Top Quotes: “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & The Birth of the FBI” — David Grann


In the early 1870s, the Osage had been driven from their lands in Kansas onto a rocky presumably worthless reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, only to discover, decades later, that his land was sitting above some of the largest oil deposits in the US. To obtain that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In the early 20th century, each person on the tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The amount was initially only for a few dollars, but over time, as more oil was tapped, the dividends grew into the hundreds, then the thousands. And virtually every year the payments increased, until the tribe members had collectively accumulated millions of dollars. In 1923 alone, the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent today of more than $400 million. The Osage were considered the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The public became transfixed by the tribe’s prosperity, which belied the images of Native Americans that could be traced back to the first brutal contact with whites.”


“President Theodore Roosevelt had created what became the FBI in 1908, hoping to fill a void in federal law enforcement. Before Hoover, it still had only a few hundred agents and a smattering of field offices. Its jurisdiction over crimes was limited, and agents handled a hodgepodge of cases: they investigated antitrust and banking violations; the interstate shipment of stolen cars, contraceptives, prizefighting films, and smutty books; escapes by federal prisoners; and crimes committed on Indian reservations.”

Robbing The Natives

“The so-called Indian business, as White discovered, was an elaborate criminal operation, in which various sectors of society were complicit. The crooked guardians and administrators of Osage estates were typically among the most prominent white citizens: businessmen and ranchers and lawyers and politicians. So were the lawmen and prosecutors and judges who facilitated and concealed the swindling (and, sometimes, acted as guardians and administrators themselves).”

The Murders

“How had Hale became the beneficiary of murdered Henry Roan’s $25k life insurance policy? After Roan turned up with a bullet in the back of his head, in 1923, Hale had the most obvious motive. Yet the sheriff had never investigated Hale, nor had the other local lawmakers — an oversight that no longer seemed incidental. White tracked down the insurance salesman who had originally sold Roan the policy in 1921. Hale had always insisted that Roan, one of his closest friends, had made him the beneficiary because he’d lent Roan a lot of money over the years. But the salesman recalled that Hale had independently pushed for the policy, saying, ‘Hells bells, that’s just like spearing fish in a leg.’ Hale had promised to pay an extra premium on such a policy and the salesman had responded, ‘Well, we might write him for $10k.’ ‘No, I want it for $25k,’ Hale said. The salesman had told Hale that because he wasn’t Roan’s relative, he could become his beneficiary only if he were his creditor. Hale had said, ‘Well, he owes me a lot of money, he owes me $10k or $12k.’ White found it hard to believe that this debt was real. If Roan had really owed Hale that amount of money, then all Hale would’ve had to do was present proof of the debt to Roan’s wealthy estate, which would have reimbursed him. Hale had no reason to get an insurance policy on his friend’s life — a policy that wouldn’t have a significant return unless Roan, who was then in his late 30s, suddenly died.


“For Hoover, the Osage murder investigation became a showcase for the modern bureau. As he had hoped, the case demonstrated to many around the country the need for a national, more professional, scientifically skilled force. Hoover created a pristine origin story, a founding mythology in which the bureau, under his direction, had emerged from lawlessness and overcome the last wild American frontier, not disclosing its earlier bungling or false starts.”



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