Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of David Grann

The son of the first woman CEO of a major publishing firm and the director of the Bennett Cancer Center in Connecticut, David Grann grew up hoping to become a novelist. After being hired as a copy editor at The Hill, a Washington, D.C. political paper, however, Grann began utilizing his journalistic skills, and quickly advanced to become its executive editor. Grann would later move on to The New Yorker, where his articles and essays received critical acclaim and earned him a 2009 George Polk Award, as well as spots on the shortlists for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the National Magazine Award. Grann’s two most prominent books, The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon, have been adapted for the screen, nominated for numerous awards, and served as a showcase for Grann’s singular and poetic blend of fact and fiction. His books are intimately-detailed, meticulously-researched, and provide a way for the plain facts of history to dovetail seamlessly with Grann’s sensitive, empathetic musings on human nature, cultural collision, greed, ambition, and obsession.
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Historical Context of Killers of the Flower Moon

Grann’s text holistically contextualizes the history which preceded the Osage Reign of Terror—and the fallout of that grisly decade, which reverberates up to the present day. Driven off their ancestral lands, the Osage were, in the 1870s, forced onto a parcel of hilly, rocky land in the new territory of Oklahoma—in other words, forcibly relocated and then handed a scrap of land that no one else wanted. When oil was discovered there, however, the land became a hot commodity—and angry whites, jealous of the Osage’s good fortune and once again feeling entitled to Native lands (which they themselves assigned the tribe) sought to get at the oil money by any means necessary. The violence, trauma, and paranoia of the period has seeped through history and now continues to haunt the present-day members of the Osage tribe, many of whose grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles were victims of killings orchestrated by William K. Hale himself or other white men and women whose anonymity history has, unfortunately, protected—making the securing of any sense of closure or justice impossible for uncountable members of the tribe.

Other Books Related to Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon joins a rich tradition of texts which blend official historical record with an interrogation of the facts, embellishment of the atmosphere and time period, and dismantling of preconceived notions of the past popularized in collective American memory. David Grann’s previous book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon established the structure that Grann would use in the composition of Killers of the Flower Moon. A large part of the book consists of reportage on archaeological excavations in the Amazon that may or may not unearth a long-rumored lost city of riches, while also drawing on historical accounts of a 1911 journey into the region in search of that mystical city; the narrative also encompasses Grann’s own journey to the Amazon to supplement his more hands-off research. Hampton Sides’s 2007 book Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West also reanimates the historical record in order to tell the story of the decimation of another tribe of Native Americans—the Navajo—in pursuit of American westward expansion. Contemporary books by Native writers, such as Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem and Tommy Orange’s There, There feature characters reckoning with the past traumas of their families and their tribes, while simultaneously interrogate why Native writers are so often pigeonholed into composing endless ruminations on those traumas.
Key Facts about Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Full Title: Killers of the Flower Moon
  • When Written: 2012-2015
  • Where Written: New York City, NY
  • When Published: April 18, 2017
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction, true-crime
  • Setting: Osage County, Oklahoma
  • Climax: William K. Hale, the mastermind behind several murders of members the Osage tribe, is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes—despite federal agent Tom White’s fears that Hale would be able to bribe his way out of facing justice.
  • Antagonist: William K. Hale, Ernest Burkhart, J. Edgar Hoover
  • Point of View: Third person, first person

Extra Credit for Killers of the Flower Moon

The Bureau on the Big Screen. In the late 1950s, The FBI Story starring James Stewart came to the screen and featured a small segment on Osage murders. Hoover made a cameo appearance in the film—which, according to Grann, “further enshrined him in the popular imagination.”