In September of 1925, Tom White begins to wonder whether the slain Bill Smith, Mollie’s brother-in-law, had begun to unravel the truth behind the murders—and whether a larger conspiracy connected to the family’s oil wealth was indeed behind them—just before his death.
White knows that anyone who got too close to solving the case—like Vaughan and McBride—has turned up dead, and wonders if Bill is yet another who began closing in on the truth.
White meets with the nurse who had been on duty when Bill was in the hospital in the days after the explosion, and she reveals that shortly before Bill died, he met with his lawyer and his doctors—James and David Shoun. The doctors had asked the nurse to leave the room during their conversation. White then questions the doctors, who state that they called the lawyer because they believed Bill might say something about who was responsible for the explosion, but actually never talked about “who blew him up” in front of them. When White questions Smith’s lawyer, however, his lawyer reveals that, lying in the hospital, Bill stated that he only had two enemies in the world—William K. Hale, and his nephew Ernest Burkhart.
The fact that Bill, right before his death, named Hale and Burkhart—his own in-laws—his greatest “enemies” in the world shows White that not everyone in town is, perhaps, quite what they seem to be. White senses that some sort of foul play and trickery has gone on, but he can’t quite get to the root of it—what is clear is that the Shoun brothers are lying.
White begins to speculate that the Shouns orchestrated the meeting with Bill Smith not for his testimony, but for another motive entirely: during the meeting, James Shoun was named the administrator of Rita Smith’s estate and was allowed to execute her will—a position which “paid unconscionably high fees and provided ample opportunities for graft.” It becomes clear that the doctors summoned the lawyer to Bill’s bedside so that they could all but force him to sign the necessary paperwork before he died.
The Shoun brothers—already shady figures in White’s book—are now proven to be co-conspirators in a ploy to secure part of Bill Smith’s estate, a fortune which Bill only amassed through his marriage to Rita.
White begins unraveling the flow of oil money from Osage headrights, and discovers “layer upon layer of corruption,” and evidence of multiple white guardians and administrators using the system to swindle and cheat the very people they were supposed to be protecting. One Osage chief, referring to guardianship over Osage estates, referred to the practice as “the blackest chapter in the history of [Oklahoma]” and estimated that millions of dollars were stolen and spent by guardians of Osage estates.
The government policy of assigning guardians to the wealthy Osage is a strategy for keeping the Osage down—and for excusing the federal government’s turning of a blind eye when it comes to the abuses of the policy committed by the very guardians assigned to “protect” the Osage.
White discovers that “this so-called Indian business” is an elaborate criminal operation which pervades many sectors of society. The guardians and administrators are often wealthy, prominent businessmen, ranchers, lawyers, and politicians, while lawmen, prosecutors, and judges cover up and sometimes even facilitate the swindling for bribe money. These powerful men all have “understanding[s]” with one another and select certain wealthy Indians as their prey. The depraved schemes often deprive Osage Indians not just of surplus wealth, but go so far as to leave many in abject poverty. The Osage are aware of the multileveled campaign against them—but powerless to stop it.
White comes to understand just how racist, corrupt, and almost sociopathically uninterested in recognizing the Osage tribe’s humanity the entirety of white Oklahoma society is. The vast network of conspiracies, heists, and knock-off jobs involves men and women of all stations, and it seems that these people will stop at nothing to take as much as they can from the Osage Indians—who, without any friends or sympathizers around, cannot make anyone pay attention to their plight.