Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

The underground reservation…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Driven from their ancestral lands, the buffalo they live on destroyed, their children forcibly removed to schools that indoctrinated them in white culture, the numbers of the Osage tribe had collapsed to just three thousand. But when the government insisted on a policy of allotments in their reservation, a forward-thinking chief and a half-Osage lawyer managed to ensure that the Osage retained mineral rights to the land – an “underground reservation”. So when they then leased their land to oil prospectors, the Osage became enormously wealthy. And then they started to die. This is the story of what happened to the Osage – what was proved, what was suspected at the time, and Grann’s own speculations about the truth with the benefit of distance from the events.

This was a mixed bag for me. It’s an astonishing and horrifying story as it relates to the treatment of the Osage, and a fascinating one as it relates to the development of law enforcement and the newly formed FBI. Unfortunately the telling of the story is patchy – some chapters are well written and informative, others are messy, repetitive and badly structured. Grann, presumably in an attempt to make it read entertainingly, jumps from tense to tense, and while it’s clearly exhaustively researched, the end result is an untidy combination of too much information without enough focus. As I feel I say too often, where was the editor? Name after name after name appears, then disappears either for chapters or for ever. I found that I was constantly trying to remember the relevance of some name thrown at me without reminder a hundred pages from the last mention.

From left: Minnie Smith with her sisters Anna and Mollie. Minnie’s and Anna’s deaths kicked off the investigation.
Photograph: Courtesy of Raymond Red Corn

The actual events, though, deserve to be widely known and remembered so I struggled on through. As the wealth of the Osage grew, so did resentment from the dominant white people. It’s hard to condemn people for being individually racist at a time when the nation was institutionally – constitutionally – racist. The government felt that these childlike neolithic savages (in their view) couldn’t be given responsibility for managing their own affairs, so appointed guardians, most of whom exploited their position to line their own pockets. Some men took guardianships over several members of the tribe, giving them considerable power. But for one man, or perhaps for a conspiracy of many, this wasn’t enough – they wanted not just to skim the wealth of the tribe, but to own it outright. To do this, they had to go to extreme lengths, including multiple murders.

At the same time, law enforcement was still in its infancy, with a populace who were highly suspicious of any form of government interference, as they saw it. Local lawmen and private detectives hired by various interested parties seemed to be dying too frequently too, so that eventually the locals appealed to the federal government for help. Enter the Bureau of Investigation, under the new rule of J Edgar Hoover who would introduce a more professional, scientific form of detection as he transformed the Bureau into the FBI. This part of the story is interesting, but I felt it could have been more fully developed. The agent who led the investigation, Tom White, had previously been a Texas Ranger, and Grann tells his story very well, using him to show how law was administered in those still relatively wild pioneering days, now made even wilder by the gangster culture created by Prohibition and the lure of the Osage’s wealth bringing all kinds of disreputable folk to the area.

David Grann

Grann takes us through White’s investigation, which unfortunately covers all the same ground as was in the early chapters. However, it picks up again when the criminals come to trial, and we learn about the rampant corruption in the justice system that made the job of the lawmen even harder. Grann then takes us on to read about what happened after the trial, to White, to the accused and to the tribe. In the final section, Grann gives his own speculation that there may have been even more murders than were identified at the time, using death statistics to make his case. He further suggests that more people may have been involved in the murders than were ever bought to trial. He talks rather movingly of how the murders continue to haunt the descendants of the victims, especially because of the suggestion that in some cases the murders were committed by white spouses of the tribe members, meaning that some people are descended from both murderer and victim.

So a fascinating and important story which, despite my irritation at the messy structure, I’m glad to have read and happy to recommend.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

The elephant’s pleasure was plain to see. The water and the scrubbing motion of the broom must have awoken in him some pleasant memory, a river in india, the rough trunk of a tree, and the proof was that for as long as the washing lasted, a good half hour, he did not move from the spot, standing firm on his powerful legs, as if he were hypnotised. Knowing as one does the preeminent virtues of bodily cleanliness, it was no surprise to find that in the place where one elephant had been there now stood another. The dirt that had covered him before, and through which one could barely see his skin, had vanished beneath the combined actions of water and broom, and solomon revealed himself now in all his splendour. A somewhat relative splendour, it must be said. The skin of an asian elephant like solomon is thick, a greyish coffee colour and sprinkled with freckles and hairs, a permanent disappointment to the elephant, despite the advice he was always giving himself about accepting his fate and being contented with what he had and giving thanks to vishnu. He surrendered himself to being washed as if he were expecting a miracle, a baptism, but the result was there for all to see, hairs and freckles.

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Despite the brutality of the crimes, many whites did not mask their enthusiasm for the lurid story. OSAGE INDIAN KILLING CONSPIRACY THRILLS, declared the Reno Evening Gazette. Under the headline OLD WILD WEST STILL LIVES IN LAND OF OSAGE MURDERS, a wire service sent out a nationwide bulletin that the story, “however depressing, is nevertheless blown through with a breath of the romantic, devil-may-care frontier west that we thought was gone. And it is an amazing story, too. So amazing that at first you wonder if it can possibly have happened in modern, twentieth-century America.” A newsreel about the murders, titled “The Tragedy of the Osage Hills,” was shown at cinemas. “The true history of the most baffling series of murders in the annals of crime,” a handbill for the show said. “A Story of Love, Hatred and Man’s Greed for Gold. Based on the real facts as divulged by the startling confession of [Individual 1].”

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….The pottingar delivered his opinion in a most insinuating manner; but he seemed to shrink into something less than his natural tenuity when he saw the blood rise in the old cheek of Simon Glover, and inflame to the temples the complexion of the redoubted smith.
….The last, stepping forward, and turning a stern look on the alarmed pottingar, broke out as follows: “Thou walking skeleton! thou asthmatic gallipot! thou poisoner by profession! if I thought that the puff of vile breath thou hast left could blight for the tenth part of a minute the fair fame of Catharine Glover, I would pound thee, quacksalver! in thine own mortar, and beat up thy wretched carrion with flower of brimstone, the only real medicine in thy booth, to make a salve to rub mangy hounds with!”

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But one distinguishing characteristic of this great author’s mind and feelings deserves, even in the shortest allusion to his memory, to be mentioned as giving colour to all his works – we mean his love of country – his devoted attachment to the land of his birth, and the scenes of his youth – his warm sympathy in every thing that interested his nation, and the unceasing application of his industry and imagination to illustrate its history or to celebrate its exploits. From the Lay of the Last Minstrel, or the border ballads, to the last lines which he wrote, he showed a complete and entire devotion to his country. His works, both of poetry and prose, are impregnated with this feeling, and are marked by the celebration of successive portions of its wild scenery, or of separate pieces of its romantic annals. Hence his friends could often trace his residence, or the course of his reading, for periods anterior to the publication of his most popular works, in the pages of his glowing narrative or graphic description. Hence the Lady of the Lake sent crowds of visitors to the mountains of Scotland, who would never have thought of such a pilgrimage unless led by the desire to compare the scenery with the poem.

from the obituary of Sir Walter Scott

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….Like so many mornings after a torrential rainstorm, the day broke awash with brilliant sunshine and fresh air. Though the sun had warmed the tin room to the point where I’d grown hot in my sleeping bag, the wretched position in which I’d finally fallen asleep had morphed into borderline uncomfortable.
….I gazed at the cot above me expecting to see the impression of Pia still sleeping there, but it was flat. To my left, Rachel’s bed was empty too, her bedroll neatly tied. I was relieved to see Sandra still bundled in her red sleeping bag, head tucked down. Like Pia, she was a natural-born sleeper.
….Led by aromas of French toast and coffee, I climbed up the hill across grass flattened by the night’s downpour. In the distance, our destination: smoke-blue mountains obscured and then revealed by morning fog. I felt equally pulled and repelled. What did the mountains care about our plan to climb them, rafting the waters that divided them? They had eternity before us, and eternity after us. We were nothing to them.

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So… are you tempted?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….“It’s a bit of a climb from this side,” said Parker.
….“It is. He stood here in the ditch, and put one foot into this place where the paling’s broken away and one hand on the top, and hauled himself up. No. 10 must have been a man of exceptional height, strength and agility. I couldn’t get my foot up, let alone reaching the top with my hand, I’m five foot nine. Could you?”
….Parker was six foot, and could just touch the top of the wall with his hand.
….“I might do it – on one of my best days,” he said, “for an adequate object, or after adequate stimulant.”
….“Just so,” said Lord Peter. “Hence we deduce No. 10’s exceptional height and strength.”
….“Yes,” said Parker. “It’s a bit unfortunate that we had to deduce his exceptional shortness and weakness just now, isn’t it?”
….“Oh!” said Peter. “Well – well, as you so rightly say, that is a bit unfortunate.”

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In truth I sometimes lost track of where Buddy’s thoughts ended and mine began. For years I couldn’t tell if I liked a movie or a book or a New Yorker short story without consulting him first. Then later I disagreed for the sake of disagreeing, failing to see how much I was still in his sway. In later years on the show I learned to write lines for his monologues in his voice and to come up with the sort of questions he’d be likely to ask in his interviews. He told me once that I’d become the other half of him, which he meant as a compliment but made me feel weird, like his soul had subsumed mine. One reason I left New York for the Peace Corps was a desire to silence his voice within my thoughts

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“Let them go,” he said – “let them go, Catharine, those gallants, with their capering horses, their jingling spurs, their plumed bonnets, and their trim mustachios: they are not of our class, nor will we aim at pairing with them. Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird chooses her mate; but you will not see the linnet pair with the sparrow hawk, nor the Robin Redbreast with the kite. My father was an honest burgher of Perth, and could use his needle as well as I can. Did there come war to the gates of our fair burgh, down went needles, thread, and shamoy leather, and out came the good head piece and target from the dark nook, and the long lance from above the chimney. Show me a day that either he or I was absent when the provost made his musters! Thus we have led our lives, my girl, working to win our bread, and fighting to defend it. I will have no son in law that thinks himself better than me; and for these lords and knights, I trust thou wilt always remember thou art too low to be their lawful love, and too high to be their unlawful loon. And now lay by thy work, lass, for it is holytide eve, and it becomes us to go to the evening service, and pray that Heaven may send thee a good Valentine tomorrow.”

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….The Osage had been assured by the U.S. government that their Kansas territory would remain their home forever, but before long they were under siege from settlers. Among them was the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who later wrote Little House on the Prairie based on her experiences. “Why don’t you like Indians, Ma?” Laura asks her mother in one scene.
….“I just don’t like them; and don’t lick your fingers, Laura.”
….“This is Indian country, isn’t it?” Laura said. “What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”
….One evening, Laura’s father explains to her that the government will soon make the Osage move away: “That’s why we’re here, Laura. White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick.”

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….Bannerman remembered a cartoon he had seen once in an old Punch magazine. Two crocodiles basking in a jungle swamp, heads facing each other above the muddy waters. One of them saying, ‘You know, I keep thinking today is Thursday.’ Bannerman smiled. It had amused him then, as it amused him now. What bloody difference did it make . . . today, tomorrow, yesterday, Thursday? It was ironic that later he would look back on this day as the day it all began. The day after which nothing would ever be quite the same again.
….But at the moment, so far as Bannerman knew, it was just a day like any other. He gazed reflectively from the window a while longer, out across Princes Street, the gardens beyond, and the Castle brooding darkly atop the rain-blackened cliffs. Even when it rained Edinburgh was a beautiful city. Against all odds it had retained its essential character in the face of centuries of change. There was something almost medieval about it; in the crooked hidden alleyways, the cobbled closes, the tall leaning tenements. And, of course, the formidable shape of the Castle itself, stark and powerful against the skyline.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 189…

Episode 189

Happily a couple of excellent reads seem to have broken my slump and got me back into the reading groove. Tragically the same seems to apply to my book acquisition groove! The TBR is up just 2 to 228, but I have a horrible feeling the postman might be about to knock at the door at any moment…

Here are a few more that should reach the launch pad soon…

True Crime

This one appealed to me when it came out a couple of years ago and I’m only now managing to fit it in. Since then I’ve seen a few reviews of it – all positive, so my hopes are high…

The Blurb says: In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And this was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.

As the death toll climbed, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled it. In desperation, its young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. Together with the Osage he and his undercover team began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

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Fiction

One of the more difficult to fill categories on the Main Journey of my Around the World challenge is “elephant travel”. The elephant in this book is admittedly travelling on the wrong continent, but I still think I deserve points for initiative! It sounds deliciously quirky and better be good, because I really doubt I’ll be able to find another one…

The Blurb says: A delightful, witty tale of friendship and adventure from prize-winning novelist José Saramago.

In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. In José Saramago’s remarkable and imaginative retelling, Solomon and his keeper, Subhro, begin in dismal conditions, forgotten in a corner of the palace grounds. When it occurs to the king and queen that an elephant would be an appropriate wedding gift, everyone rushes to get them ready: Subhro is given two new suits of clothes and Solomon a long overdue scrub. Accompanied by the Archduke, his new wife, and the royal guard, these unlikely heroes traverse a continent riven by the Reformation and civil wars, witnessed along the way by scholars, historians, and wide-eyed ordinary people as they make their way through the storied cities of northern Italy; they brave the Alps and the terrifying Isarco and Brenner Passes; across the Mediterranean Sea and up the Inn River; and at last, toward their grand entry into the imperial city.

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Scottish Classics

One from the Scottish section on my Classics Club list – The Fair Maid of Perth. This will be a re-read but from so long ago that I remember almost nothing about it except a general feeling of having loved it. All the blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon are dreadful for some reason, with many of them kindly telling how the story ends, so beware! (I reckon that should be a hanging offence.) This is the best I could find, but it fails to mention the central romance…

The Blurb says: The Fair Maid of Perth centres on the merchant classes of Perth in the fourteenth century, and their commitment to the pacific values of trade, in a bloody and brutal era in which no right to life is recognised, and in which the Scottish nobles fight for control of the weak Scottish monarchy, and clans are prepared to extinguish each other to gain supremacy in the central Highlands. It is a remarkable novel, in part because late in his career Scott has a new subject, and in part because he employs a spare narrative style that is without parallel in the rest of his oeuvre. Far too many critics, from his son-in-law J.G. Lockhart to the present day, have written off late Scott, and seen his last works as evidence of failing powers. The readers of this edition (which is not my edition) of The Fair Maid of Perth will see that these critics are mistaken, for in it we witness a luminous creative intelligence working at high pressure to produce a tightly organised and deeply moving novel.

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Thriller

I’m ashamed to admit I won this in a giveaway in February 2017 and this is me just getting around to reading it – this being one of the reasons I don’t often enter giveaways! It sounded good then and it still sounds good now…

The Blurb says: A heart-stopping, page-turning thriller that sees a trip of a lifetime – white-water rafting in the remote US wilderness – turn into a battle for survival for four best friends.

Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans. Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air. No phone coverage. No people. No help.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?