BOOKS READ JANUARY 2018
David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI, London, Simon & Schuster, 2017
The “Flower Moon” people are in reality the Native American tribe of the Osage who, before the onslaught of European immigrants were semi-nomadic buffalo herders on the vast Western plains of what is now Oklahoma. in the United States. Unlike other Native American tribes who were eventually corralled into smaller and smaller reservations with very little ability for them to maintain their normal hunting lifestyle and culture, the Osage had managed one legal manoeuvre which was to initially protect but eventually destroy them. This was a ruling that anything under the land to which they were allotted belonged to the Osage and not to immigrant buyers or settler. As it happened the unlikely land contained vast oil supplies in quantities which made the Osage the wealthiest native tribe anywhere in the world.
Wealth attracts criminality and political subterfuge. The Osage were required to have “guardians” who could supervise their accumulating wealth and assist them in the management of it. Such a guardian had “headlights” and these could be bought and sold and sometimes by arrangement inherited by white hustlers including through inter-marriage with the Osage. The result was that many of the Osage were swindled out of their wealth. More seriously this book recounts a systematic and brutal murderous regime to wipe out whole Osage families and take their assets. Such activity was aided by the lawlessness of the wild west. States rights ruled and there was no Federal law machine hence “the law” was upheld by locally proclaimed “lawmen” and bounty hunters some of whom were of good repute (but did not last long) but most of whom were corrupt. There were also local “militia” such as the “Texas Rangers”. Many of the local courts were also subject to political and financial interference.
Thus the major sub-plot of this book is the gradual development of a Federal Department of Criminal investigation instigated by F D Roosevelt and led for over four decades by the remarkable and self promoting J Edgar Hoover. The investigation of the major criminal syndicate was a task of Sherlock Holmesian proportions led by former Texas Ranger Tom White, the ultimate Western hero and the account of the brutal syndicate and their eventual capture and conviction makes engaging reading. Many other Osage families were less fortunate and never obtained the justice and knowledge of lost family members. An amazing insight into the early years of the white settlement of the American West. Complex and demanding but engaging to the end. 4 stars.