Home > 2010, 21st Century, American Literature, History of the USA, Non Fiction > Killers of the Flower Moon. The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. – Made into a film by Martin Scorsese.

Killers of the Flower Moon. The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. – Made into a film by Martin Scorsese.

Killers of the Flower Moon. The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017) French title: La note américaine. Translated by Cyril Gay.

My sister-in-law and I had put on Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann in our list of books for our yearlong readalong. And now that I’ve just read it, it’s all in the media everywhere since Martin Scorsese made it into a film with Leonardo di Caprio and Robert de Niro. After reading the book, I think it is the right director and the right cast for this film.

So, what’s it about? We’re here in an astonishing case of reality defeats fiction. With flying colors.

In the early 1970s, the Osage had been driven from their lands in Kansas onto a rocky, presumably worthless reservation in the northeastern Oklahoma, only to discover, decades later, that this land was sitting above some of the largest oil deposits in the United States. To obtain that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In the early twentieth century, each person on the tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The amount was initially for only a few dollars, but over time, as more oil was tapped, the dividends grew into the hundreds, then the thousands. And virtually, every year the payments increased, like the prairie creeks that join to form the wide, muddy Cimarron, until the tribe members had collectively accumulated millions and millions of dollars. (In 1923 alone, the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent today of more than $400 million.) The Osage were considered the wealthiest people per capita in the world.

I’d never heard of the oil boom in the Osage reservation in Oklahoma in the 1920s.

The book opens with Mollie Burkhart’s story. She’s an Osage lady happily married to Ernest Burkhart, a white man. Burkhart is one of William Hale’s nephews and he works for him.

William Hale was a powerful businessman in the Osage county, an advocate for law and order, a friend of the local politicians and many considered him as a great benefactor of the Osage county. The kind who has his fingers in many pies and knows how to make and break politicians’, judges’ and sheriffs’ careers. Since all these people are elected by people who can be influenced, it’s better not to ruffle Hale’s feathers.

Mollie is on the tribe roll, which means that she receives checks from the oil royalties and that she’s rich. In May 21st, 1921, Mollie’s sister Anna disappears and her body is found murdered. Another Osage, Charles Whitehorn, is murdered at the same time. Of course, the authorities aren’t really bothered by the violent death of two Indians.

Mollie has money and she hires private investigators to discover who murdered her sister. As the number of murders increases and the local sheriffs don’t make any progress, the young and ambitious John Edgar Hoover sends his agent Tom White on location. He’s to hire a team and find out who the murdered is.

This investigation is the golden opportunity that Hoover was waiting for to push for the creation of what is now known as the FBI.

Killers of the Flower Moon is an outstanding book. David Grann writes the stunning story of the Osage murders in this county. He writes his book as if it were crime fiction, only this time, everything is true and documented.

David Grann is a talented journalist who did thorough research. The chapters are gripping and I was is totally caught into the investigation. Violence, corruption, greed, ambition, he shows an Oklahoma rotten to the core. White people would do anything to con the Indians, to put their hands on their lands, their money and deprive them of everything.

The other side of the book is about the birth of the FBI, the beginning of Hoover’s power in Washington. And we know how powerful he became and what he made of his agency.

I won’t tell much about what happened back then because I don’t want to spoil your reading. I knew nothing about this piece of American history and I was hooked from the first chapter.

I was is aware of all the research involved and yet it didn’t feel like an essay. The book includes pictures of the main protagonists and seeing their faces and their families made this awful story even more upsetting. The things we humans are able to do to other humans for money will never ceaze to amaze me.

Grann illustrates perfectly how his country was built on violence, greed and thirst for fame and money and how its institutions were faulty from the start. It also shows the constant actions aimed at destroying the native peoples of the country. It makes me wonder how close we are to the definition of crime against humanity.

I am very impatient to watch Scorsese’s film. Until it is released, I really, really recommend David Grann’s book as it is brilliant, informative, and suspenseful. A fascinating read.

  1. May 25, 2023 at 1:36 am

    His Lost City of Z was also xcellent, I thought – I haven’t seen the movie, but sounds like the book is way better.
    And now he just published The Wager, which is very highly ranked here in the US. My husband just read and loved it. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo di Caprio have also bought the right for this one!


    • May 27, 2023 at 8:51 pm

      I want to explore his other books, so thanks for the recommendations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. May 25, 2023 at 8:58 am

    Oh, I keep seeing this book mentioned everywhere, no doubt because of the film, but this is the first review I’ve read. It sounds like my kind of book, so onto the wish list it goes!


    • May 27, 2023 at 8:52 pm

      It’s really excellent, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. May 25, 2023 at 9:38 am

    There don’t seem to be many Osage involved in telling this story. I hope the movie gives them a decent run.
    (Are they still rich?)


    • May 27, 2023 at 8:57 pm

      He did a lot of research in various libraries but he also met with the families of Osage people. They have a writer who has their back, I think.
      And no, there’s no more oil in the area, from what I understand. How clever of them to negociate a treaty that gave them these royalties, even if the US government has always trampled on all the treaties they signed with Native Americans.


  4. May 28, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    This story sounds extraordinary, I can’t believe I’ve never heard it before. I’ll look out for this – with the upcoming film it should be easy to find!


    • May 28, 2023 at 8:40 pm

      I think it’s interesting to read it before watching the film.
      I’d never heard of it and you’ll see, you’ll be flabbergasted. I didn’t give many details to avoid spoilers but the story is unbelievable. It’s beyond what a skilled crime fiction writer could invent.

      Liked by 1 person

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