Osage Murders Killers Of The Flower Moon

History Uncovered Episode 109:
Osage Murders: The True Story Behind ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

Published March 14, 2024

In 1920s Oklahoma, countless Osage Indians were brutally murdered by men determined to steal the riches they'd gained after oil was discovered on their land.

In the 1920s, the hills of northeast Oklahoma were soaked in oil — and blood. Though the oil deposits found in the area had made the Osage Native Americans who owned the land rich, tribe members soon began to die at an alarming rate. And they often died in shocking and violent ways.

One by one, tribe members turned up stabbed, shot, beaten, or bombed. Some two dozen of them died mysteriously throughout the 1920s, their deaths spreading terror throughout the Osage Hills. There was clearly something rotten in Oklahoma — but what exactly was going on?

The so-called Osage Indian Murders — recently featured in the 2023 Martin Scorsese film Killers of the Flower Moon — initially stumped investigators. At least, those who lived long enough to be stumped. The first white lawmen who attempted to solve the murders ended up dead as well, one brutally stabbed, the other thrown from a moving train.

Osage Indian Murders

Getty/BettmannThree of the two dozen Osage tribe members who were killed in a plot to steal their oil money.

Meanwhile, the murders continued. In the winter of 1923, one man was shot in the head. A few months later, several members of an Osage family were killed when their house was bombed. The terrified community tried to protect itself by keeping their homes illuminated at night and prohibiting their children from going anywhere alone. But it seemed that anyone with Osage blood — and rights to their oil — was in grave danger.

Finally, the federal government was prompted to investigate what newspapers had started calling the “bloodiest chapter in American crime history.” J. Edgar Hoover of the Bureau of Investigation (which would later become the FBI) sent an experienced lawman named Tom White to check things out. White, a former Texas Ranger, put together a cadre of men to go undercover in Oklahoma and find out why so many Osage were dying.

He and the others would soon uncover the shocking truth.

The Osage Indian murders — so seemingly randomly, so stunningly violent — had been orchestrated by a single man. Motivated by greed, and willing to go to great lengths to satiate his desire for the Osage Tribe’s oil-rich lands, he put together a devious plot to slowly drain the tribe of their oil ownership. He was so determined to get his hands on the tribe’s riches, in fact, that he had no qualms about using members of his own family to do his dirty work.

This is the true story of the Osage Indian Murders and Killers of the Flower Moon.

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