- The Good: Reads like fiction; History they don’t teach in school; True crime; Osage culture
- The Bad: FBI origins aren’t extensive enough to necessitate a sub-title credit
- The Literary: Extended notes and bibliography
Decades after the government forcibly drove the Osage tribe from the central plains to a territory northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the previously worthless reservation land struck black gold. In the 1920’s, as prospectors moved in, they paid the tribe leases and royalties, and each person on the Osage tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The tribe collectively accumulated millions of dollars, and it’s citizens built mansions and rode in chauffeured automobiles.
Then, one by one, members of the tribe began dying at an alarming rate. Mollie Burkhart’s older sister was shot and her mother slowly poisoned. Few deaths were investigated by local authorities, and those who investigate ended up murdered themselves. As the Osage death toll surpassed twenty-four, J. Edgar Hoover’s newly created F.B.I. program took up the case. Former Texas Ranger Tom White headed an undercover team to infiltrate the reservation and uncovered one of the most chilling conspiracies in modern American history.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and the best nonfiction reads like a story. Grann’s focus on Mollie Burkhart’s story in the first section of the book forces the reader front and center to a personal tragedy in an era of old west crime and greed, when the “only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Mollie lived in terror for years as her friends and family were murdered around her. I myself had trouble reading this part of the book before bed, so cold and gruesome in its details.
After setting up the story, the middle section focuses on Tom White and his investigation, from dead-ends, to confessions, to trials, and finally prison (for some). And just when you think justice has been served, Grann tells his story of his investigative reporting and begins to unwrap how many other murders were perpetrated against the Osage in a system that was supposed to protect them.
Highly recommended for fans of history, true-crime, or anyone interested in educating yourself about native american injustices.