Tag: Native Americans

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

May 8th, 2019 — 5:01pm


Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I always felt that I was fairly well educated in American history, dating back to the Revolutionary War. I had also studied World War I and World War II and of course the Holocaust. In recent years, I became more aware of the Japanese internment and over the years, I read a fair amount about the history of various immigrant groups in the United States. I must admit that I never thought too much about the history of the Native American Indians in this country nor was this topic covered in my schooling. Of course, I knew that the original explorers and settlers of the Western United States did take away the land of the Native Americans who were obviously here first. I have some vague awareness that there had been some reparations which I am reminded of when I would see advertisements for gambling casinos in California that I knew could only legally function because they were allowed to be run by the Native Americans.

This book was a game changer! It starts off as a real life “who done it”. It is of course a non-fiction book and the reader gets the feeling it’s going to be an interesting true to life mystery. There are a couple of unexplained murders which have occurred. The setting is the 1920s and the location is in the western United States. The victims happen to be Native Americans who are members of the Osage tribe. Suspects come and go. There are some more unsolved deaths which may or may not be accidents or perhaps crimes. Maybe there was a poisoning. There are some attempts at prosecuting possible murderers but the trials usually don’t work out.

It turns out that where the Osage tribe members have lived is on an oil-rich land. The Federal government has worked out a plan where every legitimate member of the Osage tribe gets “Head Rights” which turns out to be lots of money which makes them and their descendants quite wealthy. Of course, when they die, these “Rights” go to their heirs unless they assign them to someone else, perhaps a caretaker of their children, a white spouse or some other arrangement which the soon-to-be deceased member had decided to make. Over the years, all sorts of devious plots are suspected including bribery of juries, medical pathologists who did not quite find the bullet in the body, doctors who might have injected some substance that could have led to the death, undertakers who seemed to be involved in some way and just about everybody else. Families of the deceased became suspicious of the reasons for the deaths of their loved ones and how the inheritance was worked out. Numerous private detectives were drawn into these cases. In fact, these situations probably spawned the development of the occupation of private detectives and investigators in this country or at least was a major part of it.

Of course, the deaths and the suspected murders that were occurring over the years were taking place on the land of the Osage tribe, which is considered federal land, and therefore, federal investigators became involved in looking into these possible crimes. These were occurring at the same time that the new director of the soon-to-be named Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to establish his new bureau. That man, of course, was J. Edgar Hoover and this story is also about the founding of this American institution and the ins and outs of that organization.

The author of this book literally spent years researching it. He spoke with many grandchildren and other descendants of the victims as well as some of the descendants of the suspected murderers. He traveled to many locations, studied archives and personal papers in addition to conducting many personal interviews. In fact, literally, one-tenth of the book are references, citations and summaries of newspaper articles and reports of personal discussions that the author had.

The end result is that the reader is left with an understanding of a piece of American history, which is as comprehensive and complex as any phase of American history. It is not only complicated, colorful, and as horrid as the story of gangsters in America during prohibition, or the tales of the various crime families about whom stories have been written and even equally outrageous as some of the infamous political scandals that have occurred in this country. On top of all of this is the amazing truth that you probably never heard of these events, that is, until you read this book.

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Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

October 28th, 2014 — 9:56am

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 10.06.27 PMCaleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks – Caleb is one of two Israelites who left Egypt and survived to see the Promised Land. Geraldine Brooks has given this name to a Native American who in her novel is befriended by a young girl who is from one of the new settlements in the New World. Their friendship and subsequent lives are the story of this book. It is a fictional account, not only of their relationship, but also of what it was like growing up in this New World colony in the mid 17th century, which is now known as Martha’s Vineyard. It shows the interactions of these settlers with the natives of this land who lived nearby. There actually was a Native American by the name of Caleb who not only lived during this time period but who was educated by the settlers and ultimately went on to be part of one of Harvard’s earliest graduating classes This transformation of Caleb who had to crossover from his tribal beliefs and receive a Christian education which led to attending at Harvard was an exciting adventure and the main storyline of this book. The author Geraldine Brooks captured the atmosphere and life style of this period. She does this by a well-researched description of the living conditions and societal roles of her characters. She also uses the language and grammar of that time which while understandable to the modern reader still requires some retreat to the dictionary (electronic one in my case) For example;

When the light faded the cold seeped through my clogs and set my chilblains a-throbbing, I returned to the house and found Solace, who had wakened from nap, mewling softly…

A good historical novel (which this one certainly qualifies) not only provides feasible facts and actions of the characters but also should examine important social and political themes of the times. The author accomplishes this requirement quite well. We witness the good intentions of this group of early settlers not only to trade and negotiate with but also to teach the Native Americans about their deeply held religious beliefs. We see how many of the Native Americans are impressed with the apparent power of prayer to the Christian God as they see these white worshippers being able to survive disease, which the Native Americans despite the prayers to their gods were not successful in doing. (This was probably because the Europeans had come to the New World with antibodies to Small Pox and other diseases). Some native leaders foresaw the ultimate complete loss of their land and way of life, which would occur, and tried to resist. We also are reminded of the subsequent wars between these two groups and the later discrimination towards the Native Americans on the part of the settlers. For example, despite Caleb’s great accomplishments as well as those of a few other Native Americans at Harvard at this time in the 1650s, it took a great many years before another Native American would attend Harvard.

Through this engaging story the author also examined the role of women in the culture of the new world settlers. It was the job of girls and women to arise early, draw the water, prepare and cook the food, work the fields, clean the clothes etc. Even in the most educated families where there were scholars and ministers, young girls were lucky if they learned how to read, let alone study languages and classic history which was quite valued by these people.

This was a captivating novel, which provided enlightenment about what life was like at this time for the people depicted in the story. It also provided an emotional experience for the reader as we could identify with the characters and appreciate their struggles, hope, aspirations and disappointments.  


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