The Dark Past of the Osage Comes to Life

Osage (pronounced O-say-ge) County Oklahoma was named after the Osage Indian Tribe who reside there. The oral and historical history of the tribe dates back to 200 to 400 A.D. *

The Osage Indians had a well established presence in Oklahoma as far back as 1750. In 1839 the U.S. Government removed the Osage from Oklahoma and Arkansas to Kansas to stop fighting between the Osage and the Cherokees. The Osage were removed back to Oklahoma in 1871. In 1872 Congress established the boundaries of the Osage Nation consisting of approximately 1.47 million acres. The lands in Kansas were sold at a profit which allowed the tribe to buy their own reservation and complete sovereignty as a nation. This became a part of Oklahoma Territory in 1890.**

In 1906 the land was divided up among 2228 tribal members in the Osage Allotment Act. They received 657 acres each. Each allotment of land was called a headright. The Allotment also separated the mineral rights from the surface rights to the Osage Indian Tribe in perpetuity.***

The Osage were encouraged to farm the Oklahoma lands but found the soil poor, but it was rich in range land for cattle. Today 39,650 acres of that range land has been restored in the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve North of Pawhuska, OK. The Osage began leasing their land to cattle ranchers which increased the tribe’s income.

In the 1920’s oil, known as Black Gold, was discovered in the Osage. Luck and successful negotiating by the Osage brought them great wealth. In 1924 the annual headright from oil leases had reached $13000. For a family of four annual earnings of $52000 was worth $772,400 in today’s purchasing power!

The Osage were soon driving the finest cars, wearing haute couture fashion, building mansions and sending their children to the best private schools.

Concerned about reckless spending of the Osage’s wealth, the U.S. government appointed white guardians to anyone who was at least half Osage or a minor. This system along with allowing non-Osage to inherit headrights became a breeding ground for greed, corruption and murder.

Having grown up in Fairfax, where much of this happened, I never heard about this part of our history. Author, David Grann has brought this story to life in his New York Times Best Seller, Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

The book centers around Mollie Burkheart (shown with her two sisters above). This picture was provided to David Grann by Raymond Red Corn. Mollie’s two sisters died mysterious deaths just a few years apart and now Mollie was getting sick. I’ll stop there because it’s a great story. If you haven’t read the book, read it when you can stay up late. You won’t want to put it down!

Another person who thought this story needed to be told is the famed movie director, Martin Scorsese. The movie has been delayed due to Covid, but it is being filmed in the Pawhuska area with an all star cast that includes Leonardo DeCaprio and Robert De Niro. I’m excited that they are making the movie locally and the Osage people will be part of the telling of this sad chapter in our history.

*https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/historic-preservation/osage-cultural-history

**https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=OS001

***https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osage_Nation

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