“In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma“.
THE opening paragraphs are an exemplar set up for any work of fiction/faction/reportage. The film version is slated for 2023 and will for sure be a blockbuster success. Such is the story. The film for sure will pick out the glorious visuals available of the 1920s frontier bonanza and a score that can jangle with the mendacity and duplicity afoot. The book on which it is based though allows a little more room to tease out elements of the history of migration, of the politics, of the customs of the native tribes and the formation of law making which would evolve into the establishment of the FBI.
The Osage were distinct from other native tribes in that they negotiated to purchase their own reservation lands, and kept for themselves the mineral rights attached. And they allocated the benefits of all these equally to all the members of the tribe, women included. Then it was discovered that these lands sat over some of the biggest oil fields discovered proved to be hugely lucrative. The 66 emblem of the Frank Phillips company gas stations still line the highways of the interstate today. And so the tiny hick capital of Pawhuska became one of the richest cities in the world. Rolls Royce sold cars. Rolex sold watches. It was boom boom time, even morse so than perhaps the 1849 gold Rush.
So far so good, but this is the story of what happens next…when Molly finds her sister Anna goes missing, just after her other sister Minnie has mysteriously wasted away with some strange disease, aged 27. And then the shootings start. This is the interface between white man and Indian, old world and new, frontier and state and at the same time was at the time the stuff of tabloid headlines, sensational reportage, a national fascination, you might even say celebrity culture writ large of an audience of both lawyers, law makers and public.
Gann even seems to surprise himself with the evidence he is unearthing, not really one story but many intertwined, even if they share a single theme, some well known, some not known, some rumour, some true but who knows…Some of this history is still very much in evidence in Pawhuska itself and in the nearby memorable museum set up with the Frank Phillips proceeds at Woolaroc – where some of the desparadoes that feature here hung out. It is all a bit subtler than a Wild West shoot out…a good yarn wrapped up in a bigger shawl…