Tuesday, November 8

Killers of the Flower Moon + History of Oil & Gas

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Osage Indians were driven onto a presumed worthless expanse of land in northeastern Oklahoma, but their territory turned out to be on top of one of the largest oil deposits in the United States.  To obtain that oil, prospectors were required to pay the tribe for leases and royalties.  By the 1920s, the members of Osage Nation had become the wealthiest people per capita in the world!  And then the Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances...

Did you know that the first oil was discovered by the Chinese in 600 B.C. and transported in pipelines made from bamboo?  It wasn't until 1859, however, and the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania that oil set the stage for a new world economy.  With the advent of the automobile in the early 20th century, the demand for oil increased exponentially!  By the end of the 1910s, gasoline had proven itself (through World War I) as both a critical energy source and an important military asset.

Most people think of Texas and Oklahoma when they think of oil in the US, but the first oil companies and derricks were in and around Titusville, PA back in the mid to late 1800s.  Here's a little bit about how the history of oil unfolded...
  • August 27, 1859 – First oil well drilled in Titusville, PA by Edwin Drake of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company
  • 1866 – Oil production begins in Oil Springs, Texas
  • 1867 – Rockefeller forms the Standard Oil Company, and becomes the industry’s first “baron." By 1879, Standard Oil controlled not only 90% of America’s refining capacity, but also its pipelines and gathering systems.  (While Rockefeller was building his U.S. empire, the Nobel and Rothschild families were competing for control of production and refining of Russia’s oil riches.)
  • 1870 – Kerosene has replaced whale oil as the dominant fuel for illumination, bringing an end to the era of whale oil.
  • 1894 – First significant Texas oil field developed near Corsicana and would eventually build the first modern refinery in Texas.
  • January 10, 1901 – Spindletop Geyser - This discovery near Beaumont, Texas would set off the oil industry boom in Texas.  More than 1500 oil companies would be formed within a year of the Spindletop geyser.
  • 1911 – US Supreme Court ordered the Standard Oil Trust to break apart. That monopoly becomes thirty-four separate companies.  Today, three companies—ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP—are considered the original “supermajors.”
  • 1930s – Gulf Oil, BP, Texaco, and Chevron were involved in concessions that made major discoveries in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Libya.
  • 1960 – OPEC formed in Baghdad, Iraq for the purpose of negotiating with IOCs on matters of oil production, oil prices, and future concession rights. (Today, members of OPEC are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.  Saudi Arabia has the majority of OPEC reserves, followed closely by Iran and Venezuela.)
  • 1973-74 - Arab oil embargo; US gas crisis
  • 1980s – Oil glut sends the price of oil from $35 a barrel to below $10
  • 1989 – Exxon Valdez oil spill
  • 1990 – Gulf War
  • 1997 – Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) proliferates.
  • The 2000s – Oil prices spike. The price of oil continues to climb above $65 in 2005 and eventually hits a high of $147.30 in 2008.
  • 2010 – BP Horizon oil spill
  • 2022 - Oil prices spike amid global pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Osage Indian Murders

So what does the history of oil and gas have to do with the Osage Indians?  This Native American tribe happened to be in the wrong place at the right time...so to speak.  During the 1910s-1930s, there was a "reign of terror" in Osage County, Oklahoma.  More than sixty natives were killed, but investigators suspect there there were many more suspicious deaths that were misreported or covered up during this time, too.  We may never know how many wealthy Osage, and their heirs, were killed.

The reason so many murders were occurring was because the natives owned land that was producing oil.  Since they owned the land, they owned the rights, and received the royalties, for that oil.  Greed is the root cause of many evils, and this series of murders was the result of greed, largely from William Hale, who even ordered the murders of his nephew's wife and other members of his wife's family, to gain control of their oil rights!

When the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) came to Oklahoma to see what was going on, they discovered that many local law officials were corrupt, and some had even been involved with the murders.  The government changed laws and took over managing the money that came from oil produced in this land, but nearly eighty years later, the Osage tribe filed a lawsuit saying that money had not been paid to their people the right way.  (The lawsuit was settled for nearly $380 million.)  The Osage murders were a tragic chapter in the history of this nation, and contributed to the birth and growth of the FBI.


  • Killers of the Flower Moon: Adapted for Young Readers
    • In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, thanks to the oil that was discovered beneath their land. Then, one by one, the Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances, and anyone who tried to investigate met the same end.  As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created Bureau of Investigation, which became the FBI, took up the case, one of the organization's first major homicide investigations. An undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau, infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Working with the Osage, they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.  In this adaptation of the adult bestseller, David Grann revisits his gripping investigation into the shocking crimes against the Osage people.


Make / Do
  • Units include: Geography, History, Economics, Ecology, Safety, Production, Fluids, Physical Science, Geology, Sound Waves, Graphing, Lab Equipment, Usage, and Engineering. Each unit has several lessons within it. Lessons include vocabulary and background information, reading extensions, research, videos, lab experiments, and hands-on projects. Each lesson is designed for family-style use, with extra activities to flesh out the course for upper grades students. Most lessons will take about a week to complete. You are not expected to complete the entire lesson in one ‘class.’ (Unless you are dedicating an entire day to science!) 

  • derrick
  • gulch
  • prevailing
  • allotment
  • corroborate
  • treatise
  • tract
  • prostration
  • consortium
  • unscrupulous
  • insinuate
  • muckraker
  • insidious
  • reprehensible
  • staunch
  • egregious
  • pilfer
  • complicity
  • abscond
  • diaspora
  • megalomania
  • hypocritical
  • Can you think of modern racial prejudices and injustices that parallel those described in Killers of the Flower Moon? What has changed about the approach taken by law enforcement? In what ways have things remained the same?
  • What role did new methods of criminal investigation play in uncovering the guilty parties? In addition to introducing up-to-date forensic science, how did J. Edgar Hoover use the case to transform the FBI and enhance his own image?

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