It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! Our book this month is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. The book is an investigation into the murders of Osage Indians in the early 1900s by white people who wanted the Osage’s valuable mineral rights for themselves and felt entitled to take them by pretty much any means necessary.
Some historical background: “In the early 1870s, the Osage had been driven from their lands in Kansas onto a rocky, presumably worthless reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, only to discover, decades later, that this land was sitting above some of the largest oil deposits in the United States. To obtain that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In the early twentieth century, each person on the tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The amount was initially for only a few dollars, but over time, as more oil was tapped, the dividends grew into the hundreds, then the thousands. And virtually every year the payments increased, like the prairie creeks that joined to form the wide, muddy Cimarron, until the tribe members had collectively accumulated millions and millions of dollars. (In 1923 alone, the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent today of more than $400 million)” (6).
My main takeaway from reading this book was how unforgivably arrogant white people were towards the Osage. From the earliest settlers who felt entitled to lay claim to any land they wanted, to the American government that took Osage children away from their families and forced them to attend white-run schools, to the white guardians appointed to “manage” funds for Osage who have been deemed “incompetent,” to the calculated murders of a shocking number of Osage out of greed and the belief that the Osage somehow weren’t deserving of their riches…it all comes back to white people’s belief that they are superior and know better.
Put that arrogance alongside the white supremacists we all just saw marching in Charlottesville, and it’s obvious this disgusting attitude is a pattern, and it goes back many, many, many years.
And here’s another parallel with what we’re seeing in the news: the Osage had very few, if any, options for recourse when crimes were committed against them. Because the people who were holding their purse strings, taking away their rights, and killing them were the people in power. Kind of like how black Americans keep dying at the hands of police officers who are sworn to protect and serve them. The game is rigged. The house always wins. As a member of the Osage tribe said, “The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals” (214).
Also, I’ll never look at Laura Ingalls Wilder the same way again. If I still had my childhood copies of her books, I would chuck them in the garbage right this second. This is why it’s so important to read books written by people of all cultures and backgrounds; if you don’t, you’re not getting the full story.
You know, I wasn’t angry when I sat down to write this post, but I am angry now. I didn’t realize when I selected this book how much it would relate to our current state of affairs. In a way I’m glad because my goal in starting this book club was to engage with the issues of the day and speak up against the rising tide of xenophobia and hatred, but mostly I’m disheartened with how little things have changed in 100 years.
I don’t believe anger has the last word. I think anger leads to action. So I’ll close with a quote Grann included near the end of the book, which fittingly gives the Osage the final say on their painful history: “Today our hearts are divided between two worlds. We are strong and courageous, learning to walk in these two worlds, hanging on to the threads of our culture and traditions as we live in a predominantly non-Indian society. Our history, our culture, our heart, and our home will always be stretching our legs across the plains, singing songs in the morning light, and placing our feet down with the ever beating heart of the drum. We walk in two worlds” (266).
What did you think of Killers of the Flower Moon? Comments are open below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!