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The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind “Killers Of The Flower Moon”

The search for the osage nation’s lost oil wealth. The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind “Killers Of The Flower Moon”

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

We start with a list published in a local Oklahoma newspaper sheds light on who ended up with a tribal nation’s mineral rights.


Osage County, Oklahoma, is as big as some US states. It’s nearly 1.5 million acres, much of it covered in bluestem grass perfect for grazing cattle. More than a century ago, the Osage Nation held title to the land.

Today, a lot of the county is owned by non-Osages. There’s a Nature Conservancy prairie preserve and thousands of acres owned by Farmland Reserve, an affiliate of the Mormon Church. But of all the landowners in Osage County, one extended family is the biggest.


 

Its members have been ranching here for generations. The family name is associated with Oklahoma state politics and a TV show on the Food Network. The story of the family’s rise is the story of how US policies allowed White settlers to build tremendous wealth off land and minerals once owned by the Osage.

To understand how this Oklahoma land empire came to be, you have to start in 1906.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

What Are Headrights?

In the early 1900s, the Osage Nation, which bought this land after leaving its Kansas reservation, was undergoing tremendous change. The US had dismantled its government. Now, the federal government wanted to take the land out of the collective ownership of the Osage Nation and parcel it out to Osage individuals — a policy known as allotment.

Many Osage leaders opposed the move, seeing the disastrous effects on other tribal nations. The individual parcels would be small and scattered; one chief argued against it by pointing to White farmers nearby who had tried and failed to farm 160-acre tracts. But Oklahoma statehood was coming.

Allotment seemed inevitable. Osage Chief James Bigheart reached an agreement with the federal government: The Nation would accept allotment but retain ownership of the mineral rights beneath its land. Those rights were put in a trust managed by the federal government, whose role as trustee obligated it to safeguard the Osage beneficiaries’ financial interests.

Each person on a roll of Osages at the time received a share, which came to be called a headright. Every three months, each person who had a headright received a portion of the money from oil and gas drilling in Osage County.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

When oil production exploded a decade later, those headrights became extremely valuable. Tales of Osage wealth swept the country, many of them exaggerated. But that wealth — and that attention — also brought tragedy. Outsiders flocked to Osage County, plotting ways to get the money for themselves.

Dozens of Osages were murdered in widespread schemes to get their headrights, a years-long criminal conspiracy often referred to as the Reign of Terror. Headrights left Osage hands in other ways, too — some via fraud and deceit, others through sales, charitable donations and bequests — that many Osage leaders say should never have been allowed by the US.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon" The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

In the decades since, Osage citizens have tried to figure out who got their headrights — and how. The answer was a secret, closely guarded by the trust’s overseer, the US government.

Who Has A Headright?

When a local paper, the Bigheart Times, published the full list of non-Osage headright owners in 2009, it ripped open old wounds. More than a quarter of headrights were now held outside Osage hands. Almost 2,000 non-Osage people, companies and organizations held headrights or some fraction of one.

Among those names was one known throughout Osage County: Drummond.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon" The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

The Drummonds have been in Oklahoma since before it was a state. Their expansive ranching empire here exists on land once owned by the Osage Nation and, after allotment, by Osage citizens. If you add up land held by dozens of Drummond entities and individuals, the extended family together makes up nearly 9% of the county.

That land is currently worth at least $275 million, according to a Bloomberg estimate based on Osage County agricultural land transactions compiled by Oklahoma State University, as well as conversations with brokers and appraisers familiar with the land.

The Drummond Legacy Started With a Trading

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon" The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

This story starts with a question: Did the Drummonds have headrights? And if not, how did they amass this much land? But the story led someplace else — into an exploration of an entire system, made possible by federal laws and rules, that helped move wealth out of Native hands and into White ones. And how the Osage Nation is working to reverse decades of land loss.

The Drummond Legacy Started With A Trading Post

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

The Hominy Trading Company was the “Super Walmart” of the town. But many Osages suspected they weren’t getting a fair price.

Ask just about anyone how the Drummond family got its start in Osage County, and you’ll hear about the store.

In the late 1880s, Frederick Drummond moved to the Osage Reservation and secured an important document that set his family on a path toward wealth and influence: a license from the US government to sell goods to Osages.


Shortly after the turn of the century, Frederick and his wife, Addie, moved the family from Pawhuska to Hominy, where he took over the Hominy Trading Company. One descendant would later refer to it as the “Super Walmart” of the time, more like a department store than a simple trading post. The Hominy Trading Company sold hardware, high-end clothing and farming supplies.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

The three Drummond boys — Fred Gentner, Cecil and A.A. “Jack” Drummond — grew up around the business. According to Jack, he and Cecil were more drawn to fishing and camping than the ins and outs of the store. But Fred Gentner was a natural trader. “Cecil and I were outside all the time, and Gentner, he was always up there in that store,” Jack Drummond recalled in decades-old interview recordings collected for his biography.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

After their father died in 1913, Fred Gentner Drummond took a more active role at the Hominy Trading Company. Jack worked there for a time, too. In the tapes, he explains the kind of environment in which they operated. Just take the silk shirts he sold to Osage men at a hefty markup.

Jack tells his biographer that he was simply charging top dollar for something his customers wanted. But many Osage families long suspected that they were paying more than White customers for the same goods. Several families recalled “the Osage Price” they were charged at the Hominy Trading Company — later known as the Pioneer Store — and other stores in Osage County. In this episode, you’ll hear how one family put its suspicions to the test.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

But the price tags on silk shirts and groceries were only the beginning of how the store provided financial leverage for the Drummond brothers. Many Osages became indebted to the store, in part because of higher prices, but also because the US government later limited access to their own money.

These were the early days of credit for much of the country, but merchants saw good borrowers in their Osage customers, who had big accounts held with the US government.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Some of the biggest debts showed up when an Osage individual died. That’s because the Hominy Trading Company offered undertaking and funeral services, too. This wasn’t unusual for Osage County merchants at the time, but the bills for Osage funerals were so high that they got the attention of lawmakers in Washington.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon" The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

One bill was $3,182.67. Another was $2,368.90. In some cases, a funeral could cost more than $9,000, the equivalent of more than $100,000 today. In Congressional testimony from 1924, lawmakers expressed their surprise at the costs.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

When an Osage estate owed money to the Hominy Trading Company and other creditors, those debts would be reviewed and paid out by an estate administrator — a role that Fred Gentner Drummond himself performed for at least 28 Osage individuals. That meant he was in the position to present bills from his family’s store and then approve their payment. It was one example of how US policies for handling Osage affairs put White men in multiple positions of power.

Forgotten Tapes Give Clue To Missing Osage Mineral Stake

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

We uncover the untold stories from just a fraction of one Osage headright share.


The list of non-Osage headright holders that surfaced in 2009 didn’t include a vital detail: the number or fraction of shares held by each. That information was considered private by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. But a new list obtained through a public records request provides a partial look — the names and headright shares of certain non-Osage entities, including universities, churches, companies and trusts.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

One of those organizations is Hissom Memorial Center, a name that’s attracted particular scrutiny because it was shut down nearly 30 years ago after staff were accused of abusing the patients who lived there. According to BIA records, Hissom holds a little over a third of a share.

The list also includes the University of Oklahoma, which says it funds a scholarship for Osage students with proceeds from its 1.73 headrights. And the BIA’s documents attached a number to one of the trusts that appeared on an earlier list published by a local newspaper, the Bigheart Times. The Alfred A. Drummond Trust, held on behalf of family members, has half a share.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Where did that half share come from? A biography of Alfred A. “Jack” Drummond, one of the earliest Drummonds in Osage County, offers the first clue and points to dozens of interview tapes from the 1970s and ’80s.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Those tapes, along with archival records, reveal the Osage family that originally owned the share, and how a White man named O.V. Pope got it from them — only to sell it almost immediately to Jack for the equivalent of roughly $340,000 in today’s dollars. In the years since Jack bought it, that share has paid out about $1.7 million when adjusted for inflation.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

We hear from a beneficiary of the trust, who says he doesn’t have control over it but that the return from this headright fraction has been fairly modest over the years.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Annual Headright Payments

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Of the 2,229 headrights in the Osage Mineral Estate, more than 500 are now in non-Osage hands. Following the story of just a fraction of one reveals the personal and financial cost of such wealth transfers. How many others are out there?

How One Osage Man Took On His Guardians

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Orphaned as a boy, Myron Bangs Jr. was under the guardianship of Drummond brothers for more than a decade. In episode four, hear about the alarms he raised to the US government and the paper trail he left behind.

The Hominy Trading Company wasn’t the only way the Drummond brothers profited off Osage wealth. The US government had deemed Osages and other Native Americans incompetent, which meant they needed “guardians” to be put in charge of their financial affairs.


This system was billed as a way to protect Native American wealth from being swindled or squandered. But many times, guardians were in on the very schemes they were supposed to prevent.

In the 1920s, the US government brought at least 20 lawsuits on behalf of Osage wards, alleging misdeeds by their guardians; these cases were settled without trial. Guardianship files in the local courthouse are kept under seal.

But one Osage man left behind a vivid look into the practice, thanks to the years he spent raising alarms about how his land and money were being managed. His name was Myron Bangs Jr. His guardians were Drummonds.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Bangs was educated. He could fly an airplane and write searing letters to US officials. But in the eyes of the law he was incompetent, simply for being Osage. For more than 15 years starting in 1918, his finances were controlled by his guardians — first, Cecil Drummond, and later, Fred Gentner Drummond.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

Bangs didn’t trust his guardians. At one point, he even wrote the commissioner of Indian Affairs. “We are writing to you personally because we cannot get action elsewhere,” he said in a 1934 letter.

Later that year, he took matters into his own hands. He hired a lawyer named Paul Comstock and enlisted a team of accountants to audit his affairs. They came back with a five-page report, full of inconsistencies they encountered when combing through his finances. In 1935, Fred Gentner resigned.

The Osage Murders: The True Story Behind "Killers Of The Flower Moon"

But the matter didn’t drop. Six years later, the US brought a case against Fred Gentner Drummond and his two brothers, accusing them of defrauding Bangs while they were supposed to be protecting his financial interests.

What a federal judge found, though, was something else entirely. The judge said the Drummond brothers were actually working to help Bangs after he was orphaned at a young age, using the guardianship to shield his family’s land from the man who married his mother just months before she died.

A relative recalls Bangs and his fight against an unfair system. And Gentner Drummond, the Republican candidate for Oklahoma attorney general, discusses his support for tribal sovereignty and his family’s long history in Osage County, where he says they were respected members of the community and helped their Osage neighbors in the ways that were available at the time.

 

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Commerzbank Tests Blockchain Machine To Machine Payments With Daimler (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Historical Returns Look Very Attractive As Online Banks Lower Payouts On Savings Accounts (#GotBitcoin?)

Man Takes Bitcoin Miner Seller To Tribunal Over Electricity Bill And Wins (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Computing Power Sets Record As Over 100K New Miners Go Online (#GotBitcoin?)

Walmart Coin And Libra Perform Major Public Relations For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Judge Says Buying Bitcoin Via Credit Card Not Necessarily A Cash Advance (#GotBitcoin?)

Poll: If You’re A Stockowner Or Crypto-Currency Holder. What Will You Do When The Recession Comes?

1 In 5 Crypto Holders Are Women, New Report Reveals (#GotBitcoin?)

Beating Bakkt, Ledgerx Is First To Launch ‘Physical’ Bitcoin Futures In Us (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook Warns Investors That Libra Stablecoin May Never Launch (#GotBitcoin?)

Government Money Printing Is ‘Rocket Fuel’ For Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin-Friendly Square Cash App Stock Price Up 56% In 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Safeway Shoppers Can Now Get Bitcoin Back As Change At 894 US Stores (#GotBitcoin?)

TD Ameritrade CEO: There’s ‘Heightened Interest Again’ With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuela Sets New Bitcoin Volume Record Thanks To 10,000,000% Inflation (#GotBitcoin?)

Newegg Adds Bitcoin Payment Option To 73 More Countries (#GotBitcoin?)

China’s Schizophrenic Relationship With Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

More Companies Build Products Around Crypto Hardware Wallets (#GotBitcoin?)

Bakkt Is Scheduled To Start Testing Its Bitcoin Futures Contracts Today (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Now 8 Times More Powerful Than It Was At $20K Price (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Exchange BitMEX Under Investigation By CFTC: Bloomberg (#GotBitcoin?)

“Bitcoin An ‘Unstoppable Force,” Says US Congressman At Crypto Hearing (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Network Is Moving $3 Billion Daily, Up 210% Since April (#GotBitcoin?)

Cryptocurrency Startups Get Partial Green Light From Washington

Fundstrat’s Tom Lee: Bitcoin Pullback Is Healthy, Fewer Searches Аre Good (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Lightning Nodes Are Snatching Funds From Bad Actors (#GotBitcoin?)

The Provident Bank Now Offers Deposit Services For Crypto-Related Entities (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Could Help Stop News Censorship From Space (#GotBitcoin?)

US Sanctions On Iran Crypto Mining — Inevitable Or Impossible? (#GotBitcoin?)

US Lawmaker Reintroduces ‘Safe Harbor’ Crypto Tax Bill In Congress (#GotBitcoin?)

EU Central Bank Won’t Add Bitcoin To Reserves — Says It’s Not A Currency (#GotBitcoin?)

The Miami Dolphins Now Accept Bitcoin And Litecoin Crypt-Currency Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Bashes Bitcoin And Alt-Right Is Mad As Hell (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sachs Ramps Up Development Of New Secret Crypto Project (#GotBitcoin?)

Blockchain And AI Bond, Explained (#GotBitcoin?)

Grayscale Bitcoin Trust Outperformed Indexes In First Half Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

XRP Is The Worst Performing Major Crypto Of 2019 (GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Back Near $12K As BTC Shorters Lose $44 Million In One Morning (#GotBitcoin?)

As Deutsche Bank Axes 18K Jobs, Bitcoin Offers A ‘Plan ฿”: VanEck Exec (#GotBitcoin?)

Argentina Drives Global LocalBitcoins Volume To Highest Since November (#GotBitcoin?)

‘I Would Buy’ Bitcoin If Growth Continues — Investment Legend Mobius (#GotBitcoin?)

Lawmakers Push For New Bitcoin Rules (#GotBitcoin?)

Facebook’s Libra Is Bad For African Americans (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Firm Charity Announces Alliance To Support Feminine Health (#GotBitcoin?)

Canadian Startup Wants To Upgrade Millions Of ATMs To Sell Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Trump Says US ‘Should Match’ China’s Money Printing Game (#GotBitcoin?)

Casa Launches Lightning Node Mobile App For Bitcoin Newbies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Rally Fuels Market In Crypto Derivatives (#GotBitcoin?)

World’s First Zero-Fiat ‘Bitcoin Bond’ Now Available On Bloomberg Terminal (#GotBitcoin?)

Buying Bitcoin Has Been Profitable 98.2% Of The Days Since Creation (#GotBitcoin?)

Another Crypto Exchange Receives License For Crypto Futures

From ‘Ponzi’ To ‘We’re Working On It’ — BIS Chief Reverses Stance On Crypto (#GotBitcoin?)

These Are The Cities Googling ‘Bitcoin’ As Interest Hits 17-Month High (#GotBitcoin?)

Venezuelan Explains How Bitcoin Saves His Family (#GotBitcoin?)

Quantum Computing Vs. Blockchain: Impact On Cryptography

This Fund Is Riding Bitcoin To Top (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Surge Leaves Smaller Digital Currencies In The Dust (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exchange Hits $1 Trillion In Trading Volume (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Breaks $200 Billion Market Cap For The First Time In 17 Months (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Make State Tax Payments In Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Religious Organizations Make Ideal Places To Mine Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Sacs And JP Morgan Chase Finally Concede To Crypto-Currencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Heading For Fifth Month Of Gains Despite Price Correction (#GotBitcoin?)

Breez Reveals Lightning-Powered Bitcoin Payments App For IPhone (#GotBitcoin?)

Big Four Auditing Firm PwC Releases Cryptocurrency Auditing Software (#GotBitcoin?)

Amazon-Owned Twitch Quietly Brings Back Bitcoin Payments (#GotBitcoin?)

JPMorgan Will Pilot ‘JPM Coin’ Stablecoin By End Of 2019: Report (#GotBitcoin?)

Is There A Big Short In Bitcoin? (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase Hit With Outage As Bitcoin Price Drops $1.8K In 15 Minutes

Samourai Wallet Releases Privacy-Enhancing CoinJoin Feature (#GotBitcoin?)

There Are Now More Than 5,000 Bitcoin ATMs Around The World (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Get Bitcoin Rewards When Booking At Hotels.Com (#GotBitcoin?)

North America’s Largest Solar Bitcoin Mining Farm Coming To California (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin On Track For Best Second Quarter Price Gain On Record (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Hash Rate Climbs To New Record High Boosting Network Security (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Exceeds 1Million Active Addresses While Coinbase Custodies $1.3B In Assets

Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin’s Lightning Comes To Apple Smartwatches With New App (#GotBitcoin?)

E-Trade To Offer Crypto Trading (#GotBitcoin)

US Rapper Lil Pump Starts Accepting Bitcoin Via Lightning Network On Merchandise Store (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitfinex Used Tether Reserves To Mask Missing $850 Million, Probe Finds (#GotBitcoin?)

21-Year-Old Jailed For 10 Years After Stealing $7.5M In Crypto By Hacking Cell Phones (#GotBitcoin?)

You Can Now Shop With Bitcoin On Amazon Using Lightning (#GotBitcoin?)

Afghanistan, Tunisia To Issue Sovereign Bonds In Bitcoin, Bright Future Ahead (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Faithful Say Blockchain Can Remake Securities Market Machinery (#GotBitcoin?)

Disney In Talks To Acquire The Owner Of Crypto Exchanges Bitstamp And Korbit (#GotBitcoin?)

Crypto Exchange Gemini Rolls Out Native Wallet Support For SegWit Bitcoin Addresses (#GotBitcoin?)

Binance Delists Bitcoin SV, CEO Calls Craig Wright A ‘Fraud’ (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Outperforms Nasdaq 100, S&P 500, Grows Whopping 37% In 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Bitcoin Passes A Milestone 400 Million Transactions (#GotBitcoin?)

Future Returns: Why Investors May Want To Consider Bitcoin Now (#GotBitcoin?)

Next Bitcoin Core Release To Finally Connect Hardware Wallets To Full Nodes (#GotBitcoin?)

Major Crypto-Currency Exchanges Use Lloyd’s Of London, A Registered Insurance Broker (#GotBitcoin?)

How Bitcoin Can Prevent Fraud And Chargebacks (#GotBitcoin?)

Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)

Zebpay Becomes First Exchange To Add Lightning Payments For All Users (#GotBitcoin?)

Coinbase’s New Customer Incentive: Interest Payments, With A Crypto Twist (#GotBitcoin?)

The Best Bitcoin Debit (Cashback) Cards Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)

Real Estate Brokerages Now Accepting Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)

Ernst & Young Introduces Tax Tool For Reporting Cryptocurrencies (#GotBitcoin?)

Recession Is Looming, or Not. Here’s How To Know (#GotBitcoin?)

How Will Bitcoin Behave During A Recession? (#GotBitcoin?)

Many U.S. Financial Officers Think a Recession Will Hit Next Year (#GotBitcoin?)

Definite Signs of An Imminent Recession (#GotBitcoin?)

What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)

Investors Run Out of Options As Bitcoin, Stocks, Bonds, Oil Cave To Recession Fears (#GotBitcoin?)

Goldman Is Looking To Reduce “Marcus” Lending Goal On Credit (Recession) Caution (#GotBitcoin?)

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