November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor Native Americans and recognize the various challenges faced by Native Americans today and in the past. It allows me the opportunity to highlight the collection of Native American author Fred Grove.
To draft his fact-based novel, Years of Fear (2002), Grove relied on his haunting childhood memories as an “ear” witness to the bombing murders of Bill and Rita Smith and their housekeeper Nettie Brookshire. Grove was ten years old when he and his Osage mother lived on the Osage Indian Reservation and heard the Smith home explode. After sneaking off the following morning, he witnessed the horror of what a bombing does to buildings and, worst of all, to human bodies. Those memories lasted a lifetime and prompted his writing of several novels, including his first novel, Flame of the Osage (1958), Warrior Road (1974), and Drums Without Warriors (1976).
The 1897 discovery of oil on the Osage reservation brought wealth to the tribe as well as destruction. As Oklahoma prepared for statehood, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls in 1907. They and their legal heirs, whether Osage or not, had headrights (legal grant of land) to royalties in oil production, based on their allotments of lands. The headrights could be inherited by legal heirs, including non-Osage. The tribe held the mineral rights and paid tribal members a percentage. Two decades later, the tribe earned over 30 million dollars, about 400 million by today’s equivalency. The Osage had begun to do what the rest of the western world did with their windfall of money. They used their royalties to send their children to private schools, purchased expensive cars, clothing, jewelry, and traveled to foreign countries.
Believing the Osage were mismanaging their new wealth, Congress passed a law in 1921 requiring courts to appoint guardians to supervise the royalties and financial affairs for each Osage of half-blood or more in ancestry until they demonstrated competency. Minor children with less than half-Osage blood had guardians appointed, even if they had living parents. The courts appointed the guardians from local white lawyers or businessmen. Appointed guardians often plotted to steal Osage land, headrights, or royalties, using their legal status as heirs to their charge’s estate.
Almost 60 murders of wealthy Osage occurred between 1921 and 1926. It took several years to prove suspicions of opportunistic guardians who gained the headrights of their wards.
Fred Grove researched these stories extensively to write the Years of Fear. Afterward, he donated his notes and research materials on the Osage murders to the NMSU Archives and Special Collections. Although these murders occurred over 100 years ago, interest in the collection remains active. Researchers interested in the Fred Grove Papers searching specifically for the Osage murders have included authors and movie producers.
The Fred Grove Papers finding aid mentions the following biographical information “Fred Grove was born in Hominy, Oklahoma in 1913. His mother was an original allottee of the Osage Indian Tribe. His father was a rancher. He received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma in 1937. Mr. Grove worked as both a newspaper reporter and a sportswriter in Texas and Oklahoma until 1947 when he joined the Oklahoma University public relations staff. His short stories appeared in western pulp magazines until they disappeared in the 1950s. His novels range from topics on the Civil War to the “Roaring Twenties” in Oklahoma. His focus is mainly on creating lively and enjoyable western fiction. One of his most important novels, The Years of Fear, gives a factual account of the Osage murders, which took place in Oklahoma during the early 1920s. Mr. Grove is the recipient of five Spur Awards in 1961, 1963, 1968, 1977, 1982. He has also received the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame twice, in 1961 and in 1968. A Distinguished Service Award from Western New Mexico University was given to Mr. Grove for his regional fiction on the Apache frontier.”
The Fred Grove Papers span the years 1942-2002. The bulk of documents are from 1960- 1994. Arranged by series, the collection consists of book manuscripts, short stories, articles, research notebooks and materials, correspondence, and speeches. The correspondence series includes letters from various prominent authors.
Fred Grove lived in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and lastly, Arizona, where he died in 2008 at the age of 95; his wife Lucile was with him for the last 70 years of his life; she died in 2014. They are both buried in Oklahoma City.
Killers of the Flower Moon, an upcoming film by Martin Scorcese will feature several Native American and First Nation actors and actresses. The film is based on Killers of the Flower Moon (2017) written by David Grann.
For more information on the Osage tribe visit https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/
For more information on the FBI investigation into the Osage murders see https://vault.fbi.gov/Osage%20Indian%20Murders