“Killers of the flower Moon” recounts the mysterious murders of members of the Osage Indian tribe. (Photo by Maria Pou)

By Maria Pou | Staff Writer

Greed. It’s what drove Native Americans off their lands in 1838 during the event that became known as the Trail of Tears. They learned English, and many converted to Western religion and dress. Nothing was enough to satisfy the early American settlers’ insatiable appetite for land and wealth. In any typical American history textbook, you can find information on President Andrew Jackson’s policy that forcibly relocated Native Americans. However, few know that a stealthier evil was still lurking in the shadows almost a hundred years later in the Oklahoma prairie. 

In “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a New York Times bestseller released in 2017, author David Grann recounts the real life chilling chapter in the history of the Osage Indian tribe. After surrendering millions of acres of land to white settlers, the Osage were forced into the southeastern corner of Kansas. Here, the government promised them they would be left in peace. Not so. Again, settlers pushed into their land, and eventually, the Osage were forced to sell it and relocate. Desperate, the Osage bought a piece of rocky, seemingly unwanted prairie in Oklahoma for roughly a million dollars. Little did they know that a few thousand feet below their new settlement lay rich petroleum reserves worth millions.

Upon discovering oil, the Osage leased the land to prospectors, and with every new well drilled, they grew richer. By the 1920s they were the richest people per capita in the world. One reporter remarked, “The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.” Just so. Concerned about their ability to manage the newly acquired wealth, the federal government enacted policies that limited how the Osage Indians could spend their money. Those deemed “incompetent” were required to have a guardian, most often a white male, manage their money. This system provided ample opportunity for corrupt individuals to prosper, and the Osage once again began to suffer the devastating effects of greed.

Grann writes this suspense-filled masterpiece in a way that leaves his readers hanging on to every word. He never gives away the identity of a character by inserting his personal opinions into the plot. Instead, he leaves the reader to make guesses about who is a “good guy” and who’s a “bad guy.”

Without explanation, Osage began to go missing or turn up dead. Grann writes about Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Indian whose family was targeted by an unknown killer. Mollie watched as those closest to her passed away. Her sister Minnie died at the young age of 27 from an undiagnosed illness. Just a few years later, the body of her sister, Anna, was found in a ravine. She had been shot in the back of the head. An explosion took the life of her third sister, Rita. Dozens more Osage Indians were murdered during what has become known as the Osage Reign of Terror. Many Osage sought help from private investigators, hoping they could find out who was responsible for the violence, but before any damning evidence could surface, they too were killed. 

No doubt, the heinous crimes committed against the Osage during the Reign of Terror will continue to be some of the most terrible, yet “History,” writes Grann, “is a merciless judge.”

Grann’s bone-chilling account of the Osage murders will have you double-checking that your doors are locked at night. The author writes in a matter-of-fact style, simply presenting the facts and letting them speak for themselves. His background as a reporter prepared him for the extensive digging he needed to do to gather information for the story, one that has, quite literally, been hidden within boxes of files for decades. “Killers of the Flower Moon” is the result of months of Grann’s hard work conducting interviews, and reading ledgers, reports, and thousands of other documents.

The book has been made into a highly anticipated movie that is set to release later this year. It stars acclaimed actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons and is directed by Martin Scorsese.


Wondering what to read next? Check back next month to see more book recomendations from one avid reader’s personal collection. Do you have a recommendation? Email Maria Pou at mariacj@hawaii.edu to share your favorites.