Opinion · Review

Unwritten history– Grann delivers must read on Osage murders 

Jen Anima

Lantern Staff

As we all know American history books have been known to leave out information on historical events especially those that have to deal with people of color. Although we know this comes from the racism the United States was founded upon and the fact they keep secrets – like UFOS until a year or two ago! -, Killers of The Flower Moon is a book by David Grann that reveals what happened to the Osage Indians in Oklahoma during the early 1900’s when many of them were murdered for their fortune.  

In the early 1900’s after being run off from multiple pieces of land, the Osage Indians found one the white men would find undesirable, so they could not run them off again. Under these rocky lands, there was an abundance of oil that made them worth what would today be $400 million. Uncle Sam didn’t like this very much and decided to give these Indigenous people guardians for their fortune who basically controlled what they could spend their money on, but it gets worse! Some of Osage began getting murdered for their fortune in the most brutal of ways by white settlers, even those they thought they could trust. Grann uses Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman whose sisters and mother are murdered for their fortune, to tell this tragic story of what was happening to many Osage around this time. This novel also digs into the history of the FBI who use these crimes to their advantage but also solves some of them.  

Killers of the Flower Moon is a true crime novel, which according to the author, aims to help with the ignorance of the world’s knowledge of historical events such as the Reign of Terror.  

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Grann was, but I now realize and appreciate his work especially because it is based on historical events that are rarely talked about. I am excited to read his previous books like The Lost City of Z and his new book The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder because of how much I feel I want to learn after reading Killers of the Flower Moon. What set this book apart from other novels I’ve read was the fact it was a true crime told in the form of the story of Mollie.  

The book contains a lot of photographs, which I don’t usually see with novels, but it did help me put a face to the people in this book. A photo at the top of the title page is the photo Grann saw at the Osage Nation Museum that inspired him to write this book. The panoramic photo has a piece cut at the museum but in the book, it is all there. Another photo on page 165 shows the Osage Chief at the time arguing how white settlers want to come to their reservation just for money.  

 I tend to be good at creating scenarios and imagining stories, but for those who have a hard time with that I recommend this book because the pictures help with that.  

The way in which Grann writes this book made me forget that these events happened in real life because I was just in shock throughout it.  

I really want to write history so that you experience it as a narrative so that you see it and feel it through the eyes of the people who went through history,” Grann said in an interview with him earlier this September. “Not as just a dry resuscitation of facts but as a human drama which all of history is and all of life is in which each day, we don’t know what’s going to happen next”  

This reading was a mixture of sad emotions, realization and historical information I never knew. It is split up into three different chronicles: “The Marked Woman,” “The Evidence Man” and “The Reporter.” The book uses the life of Mollie Burkhart and the loss of many of her family members during the Reign of Terror, which made me question why Grann chose to focus on Mollie. I later found out that it was because there was more physical documentation on Burkhart than any other Osage Indian during these crimes. I appreciated how Grann wrote not only in detail about these crimes, but about the agents who solved the case, but did not receive recognition. I enjoyed the last section of the book a little bit less than the others just because of the confusion I had as a reader. It was difficult for me to switch gears from storytelling to more informational reading on the research Grann did. In chapter 22, “Ghostland’s,” Grann shifts from a sort of past tense narrative to the present. Grann talks about how the Osage reservation looks like today, his experiences in talking to Mollie’s descendant Margie and his time spent with other Osage Natives.  

This book gave me a similar feeling of watching murder documentaries, whether it be during or after the documentary, I go to YouTube to learn more about it, and I’m suddenly in a rabbit hole of videos based on these true events. This is exactly what I did after reading this book. In a speech given at Butler in September I asked the author if he had done any more research after writing the book. 

“At a certain point when you spend five years with really material that is so tough like that, you almost need to take a break,Grann said.  

That quote alone expresses the intensity of the material written about in this book.  

I highly recommend this book to both active readers and non-readers because it opens doors for me that I’m sure it would for others as well. As someone who had never heard of the Osage Reign of Terror, it is important information, which unfortunately has been kept from history books, that many Americans should know about today.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s