rich. We soon find out that nothing is what is seems. Osage mysteriously disappear. Murders begin to happen and conveniently the headrights of these murdered Osage are transferred to, or inherited by, their fellow Oklahomans who just happen to be white.
Grann’s book explains the history of the Osage people while simultaneously chronicling the origins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He delves into the lawlessness of Oklahoma and the haphazard nature of law enforcement at the time and details how J. Edgar Hoover attempted to create a law enforcement agency in his rigid image. One of the FBI’s first cases was to determine who, or what group, was responsible for these unsolved murders and this case provided a way for the FBI to solidify its authority.
While the history of the FBI and the Wild West atmosphere that ruled Oklahoma at the time is insightful and exciting, my mind remained on the Osage. Their story is incredibly sad. While being forced off their homeland, this injustice seems almost righted by the fact that they were forced on to one of the most lucrative places in America at that time. However, their lives and livelihood were eventually taken away from them. The United States government did not believe the Osage were capable of handling their own finances and assigned the Osage “guardians”, who determined when money should be distributed to its rightful owner. Many of these guardians were corrupt and either played a part of the Osage murders or attempted to steal money. Grann shows the vast level of corruption that permeated the government, judicial system, law enforcement, and even local doctors. The only issue I had reading this book was sometimes there are so many different players in this web of lies, that occasionally I had trouble keeping up with who is who.
Grann frames the book from members and families of the Osage who suffered, utilizing his journalistic research skills to investigate the history of the tribe, Oklahoma, and the FBI. This story of the Osage is astounding and I am disappointed that this book was the first time I ever heard about these murders. The history of the Osage and their continued struggle to find justice deserves to be heard.
Lover of the written word.