“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann, Doubleday, 336 pages, $28.95
Certain books are so compelling that the reader is sorry to reach the final page. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is one of those books. David Grann, author of the best selling book, “The Lost City of Z”, has rediscovered and masterfully researched a century-old cold case more lurid than any fictional tale.
A single homicide occurring on the Osage reservation in northern Oklahoma rapidly burgeons into a mystery involving avarice, conspiracies and a multitude of victims and suspects. Members of the Osage tribe, suddenly wealthy because of oil found beneath the barren soil upon which they had been forced to settle, were the targets of unknown assassins. Graft, blackmail and corrupt local officials seemed to make the crimes impossible to solve.
Finally the Department of Justice was summoned, led by a stoic ex-Texas Ranger and the fuzzy-cheeked new bureaucratic head of the investigative department, J. Edgar Hoover. Old fashioned Western desperados, prohibition gangsters, shyster lawyers and unscrupulous bankers all vied to pry as much illicit money as possible from the hapless Natives who were handicapped by an archaic legal system which ruled them incompetent to manage their own finances.
As the death toll rises, false leads and double crosses seem to stymie the investigation. Nevertheless a trial eventually results, rivaling William Jennings Bryan’s famed “monkey trial” which had occurred a year earlier, for the nation’s rapt attention. To reveal the outcome would detract from the pleasure of discovering it in the book.
The final portion of the book involves Gann’s investigation into the present-day fates of the progeny of all the protagonists described in the earlier sections. This includes evocative photographs taken during his visits to the desolate region. Improbably, Gann’s perusal of the old records allows him to discover new evidence concerning the scope of the old crimes.
Certainly exposure of the cruelty and prejudice accepted by local townspeople when directed toward the Natives of the Southern Plains as well as the honesty and basic decency of the early FBI lawmen is worth revisiting. Author Grann should be commended for again finding the great injustice suffered by the Osage tribe and bringing this long forgotten episode in our national history back into the light.