May 11, 2021

The millionaire curse of the osage Indians | Culture

The millionaire curse of the osage Indians | Culture


In 1870 the Osage were displaced from their lands and located in a dry and stony corner of Oklahoma. However, the discovery of an immense reserve of oil in the subsoil turned this Native American people in the richest per capita in the world in the early 1920s. Modest settlements such as Gray Horse were filled with lavish homes, huge cars and Indians with extensive personal service in an unprecedented social order in the United States. A dark conspiracy of white men, in collusion with the authorities and the forces of order began a slow and relentless work of robbery and extermination to end the osage and keep the oil money, a time that the natives define as an "orgy of scams and exploitation. "

Mollie (right), with her sister and their mother, Lizzie.
Mollie (right), with her sister and their mother, Lizzie.

Do not worry if you have not heard this real story that seems to come from the most sinister fiction. In the US, it was barely known before the journalist David Grann publish The murderers of the moon, that now arrives in Spain (Random House Literature). "When I started researching, I arrived at an osage museum and saw a photo of a man's head cut out. When I asked why, they told me that the devil was coming out. They were referring to David Hall, the warper of the plan. They could not forget something that the rest of the United States did not know, that is not studied in school, that even in Oklahoma was ignored, "Grann tells EL PAÍS from his home in New York.

This story has a heroine: Mollie Burkhart, an osage who lost her entire family in murders, intoxications caused by adulterated alcohol, disappearances and deaths from never seen diseases. Although she was left alone and died at age 50 in 1937, Mollie never stopped. "It is impossible to tell what he had to suffer. It's not what the book wants, "says Grann. The drama for the natives was that the rights to exploit the resources of the reserve could only reach hands foreign to their lineage by inheritance. And here comes into play the devil: David Hall, a cowboy He became a man of order, who marries his nephews and friends to the Indians and then eliminates them and inherits them. But this criminal mind was not alone. The State itself used all its resources for plundering and, for example, declared minors to osage and appointed a white guardian for each oil fortune. "A federal robbery system was created whereby some won millions and millions and millions," Grann summarizes. "Hall is the typical monster and it was comforting to think that he was solely responsible for this prolonged killing. Realizing that evil nested in the hearts of so many ordinary people was terrible, "he adds before telling how the book went from being the classic research to find out who had committed the crime to describe" a culture of murder ".

A family Osage, in his car, in the twenties.
A family Osage, in his car, in the twenties.

The birth of the FBI

The osage hired private detectives such as the legendary William J. Burns, always at the edge of the law, or the Pinkerton agency that could do little before the connivance of the authorities, police and judges with the murderers. W.W. Vaughan, the first lawyer who was really interested in the osage, died thrown from a train when he had in his possession essential evidence to uncover the plot. The press of the time spoke of "plot to kill the rich Indians" but nobody did anything.

After a tortuous process, Hall was convicted of some of the murders, but the book, with a structure of the best thriller, goes further and uncovers a broader conspiracy. "I am a great black novel reader and that has helped me a lot. In addition, people lived it as a mystery. Mollie did not know who was going to die next, who was killing them. With this way of narrating, I try to catch the reader and transmit reality as well as possible, "says Grann, who spent five years investigating the case.

The white institutions and the university establishment erased this tragedy from the established historical narrative because the victims were Indian

David Grann

However, the bad guys in this story did not have a factor: the FBI and the ambition of the young J. Edgar Hoover. The federal agency had been created in 1908 and in the 1920s had a weak structure and limited jurisdiction in cases of murder, but it could act in everything that happened in the Indian reserves. Armed with his ruthless intelligence and using as agent of the investigation Agent White – an implacable cowboy of another time, an honor man who did not use weapons and caused respect and stupor among criminals the director of the FBI turned the case into the pillar on which he built the prestige of the agency. "Hoover used it to advance in every way. This is how he accumulated all the power and began to abuse him. He was only 28 years old but he already saw his organizational genius, his megalomania and his obsession with good press, "explains Grann.

"These are lands soaked in blood," says the granddaughter of one of the victims, part of a proud people that does not want or can not forget. The author explains it this way: "The white institutions and the establishment university students erased this tragedy of established historical narration because the victims were Indian. When you know the Osage descendants, you begin to understand the hell they lived, a living history for them, a massacre that did not happen 300 years ago but in the middle of the 20th century. "

'The old man and the gun', beyond the 'true crime'

David Grann (1967) is a writer who researches or a researcher who writes. At the height of stories based on real crimes, mass production of books and podcasts about true crimes, Grann takes his time, tries to understand the keys, go further. "It's not about looking for the sensational, the blood or a corpse," he says. The old man and the gun and other tales of true crime (also published by Random House Literature) collects three of his best reports published in The New Yorker throughout the last three decades. An elegant septuagenarian master thief in flight, a Polish writer who included the keys of his crime in a novel and a French artist of deception star in the three stories, stories that if fiction would not believe and keep some of the essences of a journalist who he ventured into the interior of the Amazon in search of a lost city or one that found success unraveling the clues to the strange death of the world's greatest expert on Sherlock Holmes.

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