Killers of the Flower Moon

Michael Burry, the renowned fund manager who called the mortgage crisis in ’07-’09  and was immortalized in “The Big Short”, recently took to Twitter to opine that the current COVID lockdown should end immediately. Despite my disagreements to this, I followed him to better understand the argument for “opening” the economy sooner rather than later, and in reality, I was hoping that he would discuss the financial markets and his process.

While he rarely strayed from discussing COVID and the lockdown, he did suggest a book and movie to enjoy during the downtime.

Ford vs Ferrari was fantastic and I highly recommend it. However, I’d like to discuss the book that Dr. Burry suggested.

Synopsis from Wikipedia:

The book investigates a series of murders of wealthy Osage people that took place in Osage County, Oklahoma in the early 1920s—after big oil deposits were discovered beneath their land. After the Osage Native Americans are awarded rights in court to the profits made from oil deposits found on their land, the Osage people prepare for receiving the wealth to which they believe they are legally entitled from sales of their oil deposits.

However, a long and complex process of custodianship is imposed upon the distribution of the profits from the sales being made for very high profits and very few if any of the Osage people see any of this money. Still, they are the legal owners of the land and its profits, which is irksome to some of the administrators of the land who have a history of poor relations with the Osage people. Those elements hostile to the Osage people then decide that they could greatly simplify their profit mongering of the oil profits by eliminating those whom they consider to be operating as the “middle man” before they can abscond with the oil profits.

The Osage people themselves are seen as the “middle man” and a complex plot is hatched and put into place to eliminate the Osage people inheriting this wealth from oil profits on a one-by-one basis by any means possible. Officially, the count of the murdered full-blood wealthy Osage native Americans reaches at least 20, but Grann suspects that hundreds more may have been killed because of their ties to oil.

Given that May is right around the corner, now is a great time to read this book under the May moon.

In May, when coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Osage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-killing moon.

The book discusses the origins of the Osage wealth:

In the early 1870s, the Osage had been driven from their lands in Kansas onto a rocky, presumably worthless reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, only to discover, decades later, that this land was sitting above some of the largest oil deposits in the United States. To obtain that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In the early twentieth century, each person on the tribal roll began receiving a quarterly check. The amount was initially for only a few dollars, but over time, as more oil was tapped, the dividends grew into the hundreds, then the thousands. And virtually every year the payments increased, like the prairie creeks that joined to form the wide, muddy Cimarron, until the tribe members had collectively accumulated millions and millions of dollars. (In 1923 alone, the tribe took in more than $30 million, the equivalent today of more than $400 million.) The Osage were considered the wealthiest people per capita in the world. “Lo and behold!” the New York weekly Outlook exclaimed. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

As well as the belief that oil was a cursed blessing:

To some Osage, especially elders like Lizzie, oil was a cursed blessing. “Some day this oil will go and there will be no more fat checks every few months from the Great White Father,” a chief of the Osage said in 1928. “There’ll be no fine motorcars and new clothes. Then I know my people will be happier.”

Killers of the Flower Moon opened my eyes to the history of Native Americans, even in fairly recent years, and the killings which led to the birth of a national police bureau (the FBI). Due to America’s own history and fear of a police force after the American Revolution, the country previously relied on private agencies.

During much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, private detective agencies had filled the vacuum left by decentralized, underfunded, incompetent, and corrupt sheriff and police departments. In literature and in the popular imagination, the all-seeing private eye—the gumshoe, the cinder dick, the sleuthhound, the shadow—displaced the crusading sheriff as the archetype of rough justice. He moved across the dangerous new frontiers of deep alleyways and roiling slums. His signature was not the smoking six-shooter; instead, like Sherlock Holmes, he relied upon the startling powers of reason and deduction, the ability to observe what the Watsons of the world merely saw. He found order in a scramble of clues and, as one author put it, “turned brutal crimes—the vestiges of the beast in man—into intellectual puzzles.”

While reading the book, all I could think about was “How is this not a movie? It’s almost impossible to believe.” Well …

In December 2019, Scorsese’s recurring cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto announced that the shooting schedule for Killers of the Flower Moon would begin in March 2020. Variety magazine confirmed that DiCaprio and De Niro are set to star, with Dante Ferretti doing set design.







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