Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Osage Indian Murders

"Found: In May 1921, the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown—an Osage Native American—in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma. The undertaker later discovered a bullet hole in the back of her head. Anna had no known enemies, and the case went unsolved ..."--the FBI (1-26-05)

"Many, many Osage Indians died in the 1920's from explosions, gunshots, and even poisoning with the killers walking away freely. The Osage Tribe pleaded with the federal government to intercede, and when they did, federal agents were dispatched to Osage County, Oklahoma. FBI Agents, some of whom worked undercover as a medicine man, cowboy, an oil prospector and insurance salesman, conducted a dangerous, painstaking investigation for several years which finally resulted in the conviction of the murder ring's leaders. A new book by former FBI Agent and former U.S. Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan chronicles the investigation and the four trials which eventually resulted in life sentences for the perpetrators in spite of the fact that some witnesses were killed, others disappeared and still others were bribed to perjure themselves."--Reviewer: The Pawhuska Journal Capital, OK

Lawrence Hogan's book, The Osage Indian Murders (1998), seems to be available at the Osage County Historical Museum Bookstore in the Osage Nation's capital Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and from booksellers at Amazon.

"Countless ways were devised to cheat the Indians out of their money...One of the ways was ruthless murder...The story is a fascinating and horrifying tale of marriage for inheritance, of barbarous murder and of extraordinary cover-up."--Reviewer: Ponca City, OK News

The Osage Indians refer to this episode in their history as "the reign of terror." The FBI has posted a brief summary about "the reign of terror" which I am reposting below. To learn more about these infamous crimes, you can read the Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Lawrence J. Hogan's The Osage Indian Murders, and the declassified FBI case files.

Mr. Hogan worked for the FBI and also served as a Congressman from Maryland. His book chronicles the eyewitness testimony of many Osage Indians that was collected during the FBI investigation, so Mr. Hogan's account is both Osage history and FBI history. One of the earliest posts on my blog is called "The Osage Indian Murders and the Legend of Pine Ridge."

I think that the Osage history was stolen by propagandists in the American Indian Movement (AIM)---such as the Indian-abusing ex-professor Ward Churchill---and reworked into a 1970s fairytale about FBI-backed death-squads on Pine Ridge Reservation.

An accurate account of what really happened on Pine Ridge can be found in The American Indian Mafia (2007) by the retired FBI agent Joseph H. Trimbach and his son John M. Trimbach. The AIM attacked Indians, robbed them, kidnapped them, deprived them of their telephones, and burned down the village of Wounded Knee. Indian journalist Paul DeMain reports that Indian journalists believe that the American Indian Movement (AIM) murdered 13 people during their "Reign of Terror."

The AIM murdered two young FBI agents who were protecting Indians.

The AIM shot the Canadian Indian Anna Mae Aquash in the head and dumped her in a ravine, just like the Osage Indian murderers shot Anna Brown in the head and dumped her into a ravine. The AIMsters acted just like the gangsters who preyed on the Osage during the 1920s "reign of terror." To cover their tracks, these con-artists made up lies about "uninvestigated murders" and claimed that a "reign of terror" on Pine Ridge Indian reservation was caused by FBI-backed death squads.

The criminal mastermind behind the vicious Osage Indian murders in the 1920s was a wealthy rancher named William Hale, but the actual murders were committed by his nephews and and contract killers such as the outlaws Kelsie Morrison and John Ramsey.

The excellent Oklahoma Historical Society narrative about the Osage murders observes:

In March 1923 an alarmed Osage Tribal Council sought U.S. government intervention in the growing number of Osage murders, including those of Joe Grayhorse, William Stepson, Anna Sanford, and others outside the Kyle family. In response, the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (today's Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI) sent agents to Osage County. Among them were special undercover officers who took the lead in the investigations. Their focus was the Roan murder that had occurred on restricted Indian land, giving federal authorities jurisdiction in the case. The agents met regularly to compare observations and noted the reoccurring names of William K. Hale, Ernest Burkhart, and John Ramsey. [See the full text]

The FBI tells the tale in "A BYTE OUT OF HISTORY" (1-26-05):

Murder and Mayhem in the Osage Hills

Found: In May 1921, the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown—an Osage Native American—in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma. The undertaker later discovered a bullet hole in the back of her head. Anna had no known enemies, and the case went unsolved ...

That might have been the end of it, but ... just two months later, Anna's mother—Lizzie Q—suspiciously died. Two years later, her cousin Henry Roan was shot to death. Then, in March 1923, Anna's sister and brother-in-law were killed when their home was bombed.

One by one, at least two dozen people in the area inexplicably turned up dead. Not just Osage Indians, but a well known oilman and others.

What did they all have in common? Who was behind all the murders?

That's what the terrorized community wanted to find out. But a slew of private detectives and other investigators turned up nothing (and some were deliberately trying to sidetrack honest efforts). The Osage Tribal Council turned to the federal government, and Bureau agents were detailed to the case.

Early on, all fingers pointed at William Hale, the so-called "King of the Osage Hills." A local cattleman, Hale had bribed, intimidated, lied, and stolen his way to wealth and power. He grew even greedier in the late 1800s when oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation. Almost overnight, the Osage became incredibly wealthy, earning royalties from oil sales through their federally mandated "head rights."

Hale's connection to Anna Brown's family was clear. His weak-willed nephew, Ernest Burkhart, was married to Anna's sister. If Anna, her mother, and two sisters died—in that order—all of the "head rights" would pass to the nephew ... and Hale could take control. The prize? Half a million dollars a year or more.

Solving the case was another matter. The locals weren't talking. Hale had threatened or paid off many of them; the rest had grown distrustful of outsiders. Hale also planted false leads that sent our agents scurrying across the southwest.

So four of our agents got creative. They went undercover as an insurance salesman, cattle buyer, oil prospector, and herbal doctor to turn up evidence. Over time, they gained the trust of the Osage and built a case. Finally, the nephew talked. Then others confessed. The agents were able to prove that Hale ordered the murders of Anna and her family to inherit their oil rights ... cousin Roan for the insurance ... and others who had threatened to expose him.

In 1929, 76 years ago this week, Hale was convicted and sent to the slammer. His henchmen—including a hired killer and crooked lawyer—also got time. Case closed … and a grateful community safe once more.
Want more details? The case files—all 3,274 pages of them—are available free of charge on our Freedom of Information
Osage Indian Murders web page. Also see our Indian Country website for today’s efforts to protect Native Americans.


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