The past is not just a foreign country in David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: it is also a crime scene. Grann tells the story of the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe that struck oil in dirt-poor Oklahoma. By the 1920s, the Osage were reckoned to be the richest people on earth. They also became the most murdered.
They died by shooting, poisoning, even dynamiting. Several were probably killed by their own husbands or wives – white people who had married them for their wealth. This was no grand conspiracy, no industrial genocide like the one the Nazis orchestrated. It was casual murder. On the occasions when a culprit was caught and a jury was asked to convict a white person of killing an Osage, no one was quite sure what verdict to reach. A tribe member explained: ‘The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder – or merely cruelty to animals.’
America’s treatment of its native population has been as cynical as it has been cruel. In 1804, Thomas Jefferson invited the Osage to the White House and called them his children, adding that he wanted them to regard the American nation as a friend and benefactor. ‘Within four