Although the characters and the events in my mystery, Cobwebs, are fiction, the historical events recounted as the “Reign of Terror” are true. The name itself can send chills through the bones of those who remember or have learned about those frightening days in the 1920s when members of the Osage Nation were likely to disappear or be killed, victims of unscrupulous persons seeking to profit from the newfound wealth of Osage Tribal members.
The Osage Nation had become wealthy because of their treaty with the United States government in the 1872. In that treaty, they were granted as a tribe joint ownership of all the mineral rights to the land beneath their reservation – what is currently Osage County, Oklahoma. In 1906 a Tribal Roll was created, listing 2,229 tribal members. When the oil boom began, all the royalties from oil and gas production in Osage County belonged to the Osage Tribe as a unit. The tribal role was used to assign one headright to each Osage, and these members received their percentage of the income from the incredibly lucrative Osage County oil and gas fields.
The first full-blood Osage woman murdered during the terror was Anna Kyle Brown, found dead in 1921, shot in the head. The actual number of Osages murdered during the next few years continues to be debated, but without a doubt, the Reign of Terror continued. After a bomb destroyed a house, killing three people including Anna’s sister, the tribal council asked the federal government for help.
Washington responded with the launch of a major investigation and the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Using agents and informants, the search for the perpetrators began. Wealthy Osages lived in fear as one by one, Anna’s relatives and heirs died. But their family was not the only family affected.
As the FBI investigation continued, more Osages died and disappeared. In all, before they caught and tried the perpetrator, over two dozen people were murdered.
However, people who lived during this time claim hundreds of others also died; their deaths were never investigated and instead were listed as accidents. Autopsies were never performed.
Tune into this blog on Monday to learn all about another primary character from Cobwebs, Sam Mazie.