An Oil-Rich Tribe, Their Jealous Neighbors, And A Tale Of Murder Most Foul

Way back in the late 1800’s the Osage tribe discovered oil on their lands. Life changed for them then. Unfortunately not all for the better. The tribe began to life the ‘high life’, buying new cars and mansions, and fancy clothes. This came to the attention of a white family, who realised that there was a lot of money going around.

Over a period of time, misfortune seemed to haunt the tribe, with dozens of them being shot, poisoned, blown up in explosions, to name just a few. The Bureau of Investigation, later renamed the FBI, run by  J Edgar Hoover, got involved.

What came to light was horrifying. It turned out that a white family – William Hale, with his sister and wife – had been the instigators in the deaths of the tribe people.

When their tribe struck oil in the 1920s, Mollie Burkhart and her family (left) became some of the wealthiest people in America. But they were soon the target of a ruthless campaign of murder by William Hale (with his sister and wife, right)
The Osage bought a reservation in remote northeastern Oklahoma in the mid-1800s in the hopes they would be left alone by settlers who pushed them off their old lands
The Osage bought a reservation in remote northeastern Oklahoma in the mid-1800s in the hopes they would be left alone by settlers who pushed them off their old lands
But by the end of the century the discovery of oil brought the tribe immense wealth, and renewed interest from the federal government
But by the end of the century the discovery of oil brought the tribe immense wealth, and renewed interest from the federal government

The story is chronicled by David Grann in the book ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’, published by Simon and Schuster.

“It was a story I had never heard about, never read about in any history book,” David said.

David  went out to the reservation to do some research, and there he met Kathryn Red Corn, curator of the museum.

“An historian had mentioned it to me, and I decided to go out to the Osage nation, which still exists in northeast Oklahoma.”

“I got there and I went to the museum. At the time I didn’t know the museum director, Kathryn Red Corn,” he continued.

“There’s a large panoramic photograph on the wall, taken in 1923, but it’s missing a panel. I’d said to Kathryn, ‘What happened to that panel?’ And she’d said, ‘It was too painful to look at’. “

“She pointed to the missing panel and she said, ‘The devil was standing right there’.

“They had a copy of the missing panel, and she brought it up and she showed it to me. And there, in the corner, she identified one of the killers of the Osage.

“And that’s when I decided: OK, I want to know who that devil was.”

Mollie eventually married a white man, Ernest Burkhart, the nephew of William Hale. They had two children together
Mollie eventually married a white man, Ernest Burkhart, the nephew of William Hale. They had two children together

The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target and her relatives were shot and poisoned. More and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances and many people who dared investigate the killings were murdered.

Mr Hoover took up the case as the death toll climbed, but asked a Texas Ranger Tom White to help solve the mystery after bungling the initial stages. White put in place an undercover team, who alongside the Osage, discovered that the killings were the work of William Hale, who called himself ‘King of the Osage Hills’. Hale’s plan had been to marry into the family and then kill them off one at a time, until the wealth was his.

In 1921, Mollie's sister disappeared and was found shot dead in this ravine. Two months later her mother, Lizzie, was dead from poisoning. Her other sister, Rita, then died in an explosion
In 1921, Mollie’s sister disappeared and was found shot dead in this ravine. Two months later her mother, Lizzie, was dead from poisoning. Her other sister, Rita, then died in an explosion
Eventually the Bureau of Investigations was brought in to investigate. They enlisted the help of a Texas Ranger named Tom White who led an undercover team that uncovered a conspiracy
Eventually the Bureau of Investigations was brought in to investigate. They enlisted the help of a Texas Ranger named Tom White who led an undercover team that uncovered a conspiracy
The investigation found huge corruption by white 'guardians' brought in to help the Osage spent their oil money, including members of the Al Spencer Gang (pictured in a mock hold-up)
The investigation found huge corruption by white ‘guardians’ brought in to help the Osage spent their oil money, including members of the Al Spencer Gang (pictured in a mock hold-up)

Hale’s ultimate goal was to seize the oil royalty rights from the family, and by being married to one of them, he could easily do this. He did not factor in the Texas ranger who finally brought him down. Three men were convicted and sentenced, although there may have been others who were not caught due to lack of evidence.

The investigation also uncovered extensive corruption among local officials involved in the Osage guardian program – largely white lawyers brought in by the federal government to help the Native Americans ‘manage’ their new wealth.

This led to the subsequent investigation by Congress, and the changing of the law to stop non-Osage from inheriting rights from any Osage with half or more Native American Ancestry.

It transpired that Mollie’s family were being killed off by her own husband, under the direction of Hale, who was trying to inherit the rights to her oil-rich lands (pictured, Mollie left, and with her sisters, right)
The chilling case was uncovered by author David Grann who published the details in a new book (pictured, the Osage reservation today)
The chilling case was uncovered by author David Grann who published the details in a new book (pictured, the Osage reservation today)

Source: Daily Mail