Killers of the Flower Moon
David Grann
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 1
Summary

Grann begins by talking about April and May, and the hardships endured by flowers during this time in the Osage territory of Oklahoma. He claims that in April, flowers pop up and blossom; but come May, taller plants block the tiny blooms, thus killing them. He affirms the title given to May by Osage Indians as “the time of the flower-killing moon”. From there, he talks about May 24th, 1921, and introduces Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Indian. Mollie is a resident of the Osage settlement town of Gray Horse, Oklahoma, and she is worried that something terrible may have happened to Anna Brown, one of her three sisters. Anna is a thirty-four-year-old woman who loves spending long nights out drinking and dancing. Mollie’s worry is not having seen Anna for the past three days, an unusual occurrence considering that she never stays out that long.  

Mollie and her family are registered members of the Osage tribe, living as a wealthy “family” considering the money they have been receiving for the oil deposits located underneath the land they now occupy in northeastern Oklahoma. She stays in a beautiful house, owns several cars, and a staff of servants serves the home. While she lives a luxurious life, she is not a lavish spender, unlike some of her neighbors.

On the morning of Anna’s disappearance, Mollie had woken up early with her husband, Ernest Burkhart, a twenty-eight-year-old white man from Texas. Ernest had moved to Oklahoma at the age of nineteen and had met Mollie while working as her chauffeur. They eventually got married, and by 1921 they had two children, Elizabeth and James. Before Anna disappeared, she had come to tend to their ailing mother, Lizzie, at Mollie’s request.

Anna had come to the house intoxicated and ended up disturbing the people who had come to Mollie’s luncheon. She also flirted with Bryan, Earnest’s younger brother. Sometime later, after the party, Bryan offered to take Anna home — which was the last time Mollie saw her sister. The news of Anna’s disappearance caused a stir in the city considering that Charles Whitehorn, another Osage Indian, had disappeared on May 14th. Amid the tension, Mollie tries to stay calm, reassuring herself that Anna is at some jazz club in Oklahoma or Kansas City.

A week after Anna’s disappearance, an oil worker notices a rotting corpse of a man shot twice between the eyes. The dead man is identified as Whitehorn from a letter contained in one of his pockets. Elsewhere, a boy hunting squirrels with his father near Fairfax spots a dead body at the edge of the creek. Extensively decomposed, identifying the body was difficult. Several people, including Mollie and her husband, come to the scene and confirm the body as Anna’s due to her Indian blanket, the clothes Mollie had cleaned for her, and her gold filling.

Analysis

Grann uses a metaphor at the beginning of his book, of taller plants killing the tiny flower blooms, to paint a picture of the Osage tribe surrounded by hostile white neighbors who envy the tribe’s financial success. The history provided on the Osage tribe (from the time they lived in Kansas to being moved to Oklahoma, and the discovery of oil deposits on the land previously deemed worthless) seems to heighten the envy and may be the driving force behind the disappearance of members of the tribe. Also, the issue of racism and its imminence in the 1920s increases the suspicion that the killings were hate crimes. Even the reports made by reporters and the names given to the tribe’s activities, such as “wild tribal customs”, depict the types of prejudice held by non-Indians at that time. The issue of Osage Indians employing white servants might have contributed to the malicious killings considering the twisted ideology of white supremacy.

The author paints Mollie as an Indian woman who has chosen to integrate herself into white society, yet still valuing her cultural heritage and traditions. She marries Ernest, who is white and belongs to a lower social class, while holding onto her cultural dressing mode (of the Indian community). At first, she is not sure about the marriage considering her respect for traditions, and this shows that she wanted to please her aging mother by having an arranged marriage. On the other hand, the description of Anna indicates that she has left most of the cultural practices and beliefs behind, and seems to have embraced the American way of living. Nonetheless, she still values some aspects of her culture, mainly due to the connection with her family.

The disappearance of Anna seems complicated and mysterious, considering the disappearance of other Osage Indians and her recent troubled life. She had divorced her husband and had often become drunk in places prone to crime. Her relationship with Mollie was close despite their immense differences. The discovery of Whitehorn’s rotting corpse affirms that the Osage community faces a grave evil, which subsequently indicates the possibility of Anna being in great danger. Over time, the discovery of her body and the rising number of murder cases of Osage Indians cause growing concern among the town’s people. Apart from that, the fact that Mollie and the family members use Anna’s clothes to identify her indicates the importance of traditions, and the ubiquity attributed to the customs in the changing world.  

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