Killers of the Flower Moon
This month’s post is going to be a review of the movie “Killers of the Flower Moon”. The movie, which is currently in theaters, is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars several A-list actors including Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro.
The movie is based on a true story and a book of the same title, written by David Grann. I read the book and was excited when I heard it was being made into a movie. It is fascinating story about greed, bigotry and racism that occurred in the 1920s in Osage County Oklahoma. Osage County is in the north central portion of Oklahoma. The northern edge of the county is on the Kansas/Oklahoma border. The county boundaries are also the boundaries of the Osage reservation. There are currently some court cases which are disputing whether the reservation still exists or not. To be honest, I don’t really understand what they are fighting about. A quick internet search tells me that the county population is made up of only 11% Native Americans and 62% whites. At some point it obviously stopped being a true reservation some time ago.
However, in the 1920s, the county was primarily occupied by the Osage Indians. It was early in the 1920’s that oil was discovered on the reservation. The Osage tribe who had been removed in the 1870s from Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas had shrewdly negotiated, headrights, for any minerals that was found on their land. This contractual inclusion would become lucrative after oil was discovered on their land in 1898.
In the early 1900s oil brought in revenue to the tribe, but that revenue exploded in the 1920s as automobiles made the demand for oil increase dramatically. These “headrights” would make the Osage Indians the wealthiest group of people in the world by 1920. By 1923 the Osage Indians divided over 30 million dollars, which today would be equal to over four hundred million dollars.
During this time the county was like “bizarro world” in that the Native Americans had nice houses, multiple automobiles and white servants. It was quite common for white men to come to town with the hope of marrying an Osage woman, derogatorily called “blankets”. This term referenced the fact that the Osage Indian women would often wear blankets as coats. In the film Leonardo is one of those men.
Of course, the US Government could not allow all this wealth to go to the Osage without getting a piece of it somehow. In 1921, the government passed a law that required to courts to appoint white “guardians” for each Indian, children included. These guardians were meant to ensure that they “made good choices” with their money. These guardians were local white businessmen, lawyers and landowners who would “approve” the Osage tribe members access to their money. Basically, the Osage would have to go to their guardian and say “I want to buy this”, and the guardians would approved or disapprove the expenditure. As you might imagine, this system led to massive corruption on the part of the “guardians”. Crimes such as embezzlement, price gouging and murder, were regularly committed by some of these unscrupulous men or their minions.
The movie is about one Osage family, who were systematically murdered in an effort by white men to steal their money. While the movie is about one family, the reality is that there are over 20 known murders of Osage tribe members during this period for this purpose. The author of the book contends that there are likely hundreds of other murders, but at the time the Osage did not have the power to force investigations into those other deaths. Eventually, the Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI, was sent to Osage County to investigate.
The movie is long. Three and half hours. That said, I did not find myself checking my watch regularly trying to figure out when it would be over. It’s a good story and I recommend seeing it. I think it was a mistake to make it so long as I’m sure that will drive some people away from seeing it. Leonardo plays the husband of one of the Osage women in the family. DeNiro plays the man in town who, on the surface, is out to help the Osage all the while figuring out various ways to steal their money. Think Mr. Potter, from It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’m not going to go much further into the storyline as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I hope you will either read the book or go to the movie. Another option is probably to wait until it comes to a streaming serving and watch it in two or three sittings. Either way, I hope you will give it a chance, as it is a sad story of how the Osage were treated by the US Government.
Like I did last year, I’m going take a few months off during the winter to recharge and work on my next book about Amarugia. This winter, I am going repost some of my old articles from way back in the days when I had about 10 followers. Today I have around 620. I’m kind of the Kim Kardashian of local history. 😊 A few of these posts might be repeats for some of you, but they will be new to most of my readers.