In spite of the spate of murders, oil barons continue coming in droves to Osage County. Four times a year, the Department of the Interior oversees the auction of Osage leases, and some 160-acre tracts are auctioned off for as much as $14 million. As news of the auctions makes its way across the country, anxiety spreads—one Harper’s Monthly Magazine reporter wrote, “The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”
The idea that something has “to be done” about the Osage’s steadily-increasing wealth demonstrates that no one really cares what happens to the tribe—people all around the country wish ill on the “rich redskin[s].”
A growing number of Americans become alarmed and outraged by reports of the Osage tribe’s wealth. Journalists wildly embellish stories of Osage extravagance, and public sentiment turns against the tribe: many Americans believe that the “typical Osage” is a “good-for-nothing” who does not deserve their wealth—for many Americans, seen as an “unfortunate” coincidence.
Even though the Osage tribe is under siege, the press turns against them, villainizing them for their wealth and only increasing the chances that no one with the power to stop the murders will pay attention to the tribe. This again points to the widespread societal racism against Native Americans.
At the height of the roaring twenties, however, the Osage are hardly going on “the greatest, gaudiest spree[s]”—tribal stature, in Osage custom, is directly linked with displays of “generosity,” whereas many millionaire Americans are blowing through their cash building sprawling mansions and ending up destitute.
Even though there are other Americans—white Americans—who are behaving more frivolously and indeed dangerously with their wealth, the Osage come under fire for living lives of luxury because their doing so upsets the social order that white America wants.
Unlike other wealthy Americans, many Osage cannot even spend their money as they please, due to the federally-imposed system of financial guardianship. Many Osages’ financial guardians see them as “children” and deem them “incompetent.” The system of oversight is deeply racist, and many times, full-blooded Osage are appointed a guardian while “mixed-blood” Osage are allowed to manage their own finances.
The deeply racist U.S. government policies prevent full-blooded tribe members from handling their own finances in an attempt to keep Natives in the place in the social order white America desires: the bottom.
In 1921, the government implements even more “draconian” legislation, and decides that even those Osages with guardians will be “restricted,” unable to withdraw more than a few thousand dollars annually from their trust funds. The government is not the only entity trying to meddle in the tribe’s financial affairs, either. Local merchants price-gouge members of the tribe, while “unscrupulous” accountants and lawyers seek to exploit their bank accounts. Mollie, as a full-blooded Osage, is made to have a guardian oversee her finances; she chooses her husband Ernest, so that at least her family is somewhat in control of their funds.
The government essentially aids corrupt white neighbors of the Osage in gouging and stealing money from the members of the tribe they are charged with helping and protecting. The government’s cruel policies are also petty and aimed only at keeping the Osage subjugated even as their wealth expands.
At one congressional hearing, an Osage chief named Bacon Rind complains that white America “bunched” the Osage down to a “pile of rocks” in the roughest part of the country—now that the pile of rocks is valuable, “everybody wants to get in here and get some of this money.”
Bacon Rind calls out the government on their hypocrisy—they wanted the Osage to have the worst of the country, and now that they have the best of it, the government is incensed, and is doing everything in its power to keep the tribe down.