Killers of the Flower Moon David Graham Doubleday HC$29.95 9780385534246 4/18/17

Killers of the Flower Moon David Graham Doubleday HC$29.95 9780385534246 4/18/17

Killers of the Flower Moon – David Graham – Doubleday HC$29.95 – 9780385534246 – 4/18/17

The history of our treatment of native Americans is an unlovely one but the story recounted here is among the most reprehensible I know. There were incidents with greater loss of life committed with more savagery but the cold-blooded and naked greed driving a disregard for the rights and even the lives of the Osage people of Oklahoma in the early part of the twentieth century is stunning and reflects shame upon our culture and our government.

Having been relegated to a barren and apparently worthless piece of land after being driven from their previous location in Kansas, the Osage people at least seemed likely to be left in peace, if not neglect. Oil was discovered beneath their land and a boom resulted in their becoming, temporarily, the wealthiest individuals per capita in the world. This situation rankled whites who felt they were entitled to some of the gravy, too. The governments of the reservation, the state and the nation would ultimately come to agree with this notion. Rich Indians and poor whites; it couldn’t last.

Soon prominent members of the tribe who were listed in theOsage Roll, the accounting of those entitled to benefit from the mineral rights to the land began to disappear, mysteriously, reappearing as corpses found scattered around the reservation. Since the deaths did not appear to follow a recurring method of murder little was done to investigate them, mostly being written off as death by misadventure. But one person, Molly Burkhardt, was sure something criminal had happened to her missing sister and the others. The authorities made half-hearted attempts to investigate but nothing likely to lead to prosecution was found.

A representative of the tribe was sent to Washington, D.C. to petition the U.S. government for help, but his body was found with a dozen or more gunshot wounds dumped in a ditch outside the city, and the deaths on the reservation continued. An official of the newly formed Bureau of Investigation, the young J. Edgar Hoover was given the task of seeking the truth of what was clearly a concerted effort to rid the tribe of anyone with legal rights to the oil money. The first moves of the bureau were abortive and ineffective until a veteran Texas Ranger was brought in and asked to dig into the facts.

The story of the investigation is rife with the ego-stroking of Hoover, the shameless dereliction of law enforcement and state government officials and the colossal greed and arrogance of the white citizens of the state. It’s a real-life serial killer/murder mystery written in a straightforward reportorial style that keeps the narrative moving briskly and with punch. Readers of fiction will find this as good as and better than some whodunits.

Shelf talker: The compelling story of the brutal and cynical murder of native Americans to steal their rights to money derived from oil found under what was thought to be worthless land. Brisk and loaded with facts.