Killers of the Flower Moon - Introduction - 12/Jan/2024

Killers of the Flower Moon – Introduction – 12/Jan/2024


In the heart of the 20th century, the United States witnessed one of the most shocking and remarkable series of crimes known as the Osage Indian Murders or the Reign of Terror. This was a crucial event that trigged a massive involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), paving the way towards its establishment as a significant law enforcement agency. The book, “Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth New American Frontier” by American journalist David Grann, depicts these events. Understanding this intriguing historical crime requires a detailed exploration of different aspects: the foundation of the crime, its impact, how it was uncovered, and its wider significance.

The Setting

The specific setting of the crime was Osage County in Oklahoma. The Osage Indian tribe, native to this region, found vast amounts of oil beneath their land in the early 20th century. This discovery made the Osage tribe the wealthiest people per capita in the world during that period. They lived in mansions, drove luxury automobiles, and sent their children to Europe for an education; a remarkably affluent portrayal for an Indigenous tribe that could otherwise be perceived through the typical lens of poverty and disenfranchisement. It was this prodigious wealth that subsequently made the Osage Tribe a target.

The Reign of Terror

The period between 1921-1926, infamously known as the Reign of Terror, saw a series of mysterious killings of the Osage Tribe members. The mode of murders varied vastly – from poisoning and bombing to staged accidents. At its peak, nearly several Osage people were killed under suspicious circumstances. The series of murders was sparked by the greed for wealth and the inherently racist biases against the Native Americans. The murderers were mostly white residents of the area who got integrated into the Osage community through marriage or forgery, with their only goal being to inherit the wealth legally owned by the Osage Tribe members.

Unveiling the Crime—Involvement of the FBI

The mysteriously escalating death toll attracted the attention of the Federal Government, leading to the involvement of the FBI, led at the time by a young J. Edgar Hoover. This case represented one of the biggest early FBI investigations. The primary agent responsible for the case was Tom White – an old frontier lawman. And despite the many obstacles, he and his undercover team managed to unravel the sinister conspiracy and bring the criminals to justice.

The Perpetrators and Their Fate

Perpetrators of these crimes included William K. Hale, a powerful cattleman who schemed to inherit the Osage oil rights by marrying his nephew to an Osage woman, and subsequently plotting the murders of her family members; and Ernest Burkhart, who facilitated his uncle’s plan by implementing the murders. When the crimes were finally exposed, Hale and Burkhart were convicted for their atrocities and served life sentences.

The wider societal implications

The Osage Murders was not just an appalling crime limited to a certain geographical area. It had broader societal implications highlighting the racism against Native Americans and their exploitation for personal gains. It also brought to light the lack of recognition of Indigenous land rights and exploitation of their natural resources. These issues continue to permeate American society, and the Osage Murders serve as a historical reminder of these injustices.


  • The Osage Tribe has been called the wealthiest group of people in the world per capita during the 1920s due to the oil reserves on their land
  • Over 24 members of the Osage tribe were officially counted as murdered, however, experts believe the actual number could be in the hundreds.
  • The trial of the Osage Indian Murders was one of the first significant cases investigated by the FBI
  • The FBI assigned more than 20 special agents led by Agent Tom White to the investigation of the Osage Indian Murders
  • The case was significantly influenced by the racial prejudice towards Native Americans prevalent in the society at that time
  • The Osage Tribe still resides in Osage County, Oklahoma, possessing the mineral rights to their former reservation.
  • Image Description

    The image shows an aged, sepia-toned photograph depicting members of the Osage Tribe in traditional attire in the foreground. Against the backdrop, a small wooden house is surrounded by lush fields and a dark liquid gushing from an oil derrick pointing towards the sky.