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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

Killers of the Flower Moon - The Backstory

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Hi y'all. I am Eli Wilkerson, a Certified Fraud Examiner and US Army Veteran (Afghanistan ‘10’/11). I have served 10 years in Texas Law Enforcement and earned a Master of Business Administration.

Take a trip with me back in time to the 1920s - to a time of booms and busts, to an era of glitz and greed, which built a powder keg of crime, corruption, and murder? We won’t even have to travel to Chicago.

Let’s take a short drive to the rolling plains of North Eastern Oklahoma. Let’s turn the pages of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” By David Grann

Like all true crime stories here is the backstory ...

This story starts when the US Federal Government forcibly relocated the various American Indian Nations to the reservations in the Oklahoma territory. The federal government established requirements for these tribes regarding ownership and management of the land.

In 1897, oil was discovered in Osage Territories (known today as Osage County). The US Department of the Interior allotted 657 acres of land to each Osage on the tribal roles in 1907, thereby making the oil rights as property owned by the individual Osages. These rights became known as ‘headrights’. These rights could be inherited legally regardless if the heir was Osage related by blood or married into the tribe.

The economic demand for oil skyrocketed by 1920. The Osage Nation was sitting on the one largest known oil reserves at the time. Documents show that in 1923 alone the Osage nation as a whole took in roughly 30million dollars either through selling headrights or percentages from oil production. To put this in perspective the 30million is approximately 400million dollars today.

Some Osages spent their money lavishly. They traveled to Europe, bought fancy cars, gaudy jewelry, sent their children to private schools, and the like. Newspapers across the nation featured articles of the Osage’s wealth and how they spent their money.

As with the various gold rushes throughout America’s history, the possibility of new fast wealth attracted entrepreneurs and workers to the oil fields looking for a quick fortune. The population rapidly grew, towns were built almost overnight, and oil derricks became a part of the landscape. Fortunes were be made and lost by the Osage and the newcomers.

Unknown where exactly the idea came from, The US Congress developed and passed a law requiring that each Osage be appointed a guardian or ward to manage the royalties and estates of the Osages until financial responsibility could be proven by each individual Osage. This law covered Osage children as well. Often the local business owners and lawyers in Osage County were appointed by the courts for these ward positions.

Are you starting to see a potential problem? Are you starting to see the potential set up? As a Certified Fraud Examiner we are trained on the application of Criminologist Donald Cressy’s Fraud Triangle.  The basics of the Fraud Triangle theory are that when three specific variables meet the chance of fraudulent behavior is increased. These variables are “Perceived Opportunity, Rationalization, and a Perceived unshareable financial need (AKA: Financial Pressure)”

When I first started reading Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, I was expecting a classic true crime murder plot. Due to my training and experience, I started to see that this piece of history weaves together murder, assassinations, fraud, conspiracy, and corruption