Gripping account of Osage murders and FBI

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann explores the calculated murders of the Osage tribe in early 20th-century America. 

David Grann
Simon & Schuster

Some stories are so astounding, it is hard to believe they are true.

Like many Native American tribes, the Osage were forced from their ancestral homelands by the white man. They ended up settling in the undulating prairie of north Oklahoma - dusty land seen as having no value.

By 1920, the tribe members were the richest people per capita in the entire world.

Their land happened to sit on some of the most bountiful oil supplies anywhere and, much to the oil barons’ dismay, they were unable to simply buy up the land.

Leases were sold at a cartoonish auction from season to season. Some savvy legal work years beforehand meant any mineral reserves beneath the Osage land belonged to them and could not sold. The land rights could only be inherited by family.

Suddenly, a lot of white folk began marrying members of the Osage, not so subtly seeking their slice of the black gold.

And then Native Americans started dying.

David Grann, piecing the historical jigsaw together through thousands of archived documents, has painstakingly recreated what was known by the tribe as the "Reign of Terror".

Early attempts to unravel the conspiracy were thwarted by the sheer depth of the community’s corruption. But J. Edgar Hoover took on the case, using it to champion his newly incarnated FBI and its cutting-edge criminal investigatory techniques.

You constantly have to remind yourself the "characters" involved - brilliantly portrayed by Grann - are real people. It is reinforced by the sprinkling of black-and-white photos throughout the book, which hammers home that these were real lives wrapped up in this web of greed and murder.

While the story itself is stunning enough, in the last section of the book, Grann travels to Osage County,  where he meets the relatives of some of the book’s main characters. Their conversations lead the New Yorker journalist down another research rabbit hole in which he finds further evidence of the devilish corruption.

It is as much a triumph for investigative journalism as it is storytelling.

Grann is a master of both.

It has recently been announced the story will be adapted as a movie, with confirmed involvement of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

They will have no shortage of material.

- Rob Kidd is an ODT Dunedin reporter.


Win a copy

The ODT has three copies of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, to give away courtesy of Simon & Schuster. For your chance to win a copy, email books editor with your name and postal address in the body of the email, and ‘‘Flower Moon’’ in the subject line, by 5pm on Tuesday, August 1.


• Winners of last week’s giveaway, Tom Clancy’s Point of Contact, written by Mike Maden, courtesy of Penguin/Random House: Bruce Jackson, of Wanaka, Lisa Kun, of Dunedin, Ann Gilroy, of Dunedin.


Add a Comment