In the late 1800’s, the Osage tribe was forced onto what was thought to be a no-man’s land in Oklahoma. At first, they lived there in poverty, but made the best of things. When it was discovered that oil lay below their land, however, the Osage people quickly amassed a huge amount of wealth. This brought with it, as it often does, great tragedy. By the 1920’s came what has been called the Reign of Terror, during which many Osage tribespeople were killed for their inheritances because of this new wealth. Worst, however, was the breadth of the corruption and cooperation among the law enforcement and the justice system at the time, mainly because of the overriding racism toward Native Americans. It took Agent White, of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the helm of a young J. Edgar Hoover, to uncover the underbelly of the evil of what was going on – and still there was mystery around what really happened.
The story written about here is complicated. It is a fascinating one, highlighting the development of crime investigation, as it was really at its infancy when these killings started. It is also one of historical details, illuminating the beginnings of the FBI and how it began as an agency under J Edgar Hoover. Really, though, it is another horribly shameful example in the history of our country, where racism enabled evildoers to perpetrate crimes with impunity against a group of people — similar to what we see today, sadly.
The writing of this story was a bit choppy and at times confusing; however, I imagine that combing through the years worth of documentation that the author had to search through, organizing all of the details into a linear pathway was a monumental feat. Moreover, while telling this story more like a novel might have been a little more readable, it might have taken away from the credibility of the story. The true beauty of this story, I feel, is that the author is honoring the poor victims of this ugly era by relaying this story as authentically as possible. (The photos included really add to this in a huge way as well.)
To all you historians, this is especially for you.