There is just so much American history that I'm ignorant of, and sadly, a lot of that is the history of marginalized communities in this country. I had no idea that many members of the Osage were, early in the last century, wealthy because the US government had re-homed them to what appeared to be unattractive Oklahoma land, but which turned out to be an area full of oil.
So for a time, the Osage were quite wealthy. But because the US government didn't consider them to be fully human (!), the government appointed non-Native guardians to help them manage their money. Yeah, you can bet that went well.
In fact, it went so badly that after a while, Osage people began dying in higher numbers than would be normal for the time and place. And there seemed to be two ways they died: gunshot wounds to the head, or slow, lingering deaths, especially after drinking alcohol given to them by white people.
Not surprisingly, the Osage suspected something else was going on. Unsurprisingly, their community was run (or rather, nearly terrorized) by a white man who pretended to be their friend, and who had problem coming up with false bills he said were owed to him by members of the Osage. Any time any complaint was so much as alleged against this man, he promptly bought off either the complainant himself, or the judge, jury, and law enforcement.
This is the story of how the FBI came to be, and it's a good reminder in these turbulent days that the FBI does have a role to fill, but that it's also filled with people good and bad, now and back then. In the case of the Osage, they got one of the best, a man determined to bring the murderers to justice, against all the odds within that community.
But that doesn't mean that the case had a tidy ending, or that all the bad guys got what was due to them--or even that the killing stopped.
I found this book slow to get going, and there are an awful lot of people involved so that it was sometimes hard to keep people straight, but overall, it's a very worthwhile read. David Grann has done American history a great service in uncovering this travesty, now mostly forgotten except for the Osage descendants, for whom it's still a burning, horrible issue.
Sometimes I weep for my country, past and present.