The past should teach us how to behave in the future and not to repeat our mistakes.
The American Ostage Indians
.The Osage Indians believed themselves to be The Children of The Middle Waters. Their belief was that the People of The Sky(Tzi-sho) met the People of The Earth (Hun-kah), forming their tribe, The Children of The Middle Waters (Nee-kah-shkahn). Beginning in 1808, they had little choice but to cede their ancestral lands in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas and most of their land in Oklahoma for the white settlers. The last of their ceding was in 1872, when they left Kansas and were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma.
Miraculously, oil was discovered on their reservation where, fortunately, the Osage had retained their mineral rights. Under the Osage Act of 1906, each of the 2229 members of the Osage Tribe were given 'headrights' of the oil bonanza with royalties to be paid. Suddenly, the Osage were the richest in America. Then, the Reign of Terror began.
Issuing Guardianships of Osage Indians
Now the government decides to step in, believing the Osage incompetent and not savvy enough to control their riches. So, they created 'guardianships' for each member of the tribe. Under the guardianship, which was mostly given to the local white men thus, corruption was rampant. Under control, the guardian could petition to inherit their estate if the ward died before legal competency.
It wasn't long before mysterious deaths and murders began to occur. Too many to be anything but sinister. The blatant corruption and thirst for greed were among lawyers, bankers, doctors, undertakers, teachers, and law enforcement officers. But unfortunately, most of the crimes went unreported or even prosecuted while they had been raking in millions.
Investigations By BOI and FBI
The leader of the corruption and murders was William Hale, a rancher who called himself "King of Osage Hill." Hale bribed everyone he could, and ordered the murders of the Osage. He had his nephew, Ernest Burkhart marry Osage woman, Mollie Brown as a 'straw man to control her headright.
The Osage Tribunal Council suspected Hale and his followers of the corruption and murders and were collecting proof. In desperation, they turned to the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), the forerunner of the FBI(FBI). J. Edgar Hoover received the case on April 2, 1923, focusing on the 24 murders between 1921-1923. He agreed to send undercover FBI agents led by Tom White to gather info. They soon discovered the deaths of 60 and probably more.
Among the first of the bodies was Anna Brown's, found on May 27, 1921. A drifter, Kelsie Morrison confessed to her murder ordered by Hale and Burkhart. Hale had paid him $1,000. And ordered the murder of his nephew's wife Mollie, and her mother, Lizzie.
Main Characters of The Osage Terror
Listed are the main characters of the tragedy:
- William Hale, leader of the corruption and murders
- Mollie Burkhart, wife of Ernest Burkhart
- Anna Brown, sister of Mollie
- Rita & Bill Smith, sister, and brother-in-law of Mollie, murdered
- Shoun Brothers, crooked doctors falsifying death certificates
- W. W. Vaughn, attorney for the Osage, murdered
- Henry Roan, murdered
- Kelsie Morrison murderer
- Herman Davis, Oklahoma's Governor, corrupt investigator
Trial of Hale, Ramsey, and Burkhart
After a few mishaps between state and federal courts, Hale, Ramsey, and Burkhart were found guilty and sentenced to life. Burkhart was paroled in 1937 but was back in prison after a robbery. Hale, after serving 20 years was paroled in 1947 on the condition he leave Oklahoma and never return. Instead, he left for Arizona, where he died in a nursing home in 1962.
Monument in Honor of the Osage Tribe
The monument is located at the Highway 18 and Interstate 44, Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It stands 35 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 80 feet in length.
A marker stands in the St. Francis Cemetery honoring a mass grave of the Osage Indians.
The Osage Today
In 2000, the Osage Tribe sued the government, alleging their misuse of trust funds for their people. In 2011, the government settled the claim for 380 million. Today, the Osage have built seven lucrative casinos to build homes, schools, and hospitals and invest in the future.
The Osage Museum, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is accessible to the public and full of artifacts and the history of the Osage. 918-287-5441. The staff is excellent and highly knowledgeable.
The book, Killers of the Flower Moon by author David Grann is an epic read. He spent several years documenting the FBI's historical facts, records, and interviews with descendants of the Osage carnage.
The movie, Killers of the Flower Moon is set for release in 2023, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro.