Grann returns to the archives at Fort Worth, where he finds a logbook from the Office of Indian Affairs cataloging the names of guardians during the reign of terror. Next to H.G. Burt’s name, the log shows that he was the guardian of Bigheart’s daughter and four other Osage—beside the name of one of these wards is the word “dead.” He then looks up the name of Scott Mathis, owner of the Big Hill Trading Company—out of the nine Osage he served as guardian four, seven had died, and at least two of the deaths (Anna Brown and Lizzie) had been confirmed as murders.
Grann encounters a truth which was obvious, but painful to see in such stark light: many “guardians” blatantly betrayed the responsibility inherent in their title and preyed upon their own wards, murdering them for financial gain despite having been sworn to protect and guide them.
Grann scours the logs and is appalled by what he finds. One guardian had eleven wards, eight of whom died; another had thirteen, more than half of whom were listed as deceased. The numbers are staggering and clearly do not reflect a natural death rate. Most of these crimes, Grann notes, have never been investigated. Even cases Grann is able to locate in the FBI’s investigation records are often clearly suspected to be murders—but are never classified outright as homicides. Some deaths which are attributed to alcoholism or tuberculosis, upon further prodding, come up as suspicious—and Grann realizes that just because a ward in the guardianship log isn’t listed as deceased doesn’t mean they weren’t targeted.
Though the FBI celebrated their victory in Osage County and claimed credit for bringing the Reign of Terror to a close, their shoddy work and enormous pile of loose ends points to the fact that they, like so much of America, did not really care about what happened to the Osage before they intervened, or what befell them after they pulled out of Oklahoma.
Grann confirms what he has long suspected: the number of Osage murders was undoubtedly higher than the twenty-four estimated by the fledgling FBI. Scholars and investigators, he writes, who now look back on the Reign of Terror estimate that the true number is perhaps in the hundreds. The Osage tribe had an annual death rate of about 19 per 1000 from 1907-1923—the national death rate is now 8.5 per 1000. At the height of their wealth, the Osage’s death rate was more than double what it is today, pointing to a staggering level of foul play and evil.
Even cases known to the bureau, Grann writes, had hidden dimensions. When he meets with Marvin Stepson, the grandson of William Stepson, who died of a suspected poisoning in 1922, Grann listens to Marvin’s story—a tale in which Kelsie Morrison, the man who murdered Anna Brown, enacted a years-long campaign of violence and theft not just against Stepson’s widow Tillie, who also died of suspected poisoning, but against her young children as well, writing letters from prison (on the charges from the Brown murder) fantasizing about kidnapping the children and inheriting their wealth.
Grann is sickened by the ever-increasing levels of greed, corruption, entitlement, and indeed evil he encounters as he delves deeper and deeper into history in search of as much information as he can find about the victims and perpetrators of the Reign of Terror.
Grann laments that though history can often expose hidden transgressors, many of the Osage murders were so well concealed that such an outcome is no longer possible—countless Osage families have absolutely no sense of closure or resolution. To this day, these families live in doubt and fear, uncertain of who among their family trees might have been suspect.
Though he has worked hard to help try to achieve some measure of closure for many people, here Grann comes to terms with the fact that the conspiracy behind the Reign of Terror was so vast that many will never receive any sense of justice at all.
Before leaving Osage County to return home, Grann stops off at the home of Mary Jo Webb, a retired teacher who has spent decades investigating the suspicious death of her grandfather, Paul Peace, during the Reign of Terror. Going over old documents with Webb, Grann realizes that he was likely poisoned by the Shoun brothers, the same men who botched Anna’s autopsy, covered for Hale, took hold of Rita’s estate, and injected Mollie with poison. Grann realizes that the success of many Osage murder plots rested on the Shoun brothers’ involvement through their willingness to falsify death certificates and autopsies, expedite burials, and even administer poison. Grann realizes that “virtually every element of society was complicit in the murderous system” which stole the lives of countless Osage Indians.
Grann’s sense of helplessness and sadness mounts as he realizes what he had, it is implied, long suspected: that the Reign of Terror was facilitated and condoned by more people than ever imaginable, and by many whose jobs it supposedly was to defend the very people they were targeting.
As Grann prepares to leave Webb’s house, she asks him to continue looking into her grandfather’s death while she walks him out onto the porch. As the two of them consider the vast sky and the ground of the prairie, Webb states that the land is “saturated with blood,” before repeating some from the Bible, the words God spoke to Cain after he killed Abel: “The blood cries out from the ground.”
Even though Webb, and many other members of her tribe, are unable to secure any real measure of justice for their murdered ancestors, they know the truth in their hearts—and believe that one day, the “blood” will be able to tell its story.