Osage Oil Discovery: How Negotiating Mineral Rights Led to Unprecedented Wealth

Pawhuska, Oklahoma – The story of the Osage tribe and the wealth they accumulated from oil discoveries is nothing short of remarkable. During the late 1800s, while other tribes were being mistreated by the government, the Osage leaders negotiated for mineral rights when they were forced to move to land that was deemed worthless by white officials. Little did anyone know, this provision would prove to be immensely valuable when oil was discovered on their land. Over the span of five decades, the Osage received approximately $300 million from their mineral rights, which would amount to around $4 billion in today’s currency. This oil discovery surpassed the value of all the gold found during the United States gold rush.

However, the movie adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon” fails to capture the true extent of the Osage tribe’s wealth and the violence that ensued. The film, directed by Martin Scorsese, depicts scenes of violence, but downplays the number of Osage tribe members and their allies who were likely murdered due to the oil profits. While popularly believed that around 24 people were killed during the “Reign of Terror” that took place between 1921 and 1926, recent reports suggest that the actual number of murders was likely much higher, possibly exceeding 50. Some even argue that hundreds of Osage individuals were killed during this time period. The secretive nature of the murders, flawed reporting and investigation processes, corruption, and racism all contributed to the underestimation of the true number of deaths.

In the book “Killers of the Flower Moon,” author David Grann delves further into the murders, attempting to uncover the hidden truth. His findings not only reveal that the number of murders was significantly higher than previously thought but also point to the existence of more culprits and powerful figures who orchestrated the crimes. The film subtly touches on this revelation during a pivotal scene in which the protagonist, Ernest Burkhart, faces a room full of men during his trial. The implication is that these individuals either had direct involvement in the murders or continued to benefit from them.

One aspect that sets the book apart from the film is its focus on the early days of the FBI and how the investigation into the Osage murders shaped the organization. In fact, the full title of the book is “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.” Through the eyes of FBI agent Tom White, the book delves into the details of the investigation and provides a deeper understanding of the political landscape in which the FBI was formed.

The story of the Osage tribe and the horrors they faced, coupled with the immense wealth they acquired, is as intriguing as it is tragic. The film adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon” may not capture every nuance and element of the true story, but it serves as a reminder of the injustices suffered by Native American communities and the lasting impact of their experiences.