A year or so after I got the idea for The Case of The Osage Heiress, I started seeing this book everywhere.
This is a very comprehensive, well-researched and captivating book about what’s called the Osage Murders, the murder of Anna Brown and her sister’s search for justice.
It pulls in a lot of context on the FBI and investigator’s side, and has amazing first-hand accounts from unusual sources, including living relatives of some of the villains. This really is what I’d recommend as the definitive work on the case.
Honestly, I had a hard time reading the whole thing all the way through. The enormity and scope of the injustices and violence made me too angry to read very long in one sitting.
I read a note in an academic paper that has stayed with me – the descendants of the victims and “guardians” still live in the same communities now that they did then. The Osage remember who the “guardians” were and do no business with them. We need to remember where the “guardians” came from, what they wrought and how it is still unaddressed.
The author did a masterful job of weaving together a cohesive story without over-sensationalizing anything, and I highly recommend it.
One of the best resources I found for explaining exactly how the guardian system worked is actually a 40 page pamphlet available for free. Even more miraculously than it being free, it’s written quite clearly. I find a lot of sources from the time have an overwrought style that’s difficult to follow. Released in 1924 by Gertrude Bonnin and the Office of Indian Rights after a trip to Oklahoma, it’s available here as a pdf.
Gertrude Bonnin is also known as Zitkála-Šá, and was a Sioux writer, editor, musician, teacher and political activist. In 1913 she collaborated to write the first Native American opera, The Sun Dance Opera. She co-founded the National Council of Native Americans in 1926 and served as President until her death in 1938.
Here are some books that sounded extremely promising, but I unfortunately didn’t have the research budget to purchase. If you’ve read one of them, let me know what they’re like.
The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil by Terry Wilson
And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes by Angie Debo
Osage Oil Business by Kenny Franks was recommended, but I can’t find a copy of it anywhere. Kenny Franks, however, appears to be a historian who specializes in oil business history in the area.
He also edited a book called Voices From the Oil Fields, which is a collection of early oil field workers’ recollections collected by the Federal Writers Project in the late 30’s. If you’re interested more in how the rough necks did the actual day-to-day job, this would be a gold mine.
This was the first book I read about the Osage conspiracy, and it’s a very interesting one. It’s part personal and family memoir, part investigative journalism, and part history.
The author decides to look into the mysterious suicide of his Osage grandmother, which happened in the 1920’s when his mother was just a toddler. He goes into depth about how this impacted his mother and every aspect of her life growing up, as well as how it was revealed to him. Because of the time, place and culture his mother was raised in (Oklahoma), her Osage heritage was treated as a shameful secret.
I found it to be a really interesting look at their family dynamics, and how he was able to piece together information about the grandmother he and his mother never knew. He also gets far enough that he is able to basically confirm that his grandmother was killed for her share in the Osage oil money, most likely by someone working for her white step-father.
The evidence and clues are haunting – the Catholic Church allowed her to be buried in the family mausoleum, a receipt that confirms she was pregnant again, a record of her estate shows an unusual payoff to the maid who was in the house at the time, and an impossibly fast account published in the newspaper.
This book is dark. The author seriously considers the possibility that his grandfather, that he did know and have a relationship with, was the murderer. The more personal bits of the book include that he’s been married 4 or 5 times, that his wife is pregnant with their first child, and that he’s descending into alcoholism while in Oklahoma investigating the book.
I will say that at times I had difficulty following the threads of the investigation, just from the sheer number of names and complicated family relationships. It’s the best first person account of modern fall-out I’ve read.
I would recommend it if you’re interested in cold case work and some very interesting, very personal history. There is some coverage given about the FBI and how the cases were treated at the time. There’s also some exploration of his Osage heritage that is new to him. I found that part less interesting. I have a lot of family in Oklahoma and the things he found new are cultural there. In a random aside, he does basically accuse Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pa of murder (I know!).
If you’re looking for an exhaustive history of the events larger than just his particular family, or in-depth coverage of the cases that were eventually prosecuted and how it all fit together, I don’t think this is quite the one.
Unfortunately, I seem to have left this book behind somewhere in a move, so no picture other than the Amazon one.
I got the chance to drive around the neighborhood Laurel and Tom lived in recently, and was pretty happy with what I saw. Their neighborhood has retained a lot of it’s original charming character, and the number of new giant homes was fairly low.
They lived in a development called Greenland Hills, which was originally planned and started in 1923. Most of the houses were built within the next 10 years, and by different builders. Almost all were a charming brick Tudor style.
This is an extremely rare look, then and today, and the homes are unbelievably cute. Beyond just brick, many also use local sandstone as a key feature. The high gables are distinctive.
In a funny coincidence, a friend bought a house right down the street from where the original inspiration for Laurel lived. It’s given me a kick to go visit and to see the neighborhood change and still retain much of it’s character.