The Reign Of Terror And The Historical Trauma It Brought To The Osage

Join Craig Day as we look at historical trauma and speak with descendants from Osage.

Friday, October 13th 2023, 10:33 pm

By: Craig Day


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The book and movie Killers of the Flower Moon is bringing to light a tragic story that many people didn't know about, even many people born and raised in Oklahoma. 

It is also bringing awareness about the emotions that descendants of those murdered in the Reign of Terror still experience generations later. 

The Reign of Terror is a sinister story of misdeeds and murder, oil and intrigue, fortune and misfortune. A windfall of riches from what was one of the largest oil fields in North America led to the downfall of many Osage families. 

"It created a weird...great times, horrible times all at the same time,” Jim Gray said.  

Gray is a former chief of the Osage Nation. He is also the great-grandson of Henry Roan, an Osage Indian shot and killed during the Reign of Terror in 1923. 

"What would be the motive to murder Henry Roan? Well, if you’re William Hale and you're murdering this entire family, you want to eliminate any possibility of anybody making a claim from the outside for any of those headrights,” Gray said.

In a lust for riches, Hale was the mastermind of a plot to use murder to steal the wealth of an Osage family. The affluent rancher, banker, and swindler, the so-called "King of the Osage Hills." His "kingdom" was gained through bribery, intimidation, and murder. 

"The William Hale trial was the OJ Simpson trial of its day,” Gray said.  

Hale was convicted and got a life sentence for the murder scheme. 

"Even though in my family's case, the FBI did solve my great grandfather's crime, for every one they did solve, there were probably scores of Osages whose cases will never get investigated, but their deaths were just as harmful to them, as they were to mine,” Gray said.  

The Osage Nation faced not only unbridled greed but also governmental indifference, and when the exploitation of wealthy tribal members happened, there was little the tribe could do about it. 

"Oh my God, how did this happen? Well, they had help, didn't they? There's guys sitting in Washington in their leather-bound chairs saying they're making too much money, you know, that question and the way it's set and the way it implies is Indians aren't supposed to have money. They're not supposed to be successful. They're not supposed to be sitting on some of the wealthiest oil land in the country. Why? Because they're Indian, that's why,” Gray said.

Gray said far too many cases were ignored by state and local law enforcement during the Reign of Terror, and too few were investigated or prosecuted. 

"I guess people just thought, well, it's just a bunch of Indians, who cares?  See, you know you can rationalize stealing from an Indian if you don't see them as equal,” Gray said.  

The grab for power, the murder, and the Reign of Terror led to distrust, a feeling of vulnerability and betrayal, and little sense of security... what modern-day experts call historical trauma. 

"Historical trauma is a term that we use to understand the psychological, emotional, cultural, social impact of mass trauma that's been perpetrated against people because of some aspect of their identity,” University of Tulsa professor Dr. Lisa Cromer said.  

Cromer is an Associate Professor of Psychology and is the executive director of the University of Tulsa's Insitute of Trauma, Adversity, and Injustice. 

"When you look at the Osage reign of terror, there were laws at that time that set that up to happen,” Cromer said.  

She said the Osage Reign of Terror, like the Holocaust and the Tulsa Race Massacre, are instances of historical trauma. 

"It's been called this conspiracy of silence because sometimes the people who suffered and survived don't talk to their children about it or their grandchildren about it. Maybe because it's so painful,” Cromer said.  

But now, with the movie Killers of the Flower Moon, the world is talking about it. 

Gray said it is a story that needs to be told in schools, in the history books, and on the big screen. 

"Not just Henry Roan, but this whole story,” he said. “Because it helps us understand things we should remember, things that we should avoid repeating." 

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