It’s no secret that non-fiction generally isn’t what I reach for when I’m browsing for books. I have dabbled in memoirs and biographies, but, in my [previous] opinion, political and historical tomes are best left in Miller, the college library where I consumed more than enough of them. This past spring, though, during a road trip from California to New York, I had started hearing buzz about a fantastic non-fiction book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & The Birth of the FBI, and, given that Osage territory is in Oklahoma, an area I was driving directly through, I felt it necessary to give the audiobook a try.
I lasted about thirty minutes with the audiobook before abandoning it due the narrator’s grating voice [no offense meant to the narrator, I have a grating voice myself. but I also know better than to narrate an audiobook] in favor of some decidedly less intellectual iTunes playlists.
Months later, I was in Barnes & Noble with my father—an ardent non-fiction reader who often laments my lack of interest in the genre. Tight on money as usual, I convinced him to buy me a book. The caveat: he would only buy me a book if it was non-fiction. My eyes drifted to the “Noteworthy Non-Fiction” shelf and landed almost instantly on Killers of the Flower Moon. Destiny. I picked it up and got to reading.
Killers of the Flower Moon exceeded all of my expectations, as most of my friends now as I found myself recommending it at every turn. Where most non-fiction books are dry, dull regurgitations of historical events (telling you how I really feel), this read like a page-turning thriller; and, given how horrible many of the events in the book were, I almost wish it weren’t true.
The Osage Indians, who once occupied the vast majority of Missouri and Kansas, were forced to relocate to Oklahoma at the turn of the 19th Century. Once settled, a few Osage observed that men would often come survey their land, and, in certain cases, drill. Cognizant this meant that they were sitting on oil-rich land, they struck a deal with the government that entitled them to the oil money. In due time, the Osage were multi-millionaires, and the government—and white men—took notice. All of a sudden, Osage began disappearing, turning up in rivers and empty plots of land with bullets in their head. For years, no one was able to trace the origins of the murders, and they continued to occur at an alarming rate.
As the Osage murders continued to occur, further east, in Washington, D.C., the FBI as we know it today was beginning to take shape; as J. Edgar Hoover took the reins, determined to transform the organization into a governmental superpower taken seriously across the nation. Inevitably, the FBI was tasked to deal with the Osage murders, and what they (ultimately, after many a failed attempt) found was truly shocking. I pride myself on predicting thrillers from the beginning, and when I found out about who was responsible for the murders, I genuinely gasped on the subway, leading my fellow passengers to scatter in fear of a rat somewhere beneath us. Keep in mind, this is non-fiction, which is not only a testament to David Graham’s way with words, but also a tragic reflection on the way American history is taught in our country. I took American History in eighth grade, Advanced Placement American History in high school, multiple Ethics in Politics courses, and—wait for it—even a Native American History course in college. Not one of these classes touched on the Osage murders. As they say, history is written by the victors, so, my only spoiler is…you can likely guess who emerged victorious in the wake of these tragic events. Teachers who are reading this, take note…