Thursday, September 20, 2018
Published April 2017 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought my copy for book club
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.
People! How have I never heard about this before? And how many other amazing stories about our history have we never heard of until an author chances upon a fragment that tweaks their interest? And do you think that David Grann thanks Truman Capotes in his prayers at night for inventing narrative nonfiction? Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. About the book...
Because the U. S. government, and white people in general, hadn't done enough to harm the Native Americans, after the government had settled the Osage onto a piece of land in Oklahoma, they decided each person should have only a small allotment of that territory and that the government would give away the rest to white people. The Osage had learned from the Oklahoma land rush and negotiated wisely, giving each of them each more land than was originally planned and, most importantly, allowing the Osage to retain the mineral rights to all land in their territory, no matter who owned the land above them.
Then it turned out there was oil under that land. A lot of oil. And the white men, who were already treating the Osage like small children and already unbelievably corrupt, got even worse. If all of that weren't enough, this all happened during Prohibition. We all know what that did for crime in this country and the Osage territory was no exception.
And J. Edgar Hoover? Also, not the nicest guy in the country. But the case of the Osage murders happened just as he rose to power, determined to turn the Bureau of Investigation into an efficient crime-fighting machine. Without him, and his dogged insistence that these crimes be solved, these people's murders would likely never have been solved.
The story of these murders and the attempt to solve them is fascinating and Grann keeps things moving along at a pace that should keep even those most leery of nonfiction interested. I couldn't put it down once I got started. I'm still just astounded at the level of corruption and incompetence and wondering how many more stories there are out there like this one that have yet to be unearthed.
I could have used a cast of characters list that I could refer back to throughout the book. There were so many people involved in the corruption on this area and in these crimes that it was often hard to remember who was who. If decide to read this, I highly recommend making your own as you go along. That goes along with my strong recommendation that you read this book; it's quite the eye-opener and, heaven knows, we could all use to have our eyes opened to the past because it has so much to do with the present.