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‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ author David Grann answers your questions

As part of the NewsHour and New York Times book club, Now Read This, author David Grann answers your questions about “Killers of the Flower Moon,” his true crime book on the 20th century Osage murders. And Jeffrey Brown announces the March pick, a book that takes a surreal look at modern migration.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight, our monthly Now Read This interview. That’s our new book club, a partnership with The New York Times, that so many of you have joined.

    Jeffrey Brown talks with this month’s author.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In the 19th century, the Osage Indians were driven from their lands several times. By the early 20th century, they lived in part of Oklahoma that no one else wanted, but there was oil under the ground there, and the Osage became very wealthy.

    And then in the 1920s came a series of murders and suspicious deaths.

    Our Now Read This pick for February, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” is a powerful work of investigative history. It clearly captivated many of you who read along with us.

    And Author David Grann is here now to answer some of the questions you have sent in.

    So, hello, David. Thank you for being our February pick.

  • David Grann:

    Oh, it’s been an honor. Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    We got lots of questions.

  • David Grann:

    All right. Let’s go at it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I’m going to try to group some of them.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    One, a lot of people wondered how you came to this story.

    So, Don C. from San Francisco, “What inspired you to collect this story, turn it into a book?”

    Lisa from Asheville, “With so many of us never having heard of this, how did you come to it?”

  • David Grann:

    Yes.

    I too had never heard of it. And at one point, a historian had mentioned it to me. And I made a trip out to the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. And I visited the museum there. At that point, I had no plans of writing a book or even necessarily a story or anything.

    And when I was at the museum, there was this great photograph on the wall that was taken in 1924. And it showed members of the Osage Nation with white settlers. It looked very innocent. But I noticed that a portion of the photograph was missing.

    And I asked the then museum director what had happened to it. And she said it had contained a figure so frightening that she decided to remove it. And she then pointed to the missing panel. And she said, the devil was standing right there.

    The book grew out of trying to understand who that figure was. And she went down into the basement. And she brought up an image of the missing panel. And it contained an image of one of the killers of the Osage who had murdered many of them for their oil money.

    And I kept thinking, the Osage had removed that picture not to forget what happened, but because they can’t forget. And yet so many people, including me, had no knowledge of this event. And so that was the real impetus to fill in my own ignorance.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A lot of our readers had questions about the research, about how you did it, where you did it, how long it took.

  • David Grann:

    Yes.

    It took me close to five years to research and write. It took a long time for two reasons. There were basically two avenues of research. One avenue was archival. And one avenue was trying to track down the descendants of both the murderers and the victims, many of whom still live in the same neighborhoods in Oklahoma side by side, their fates intertwined, which is in many ways the story of America.

    And it was meeting with many of them that gave me a real sense of how this history still reverberates to this day.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You even wrote, page 264 — I have got — I marked it.

  • David Grann:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    “I often felt I was chasing history even as it was slipping away.”

    Several of our readers noted that as well.

  • David Grann:

    Yes.

    It was often like chasing ghosts. I went to the archive in Fort Worth, Texas. At one point, I pulled a box that contained guardian records. And because the Osage had money back then because of oil, the U.S. government had given them guardians, white guardians to manage their wealth. This was a deeply racist system.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • David Grann:

    And when I was looking through this book, I pulled a box on the guardians. I found this old logbook. And I was looking through it. I would see the name of one guardian, and I would often see, for example, five Osage whose wealth they had managed.

    If the Osage had died, somebody, some bureaucrat had just written the word dead next to their name. And I noticed, in one case, it was an Osage, and it had the word dead. The next Osage, dead. Dead, dead, dead, all five.

    And then I looked at another guardian. And I saw they had about 12 Osage whose fortunes they had overseen; 50 percent of them were dead. This defied any national death rate. And it was documents like that, going back to your question about research, that gave you the sense of the breadth of this conspiracy.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And opened this whole world to you.

  • David Grann:

    It opened this whole world up.

    And it actually demolished my original notion of the book, which was really a story about who did it. And it became a story about who didn’t do it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    We got a number of questions about the impact of the book. Clearly, people wondering what it did for you, but also what it did to the people involved.

    So, Brandon Irwin, Glendale, Arizona- “What do you see as the principal benefit in bringing to light history that has been forgotten?”

  • David Grann:

    Well, I don’t think you can understand our country unless you understand a part — this part of our history.

    This is one of the worst racial injustices and criminal conspiracies in American history. And it was never taught in school. It was never taught to me. It wasn’t taught in most Oklahoma schools.

    The Osage were intimately aware of their history, but others weren’t. And I don’t think you can understand this country unless you understand events like this.

    I think stories like this were marginalized and neglected. And they belong as part of our history.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And you have brought it back to life.

  • David Grann:

    I hope so.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, now, we’re going to continue our conversation. And you can find that part later on our Web site and on our Now Read This Facebook page.

    So, for now, thank you, David Grann.

  • David Grann:

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But, before we go, I get to announce our next book club pick for March.

    We’re turning back to fiction to a much acclaimed recent novel, “Exit West” by writer Mohsin Hamid. It’s a beautifully written and deeply imaginative take on contemporary issues of migration and displacement.

    And if you’re already part of Now Read This, you know how it works. And if you’re not, now is time to go to our Facebook page and join nearly 50,000 other readers.

    Now Read This is a partnership with The New York Times, and we are very glad to have you reading along with us.

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