“Tell everybody, when you write your story, that they’re scalping our souls out here.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year, and possibly ever. Let me preface that by saying that if I had seen this book at a bookstore, I might have passed it by. Because we all judge books by their covers. But thanks to the wonderful Book of the Month Club (I have zero affiliation with them. I’m a paying member and it’s the best thing ever.) I’ve taken a look at books I wouldn’t normally give a second glance to. This is one of those.
In 1920s Oklahoma, the Osage Indians were made incredibly wealthy due to oil money from the otherwise unprofitable land they were forced to live on. Think mansions, expensive cars, fur coats, sending their kids to boarding school. Then, one by one (and sometimes two by two), the Osage began to die in mysterious and violent ways. Poisonings, shootings, and more. The family of Mollie Burkhart, the main subject of David Grann’s excellent book, was one of the main targets.
Enter then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was determined to solve the case of the disappearing Osage. Using undercover agents to gain information and make arrests, Hoover discovered one of the biggest, most treacherous schemes in American history. It is a case that has long been forgotten, but one that, had it gone on, could have wiped out an entire tribe.
This book is about the Osage murders, but it’s also about so much more. The mistreatment of American Indians is no secret, but it’s not as universally acknowledged as, say, slavery. Grann clearly describes the forced assimilation of the tribes, and how accepted it was to allow whites to fully take over entire American Indian families, including their money. Mollie Burkhart, a main character of Osage heritage married to a white man, straddles the line between Osage and whites, and is never fully accepted into either world. This was the case for many others as well, and an otherwise strong and proud group of people was rendered helpless as their power was stripped away.
My one caveat for this book is that Part Three seems almost tacked on as a way to include a lot of interesting information that didn’t neatly fit into the rest of the book. Grann also switches to first-person here, which took me out of the narrative a bit. However, this wouldn’t keep me from recommending or reading it, and I do think the information needed to be included.
I cannot imagine how much research Grann had to do for this book, but it was clearly a massive amount. I haven’t read Grann’s other books, but I’m going to. He is an accomplished and masterful writer, and there’s a reason that Martin Scorsese has his eyes on the film rights for this novel. Bottom line is read this book! People need to read this book, as much for the information as the entertainment value.