‘Like others on the Osage tribal roll, Mollie and her family members each received a headright – essentially, a share in the tribe’s mineral trust.’
In the 1920s, the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma were amongst the richest people in the world. Oil had been discovered under their land, and the headrights could not be sold. They could only be inherited. This was to keep the mineral trust under tribal control, but it resulted in many Osage people being murdered. Just how many were murdered and over what period is not clear. Mr Grann writes that according to most historical accounts, the Osage Reign of Terror spanned from the spring of 1921, to January 1926, but there were other killings.
In this book Mr Grann writes principally about one matriarchal Osage family, about the plan to murder the women in that family, in a way guaranteed to enable their headrights to be inherited. Mollie Burkhardt’s older sister Anna was shot dead, then her mother was slowly poisoned. As the death toll climbs, with more than twenty-four Osage killed as well as almost anyone trying to investigate the killings, the case is taken up by the newly formed FBI. After a bungled start, J. Edgar Hoover, puts Tom White (a former Texas Ranger) in charge of the case. Tom White and his undercover team, working with the Osage, began to expose this awful conspiracy.
Poor Mollie Burkhardt. She discovers that her husband, Ernest Burkhardt, was part of the conspiracy. He and his uncle, William Hale planned the death of Mollie and her entire family, including the Burkhardt children.
If only it were fiction, not fact. Mr Grann sets out the tragedy in a way that is easy to read, even though the scale of it is not easy to comprehend. This tragedy raises so many questions about the treatment of Native Americans, about greed and about systemic corruption. And now?
‘History is a merciless judge.’