Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon

Book: Killers of the Flower Moon
The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
Basic Information : Synopsis : Characters : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book GroupBook References : Good Quotes : Table of Contents : References

Basic Information:
Author: David Grann
Edition: Audio Book from the Mountain View Public Library
Read: October 4, 2017
320 pages
Genre:  History
Language Warning:  None
Rated Overall: 3 out of 5
History: 4 ½ out of 5

Synopsis (Caution: Spoiler Alert-Jump to Thoughts):
The Osage Nation was, like many other Native American nations, forced into different lands than their native grounds. The one difference is that they were forced onto a rocky, little worth area of the United States called Oklahoma. The part of Oklahoma where they landed happened to be over oil rich deposits. While the Osage sold or leased much of the ground, they kept the oil and mineral rights and stipulated that these rights could not be sold only inherited.

Molly Burkart, an Osage woman, has all of her Native American relatives die in a short space of time-three sisters and her mother. Not only that, but something like 20 other Osage people die with somewhat mysterious causes over a 3-5 year time span. Some like Molly’s sister Anna are shot. Others dies after a short illness, probably poisoned.

A friend of the Osage nation, William Hale got involved, hiring investigators to find why the Osage were dying. But as it turned out, much of the political and law enforcement was corrupt. Information would be gathered and be lost before it could be used. Witnesses would disappear or die.

Finally there was enough concern that nobody locally or with the state could investigate. At this time, the FBI was more of a corrupt institution. J. Edgar Hoover was then appointed interim director when the demand came to do something about these murders came in. He brought in a Texan named Tom White to head the investigation.  By systematically sorting through the evidence and keeping a low profile, he is able to determine the source of this conspiracy in killing off the Osage people.

White’s team, some undercover and some regular investigators were able to piece together what happened to Molly Burkhart’s family. Hale and his network of conspirators were systematically killing off Burkhart’s Osage family members-to obtain their headrights. These were the rights for the oil under the Osage Nation’s land. Some were poisoned, others shot and even a few were blown up.

What White’s investigation found out was that Molly Buckhart’s husband, Earnst was Hale’s nephew and adored him. He was neck deep in this conspiracy, killing Molly’s sister and was going to let his own children die in a bomb blast. As the investigation’s pressure increased, Ernst Buckhart became the weak link and confessed to the killing and testified against Hale. All of this lead to the convictions of Hale and a few others.

Grann documents the final stories of many of the main characters. Such as White becoming the warden at Leavenworth Federal Prison and saving lives while being shot. Or Ernest Burkhart and the children’s relationships. Or the oil rights and the impact of decreasing production on the Osage’s.

This left open the questions of was there other killings? Were there other killers?  Grann in doing some wrap up research indicates and documents other possible killings with possible killers. These killings were far wider than the 24 the FBI found.

Cast of Characters:
Molly Burkart

Anna Brown

William Hale:  Wikipedia   Sort of interesting. In our OSHER session on the book, everybody was wondering why we did not hear about this. But when you read the Wikipedia edit history, the string goes back at least 6 year.  Also entry in Murderpedia

Tom White

J Edgar Hoover

Listening to a book rather than reading it requires a different set of skills. Reading you have the option to go back and looking for a key point. But with a book on tape, you have to listen to a whole section until you come up with it-so it must be important for you to spend all that time. You probably get a better flow, particularly in a story mode. But for something where your are trying to pickup on detail, I think I lost things I should have noticed.
Not really pertinent to this book, but a factor in how I viewed this book. Heard it on tape, but later got a hard copy. The initial question: why the title? I could not remember hearing the phrase used. But in looking at the first page, there is the explanation.

There is a natural sympathy towards the Native Americans which gotten taken advantage of. First when they were forced to move from their native grounds. Then moved again to what was felt was good for nothing land. Then the various laws created to limit their autonomy. And we should feel sympathetic. There are some question which this should raise in our own minds:
  • What should our reaction and action be to these past events?
  • Do we have a current responsibility towards rectifying past wrongs?
  • Are there current day equivalents happening around us today?
    • How would we recognize them if they are?
    • What actions should we be taking?

I wonder if current day investigative techniques would have caught Hale sooner?

This is a story many of us have not heard. But looking around, there are many articles and references before this date. Such as in 2011(?), the Osage nation sued the Department of Interior over its management of oil contracts. These murders were part of that suit.

 I think I would have rated this book higher if I had read it instead of listening to it. Many of the details which makes this book interesting were lost because of it. What made it even harder to go back and understand the connections which Grann lays out is that the hardcopy version does not have an index. Grann supplies a story which I had not heard of before.

David Grann pulls out the history of the Osage Nation and ties it to the discovery of oil under their territory. This lead the nation from being dirt poor to oil rich. The white poor structure worked to dominate these oil rich Indians, both from laws enacted to corruption of local officials. Murder was not above some whites to gain access to “headrights” of the Osage members.

The book centers on the murders of Molly Burkhart’s relatives, because that is where the FBI documents are centered on. He sets a good background to why the FBI got involved. The evidence is there and the book follows it through the trial.

The part which is the most provocative part of the book is the last couple chapters. This is where Grann looks into some of the other missing Osage members from that era and discovers connections which indicate a wider pattern of possible murders.

Notes from my book group:

Discussions which we talked about in OSHER during our session on October 13, 2017
  • Management of finances. Seemed pretty corrupt of the whites, especially since many of those who were in charge were corrupt.
    • My thoughts include:
      • Was the system introduced to make sure that the Osage did not get taken? Or be left with nothing?
      • We see these same things with pro athletes who get enormous contracts, but then there managers have taken most of the money in fees.
      • Was there honest conservator’s among the native American’s?
  • Most of the early FBI agents died in poverty.
  • It was noted that there was a certain parallel with a book we read earlier: A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyre. The CIA and its British equivalent were from the elites in society. But the FBI came up through the ranks and were close to the earth.
  • How do you retain a cultural identity without the land?
    • For that matter, what would I consider my cultural identity? Somehow being a white, male American does not seem to invoke similar identifies as a Native American or other types of ethnicities, such as Chinese, Italian, …
  • It was said that you need an anchor culture for a nation. Another says our anchor is in our documents, such as the Constitution.
    • As far as the anchor culture, is that really the answer? We look at much of the discord in various nations, such as the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey where there are other dominant cultures. They feel oppressed rather than in sync with the culture. Or the blacks and Hispanics feel the same in the US.
    • I think the document approach has a better chance. But we need to mean what is on the documents. Such as in this book, it did not mean Native Americans were created equal.
  • I asked a couple of questions  at the last about what does this all mean?
    • What would we look like as a nation if there was no Indian movement to reservations?
    • How do we promote unity in a nation?

Discussion questions from LitLovers
1. Trace the "path" by which the Osage Indians eventually landed on the swatch of land in what would become the state of Oklahoma. Talk about their treatment at the hands of the U.S. government and others over the years. What angered or shocked you most?

2. Describe the early days of the Bureau of Investigation, its founding under Theodore Roosevelt, its original purpose, structure and operation, as well as its corruption, ineptness and bungled investigation of the Osage murders.

3. What made young J. Edgar Hoover an unlikely choice to head the Bureau of Investigation? What was his vision for the bureau—why, for instance, a nationalized police force rather than the existing patchwork structure? 4.  How would you describe Tom White? Talk about how he approached the investigation into the Osage murders? When he solved the crime, were you surprised by the identity of the mastermind? Or had you figured it out along the way.

5. Grann writes that "history is a merciless judge." What does he mean by that?

6. Talk about the last 70 pages of the book, in which Grann writes about working with current tribal members to uncover an even deeper conspiracy. By the book's end, what were your feelings about the Osage nation, its history, and its people?

7. What is the significance of the book's title?

8. Does this story have relevance to current events? Are there parallels regarding the Standing Rock Lakota nation and the Keystone pipeline?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)


Many of these questions are either from or adapted from LitLovers.
  • Why the title of Killers of the Flower Moon? What does the month of the Flower Moon have to do with the book?
  • Did the ending seem fitting? Satisfying?
    • What should be done about the unpunished murders?
  • Every story has a world view. Were you able to identify this story’s world view? What was it? How did it affect the story?
  • In what context was religion talked about in this book?
  • Was there anybody you would consider religious?
    • How did they show it?
    • Was the book overtly religious?
    • How did it affect the book’s story?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • What would you ask the author  if you had a chance?
  • What “take aways” did you have from this book?
  • What central ideas does the author present?
    • Are they personal, sociological, global, political, economic, spiritual, medical, or scientific
    • What evidence does the author use to support the book's ideas?
      • Is the evidence convincing...definitive or...speculative?
      • Does the author depend on personal opinion, observation, and assessment? Or is the evidence factual—based on science, statistics, historical documents, or quotations from (credible) experts?
    • What implications for you, our nation or the world do these idea’s have?
    • Are these idea’s controversial?
      • To whom and why?
  • Does the author present any solutions to the issues shown in the book?
  • Describe the culture talked about in the book.
    • How is the culture described in this book different than where we live?
    • What economic or political situations are described?
    • Does the author examine economics and politics, family traditions, the arts, religious beliefs, language or food?
  • What questions did you ask yourself after reading this book?
  • Talk about specific passages that struck you as significant—or interesting, profound, amusing, illuminating, disturbing, sad...?
    • What was memorable?
  • The Osage were known as the richest people on earth. This was because of the oil beneath the land which they did

Book References:
  • Many references found in the Selected Bibliography

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma.
  • Last Line: Then she repeated what God told Cain after he killed Abel: “The blood cries out from the ground.”
  • History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset.  Chp 21, A Case Not Closed
Table of Contents:
  • Chronicle one: the marked woman
    • The vanishing
    • An act of God or man?
    • King of the Osage Hills
    • Underground reservation
    • The devil's disciples
    • Million dollar elm
    • This thing of darkness
  • Chronicle two: the evidence man
    • Department of easy virtue
    • The undercover cowboys
    • Eliminating the impossible
    • The third man
    • A wilderness of mirrors
    • A hangman's son
    • Dying words
    • The hidden face
    • For the betterment of the Bureau
    • The quick-draw artist, the yegg, and the soup man
    • The state of the game
    • A traitor to his blood
    • So help you God!
    • The hot house   
  • Chronicle three: the reporter
    • Ghostlands
    • A case not closed
    • Standing in two worlds
    • The lost manuscript
    • Blood cries out.
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on the Sources
  • Archival and Unpublished Sources
  • Notes
  • Selected Bibliography