Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Killers Of The Flower Moon - Chilling Story Of Power, Collusion, Racism, That's Relevant Still Today [UPDATED]

David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon tells the chilling and disgusting story of how white men in
power murdered scores, maybe more, Osage Indians in the 1920s, to get their 'headrights' which was their right to their share of the oil wealth. The headlights couldn't be sold, but they could be inherited.

Grann's interviewed children and grandchildren of murdered Osage.  He reviewed archival documents in libraries and agencies, What he found reveals a much bigger impact than others had.  The FBI quit investigating when the got convictions of two key people, but Grann suggests a lot more people were involved in the murders - both as perpetrators and as victims.

Basically, most ofl the important white men in Osage territory were involved.  The Osage had chosen what they thought was relatively desolate land in Oklahoma on the belief that whites would take over any decent land, as had happened to them previously.  But they did have a good attorney and they reserved the underground rights to all their territory.  When oil was discovered, they became rich.  That in itself was a problem because whites derided the idea of rich Indians living in nice house with fancy cars and clothes.  And the idea that Indians had whites working for them in their houses.

The law also had problems with the idea of rich Indians.
"The law mandated that guardians be assigned to any American Indians whom the Department of the Interior deemed "incompetent"  In practice, the decision to appoint a guardian - to render an American Indian, in effect, a half citizen - was nearly always based on the quantum of Indian food in the property holder, or what a state supreme court justice referred to as "racial weakness." (p. 78)

So the headright owners had to have a white guardians watch over their money.  This position gave the guardians many opportunities to syphon off money for their own uses.   But this wasn't enough for the white power structure of the area.  They began a long and relentless crusade to murder Osage headright owners to gain control of the money.  They used guns, they used poison, they even blew up someone's house.

They got away with this because all the key people - the mayor, the private investigators the families of Osage hired, the doctors who did autopsies, the undertakers, the various attorneys, the judges, the bankers, the juries, when there was one, were all involved.  All benefited financially.

It's a horrible story that should be highlighted in American history books, but isn't.  The FBI got involved because they'd already been embarrassed by an earlier case involving the Osage.  Hoover wanted to establish his new agency's credibility.  An upright Texas ranger who'd joined the FBI took over the case and managed to get witnesses to testify who hadn't before.  But when they got a few men convicted - notably William Hale and his nephew Ernest Burkhart -  they stopped there, not investigating the many other suspicious deaths.  Both these men were not given the death sentence for killing Indians, and were out of prison after serving relatively short terms.

Here's a bit of a summary from near the end of the book.
"I remembered the Shouns.  They were the doctors who had claimed that the bullet that had killed Anna Brown had disappeared  The doctors who had initially concealed that Bill Smith had given a last statement incriminating Hale and who had arrange it so that one of them became the administrator of Rita Smith's invaluable estate.  The doctors whom investigators suspected of giving Mollie Burkhart poison instead of insulin.  Many of the cases seemed bound by a web of silent conspirators  Mathis, the Big Hill Trading Company owner and the guardian of Anna Brown and her mother, was a member of the inquest into Brown's murder that failed to turn up the bullet.  He also manage, on behalf of Mollies' family, the team of private eyes that conspicuously never cracked any of the cases.  A witness had told the bureau that after Henry Roan's murder, Hale was eager to get the corpse away from one undertaker and delivered to the funeral home at the Big Hill Trading Company.    The murder plots depended upon doctors who falsified death certificates and upon undertakers who quickly and quietly buried bodies.  The guardian who McAuliffe suspected of killing his grandmother was a prominent attorney working for the tribe who never interfered with the criminal networks operating under his nose.  Nor did the bankers, including the apparent murderer Burt, who were profiting from the criminal "Indian business."  Nor did the venal mayor of Fairfax - an ally of Hale's who also served as a guardian.  Nor did countless lawmen and prosecutors and judges who had a hand in the blood money.  In 1926, the Osage leader Bacon Rind remarked, "There are men amongst the whites, honest men, but they are might scarce."  Garrick Bailey, a leading anthropologist on Osage culture, said to me, "If Hale had told what he knew, a high percent of the county's leading citizens would have been in prison"  Indeed virtually every element of society was complicit in the urderous system.  Which is why just about any member of this society right have been responsible for the murder of McBride, in Washington:  he threatened to bring down not only Hale but a vast criminal operation that was reaping millions and millions of dollars." (pp. 590-91)

In the background, we learn a little about the development of police departments in the US and some about J. Edgar Hoover's beginnings at the FBI.  We learn about private detective companies like Pinkerton and the William J Burns International Detective Agency.   And we learn about how greed and prejudice trumped justice.

Often the web of connections that enable the well-to-do to commit crimes in impunity is invisible to those on the outside.  This book shows those connections and how insidious they can be.  This is a valuable lesson as Mueller unravels the connections that Trump had with Russia.  And, of course, Trump had in New York that allowed him to swindle and scam clients, contractors, and the public through connections with New York high society and lawyers who would buy off any potential threats with a binding non-disclosure agreement.

It's also a reminder that reading well researched and written books can offer us a much better overview of a situation than the daily snatches of news that pop up and disappear, leaving us with a temporary outrage, but no context to put it in or to help us remember the details.

[UPDATE Feb 21, 2019:  As an exclamation mark to my comments about how this is relevant still today, here's a Miami Herald story about a judge ruling. 

"A judge ruled Thursday that federal prosecutors — among them, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta — broke federal law when they signed a plea agreement with a wealthy, politically connected sex trafficker and concealed it from more than 30 of his underage victims.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra, in a 33-page opinion, said that the evidence he reviewed showed that Jeffrey Epstein had been operating an international sex operation in which he and others recruited underage girls — not only in Florida — but from overseas, in violation of federal law.
'Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him.,’’ wrote Marra, who is based in Palm Beach County. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.'’’
This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in Oklahoma around the Osage killings.  Judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and the wealthy worked out deals that they hid from the victims.    In this case, the prosecutor then is now Trump's US Secretary of Labor.  And in the researching I've done in the last few years, I've run across stories saying that Trump was one of the people who enjoyed going to Epstein's parties and the young girls he provided.  From Think Progress:
"Trump told New York Magazine about his relationship with Epstein in 2002.
'I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with,” Trump said at the time. “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it: Jeffrey enjoys his social life.'”
Bill Clinton and many others were also party-going friends of Epstein according to this article.

My point is not to indulge in gossip here, but to make the bigger point:  That white men (particularly) in power take care of each other to cover up their illegal and often despicable actions.  And it's still happening today.  Epstein's out of prison after a short stint, Trump is president, and Acosta is his Secretary of Labor.  The victims still have gotten no real justice.  Exactly like the Osage Killings.

1 comment:

  1. Read this a couple months ago, another book you might put on you list to read is Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder



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