2019 has been a year of often reading outside my regular genres, and it’s really been an enjoyable experience overall. It’s really pushed me to explore new topics, forgotten favorites, and expand my understanding and appreciation for marginalized voices and little-known stories, and I suppose this book fits into that category, too.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday, 2017) isn’t something I’d normally pick up. Although I do enjoy history, I’m not hugely into reading about murder, and writing about police or government organizations such as the FBI don’t normally interest me (unless the topic is undercover investigation; I’ve read a few books by people who engaged in that and they’re pretty wild). But I’m fortunate enough to live in an amazing community that chooses great books for community reads and then invites the authors to come speak. Last year, I was lucky enough to read The Things They Carried and then hear author Tim O’Brien speak about it a few weeks later; the year before that, I listened to David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, speak about his life and work. David Grann is visiting our community in September, so I wanted to prepare for his visit by reading this, as Killers of the Flower Moon is our community read.
After being ousted from their original tribal territory and dumped onto what the government assumed was a barren wasteland of a reserve, the Osage grew rich- ridiculously rich- when their land was actually discovered to be brimming with oil. And of course, instead of letting it go and pretending like they weren’t all jealous dicks, the government refused to leave well enough alone and instead began treating the adult Osage like incompetent children, assigning them white guardians who were in control of the Osages’ bank accounts, often limiting the amount of money each Osage could withdraw to several thousand dollars per year, max (no exceptions, not even for a child’s school or medical bills or ANYTHING). Lest you begin to wonder if this was for any reason other than racism and jealousy, read this quote from a figure who helped set this entire filthy system in place:
“The day has come when we must begin our restriction of these moneys or dismiss from our hearts and conscience any hope we have of building the Osage Indian into a true citizen.”
A true citizen. He’s speaking of the original inhabitants of this country, but sure, a true citizen. I have zero kind words for the man who said this.
Anyhoodle, the white people couldn’t stand to see Native Americans doing well, and over a period of thirteen years (and most likely longer), at least sixty and possibly hundreds of Osage were murdered, via gunshot, poison, and explosion. The Osage had to fight to even get these murders investigated, first because the police weren’t quite taking them seriously, then because anyone investigating the murders ended up dead themselves. Even the county sheriff ended an investigation out of fear. That’s when the organization that would eventually become the FBI, headed then by J. Edgar Hoover, stepped in.
The book begins with its focus on Mollie Burkhart, whose three sisters and mother are murdered. She’s not the only one affected in such a manner; entire families are wiped out, and it was almost by sheer luck that Mollie remained alive, as she was also being poisoned. The amount of death in this book is, frankly, staggering, and it’s all intentional. Given that this was less than one hundred years ago, I’m thinking that nostalgia-fueled attitude about how we were so much better and so much more moral in the past is a bigger pile than you’ll find in any barnyard.
Killers of the Flower Moon is an information-dense book, but Mr. Grann writes in a style that keeps the story moving and keeps the reader wondering what the hell is going on. This is a story of pure, evil racism, plain and simple. Racism, jealousy, and filthy, filthy greed. So many times while reading this, I had to suppress a scream and wonder if we as a species have learned anything at all over our time here on the planet, because far too many of the attitudes that caused these murders are far too prevalent today (friendly reminder to never read those comments on news websites or social media. Yikes). The conclusion of this book is beyond horrifying, and I’m not entirely unconvinced that something similar won’t happen again in the future, especially given all the nightmares that are happening now.
Despite this being outside my usual genres, I’m glad I read it. The Osage’s story is one that needs to be heard, to be known, to be remembered. So much unnecessary anguish and destruction of life due to baseless hatred and envy. It’s a good reminder to always check our own attitudes, to always be working towards better understanding and acceptance, and to demand that of others as well. Because hearing these stories play out over and over and over again, in history and still in the news today, shouldn’t be happening. We owe each other that, at the very least.