“In the 1920’s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered on their land, they rode in chauffeured cars and lived in mansions.”
So reads the book jacket of David Grann’s well written and researched history of this small piece of US history I’d never heard about. In the 1870’s, the Osage, like so many other native Americans, were driven out of their native lands in Kansas to an area in Oklahoma that many considered worthless. Fortunately, they were granted mineral rights and some years later oil was discovered there, one of the largest deposits in the US. Prospectors had to pay the Osage for oil leases and by the 1920’s, each member inscribed on the Osage Roll (registered members of the tribe) received quarterly checks. In 1923 alone, they received checks totalling $30 million, today’s equivalent over $400 million. They lived in beautiful homes, drove expensive cars, had servants, and wore expensive jewelry.
They did not, however, have control of their own funds. Their oil earnings were in special accounts and each person had a guardian who had to be consulted for any expenses. This was because they were not considered capable.
Sadly, a number of Osage were killed or died of supposed natural causes. No officials or courts or doctors seemed to find any pattern or cause. Common suspicion was that a surviving spouse or family member would inherit the ever rising oil payments, but no one wanted to believe this.
The murders caught the attention of a fairly new federal agency, the Bureau of Investigation, later the FBI. In 1924, at the age of 29, J. Edgar Hoover had been appointed as director, a post he would hold until his death in 1972. Hoover’s typical agent was a college educated, well dressed man who would look just as comfortable on Wall Street. However, a tall Texas named Tom White, former Texas ranger, Stetson and all, was the one who lead the investigation and solved a few of the murders. Many others remain unsolved to this day.
Very interesting read and a sad episode in US history. Why did our education lack information about the terrible treatment by our government of native Americans?