Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
David Grann has long sought to expose truths which received little recognition from the world, and in Killers of the Flower Moon he takes us back to the 1920s, when the Osage Indian nation discovered oil beneath their land, becoming the richest people per capita in the world. However, in the years which followed members of the nation started being killed off one by one, paving the way for one of America’s most shameful inner tragedies.
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David Grann Digs Up a Shameful Chapter
There isn’t a country in this world bereft of disgraceful chapters in its history, largely because while people all over might be different, the evil they wreak in their wake is the same. Nevertheless, it seems some countries have a lot more to hide than others, and the United States’ past is proving to contain quite a few skeletons most haven’t even heard of. In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann unearths a skeleton from the 1920s many are keen to forget.
Before talking about the book in question, I feel it’s important to specify this is work categorized as true crime, meaning none of it is fictional. While it is presented in the form of a compelling narrative which can rival a novel, I would just like everyone to remember the events described here have been proven to happen, and the suffering of their victims was real.
Back in the 1920s, the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma became the richest people per capita after they found massive amounts of oil beneath their land. A period of unexpected prosperity followed, with the Osage building mansions, buying up cars with chauffeurs and sending their children to study abroad in Europe.
However, in the years which followed tragedy began to strike at the Osage nation, its members falling victims to guns and poison. They were being killed off one by one, with the family of Molly Burkhart, an Osage woman, seemingly being the prime target. The death toll only kept climbing upwards, especially when people who dared investigate the crime were killed themselves. When the body count reached twenty-four, the FBI got involved in one of its first major homicide investigations.
After bungling the case about as badly as they possibly could, Hoover turned to a former Texas Ranger who put together a team of undercover agents to get to the bottom of the affair. As they dig deeper into the blood-soaked soil of the Osage nation and more troubling facts come to light about the situation, they begin to expose one of the more shocking and scandalous true conspiracies in American history, one made possible with the complicity of those who stood by and didn’t say a word.
Stores gone, post office gone, train gone, school gone, oil gone, boys and girls gone—only thing not gone is graveyard and it git bigger.― David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon
Testimony of Calamity in Killers of the Flower Moon
When discussing any work of non-fiction, I believe the first step ought to be in addressing its significance to the world. In other words, how important is it for people to be familiar with the events depicted in Killers of the Flower Moon? Naturally, this is a matter of opinion, but I believe it’s essential for us to get acquainted with chapters in history such as this one, if only to see what allows evil to triumph and thrive as it has for so long.
David Grann takes his time to explain and set everything up, rather than thrusting us right into the thick of it. He begins by explaining to us who the Osage Indians are, where they come from, and what they’ve endured as a people since the arrival of European colonialism. Needless to say, the closer we get to the period the book focuses on, the more detailed the author becomes in his descriptions, going as far as explaining the negotiations between the Osage and the Department of the Interior.
Personally, I don’t have any trouble with a book which takes its time to get to the heart of the matter, especially when it has so much useful and interesting information to share with its readers. However, I do think some people might have trouble getting through his part, since it feels like more of a history book than the promised true crime. If you feel like that would be the case for you, I’d still urge you to stick with it because of how potently educative the content which follows is.
Once David Grann is done explaining the setting and the circumstances, he then gets to the criminal aspect of it when members of the tribe began to die in 1921. I think it goes without saying, but from our vantage point as the readers we can make a rather educated guess as to what’s happening to these people, and the author does his best to make us feel the full force of the impact.
He makes diligent use of all the research he has conducted on the topic, bringing us quite detailed and heart-wrenching accounts of the deaths which gripped the Osage nation by its throat for the years to come. The author describes this loss of life in poignant fashion, making us feel the heft of every life lost, and the horror which comes with the implication the culprits are operating with total impunity.
We often feel like such actions are a thing of the past, that we’ve progressed beyond that with our civilized societies, but I think we know it’s a lie. People still close their eyes on evil and suffering all too easily, and many are those perpetrating crimes against minority communities, with complete and total silence from the world around them.
The Rise of an Inexperienced FBI
Killers of the Flower Moon also contains a rather interesting chronicle centred on the FBI in its infancy, when it was still trying to find its legs while thrust into one of its first major murder investigations. David Grann doesn’t take any sides and remains quite neutral in his depiction of the organization, highlighting both its blunders and successes when appropriate.
While there are understandable limits to how deep the author can take us into the organization and its history, I believe he still manages to impart a considerable amount of information on the reader, especially useful or those unfamiliar with the FBI’s history. As a matter of fact, the investigation headed by the former Texas Ranger, Tom White, soon becomes our primary vehicle to progress through the story of the Osage nation.
Every step of the investigation is depicted with as much pertinent details as the author could muster, and I have to commend him for ensuring all the information he’s giving us is actually useful. He doesn’t devolve into pointless flowery prose, nor does he seek to manipulate our emotions at any given point; he knows how to be concise, precise and always pertinent to the topic at hand.
In addition to teaching us a good bit of history, we also get an in-depth look at various investigative techniques, from evidence collection and witness interrogations to undercover work. We discover various clues along with the investigative team, and it almost feels like we’re actually part of the squad by the end, albeit in the role of a close observer. The amount of evidence the author has collected through his research is frankly quite staggering, as is the amount of people who were involved in the brutal murders, all centred on a piece of land and a bit of oil.
Ultimately, the book brings us down to the Earth when examining the Osage nation today, and the permeating sense of injustice they are forced to live with for generations on end. Yearning for closure, they are bound never find it, with both victims and perpetrators sleeping in their graves long ago. While time might try to sweep it all away, history must remember the Reign of Terror in Oklahoma, so that we might remember the evil Man can do, and stand a chance at stifling it in our own future.
|352||Doubleday||April 18 2017||978-0385534246|
The Final Verdict
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann is an important entry in the true crime genre, shedding light on a horrifying and shameful crime in American history which until recently had been successfully swept aside by the tides of time and forgetfulness. Combining an exciting narrative with thorough research and jaw-dropping facts, it stands as a necessary reminder of how easily evil can triumph and prosper in the light of day.
If you’re looking to learn about the Reign of Terror in Oklahoma, or are simply in search of a moving and eye-opening true crime book to dive into, then I believe this book will provide you with an unforgettable experience, horrifying and fascinating in equal measures.
David Grann is an American journalist working for The New Yorker magazine, as well as a bestselling author with many notable works to his name, including The Lost City of Z, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, Killers of the Flower Moon and The White Darkness. He is the recipient of the 1989 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, the 2009 George Pol Awards, as well as a finalist for a few others, such as the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize and the 2017 National Book Award.