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Monday, February 26, 2018


Starting Thursday evening, the library will begin handing out free copies of “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann. To get one of the free copies, you need to sign-up for and attend one of our small group discussions. Despite all of the other amazing events we have going on -  David Grann’s visit, a ballet, the former director of the FBI Crime Lab, etc. – it is these small group discussions that are at the heart of each of our community reading series.

We want these discussions to be open and enlightening, and we also want them to be respectful. One topic that often confounds people is what to call people who are Native American. 

We’re at a delicate time in the history of American dialogue. On one hand, we are currently feeling the very real growing pains of transitioning to speaking with each other using more honor and respect. On the other hand, we are sometimes so nervous about saying the wrong thing that we choose to say nothing at all.

As we planned the series, I started research to try to find a definitive answer of what to call Native Americans. I was looking for the golden, easy answer that would make every discussion perfect, with no one feeling awkward or uneasy. What I found both in reading about the topic and in talking to different people from different Nations, was that they are individuals! Every person has their own opinion and preference. 

That each person is an individual is something that I should have known in the first place, but it sure wasn’t the easy answer I was hoping to find. However, my exercise did unearth two things that I think will help guide me.

First, ask! Some people don’t mind the term “Native American,” while others dislike it because it is a government label. Some older people I’ve spoken with are fine with the term “Indian,” because it was what was used when they were growing up. This summer during our “Let’s Talk About It” series, Dr. Russ Tallchief often referred to “Native people,” while still others prefer the term “Indigenous” people.

One piece of advice was especially helpful. During a pre-series book discussion session, I asked one of the OSU students from the Native American Student Association, what term we should use. He asked why not just call them by what they are? Osage, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw. Each tribe is a separate entity. They may share some similarities, but they are all individual Nations.

The point I want to make here is that you just aren’t going to know what term people prefer unless you talk to them. And funny enough, once you start talking to people, things like this become much less important. You understand their preferences, and they understand your heart.

And speaking of your heart, the second lesson I learned is that if you say “the wrong thing,” but are doing it with a good heart, then it really isn’t a mistake—it is a learning opportunity. My new friend Coleman American Horse, who is helping to plan the Osage Cultural Fair on March 24, told me that he doesn’t mind when people make these good-hearted “mistakes.” He sees it as an opportunity to teach the person about the Osage and himself. 

He’s right. Most of the time, people can tell when someone is using terms innocently and when people are using them to be cruel. And if you make one of these “mistakes,” be open to learning about the person’s preferences and more importantly, the reason and history behind the preference. Don’t let the error keep you from participating. Discussion about topics like this rarely is meant to humiliate you, but to educate you.

Speaking of which, if you do hear someone make what you think is a terminology error, then be gentle. We are all here to learn through these reading series. If we embarrass others, then we run the risk of having them not join us anymore. If they were someone who could have benefitted from learning more, then we have just lost a great opportunity to do so.

So, what are we supposed to call Native Americans? I don’t know the answer to that. I hope that I take this chance to not worry so much about these labels and instead to talk to people as the individuals they are. 

And my best advice? Definitely ALWAYS be P.C.—not “politically correct” but “polite and courteous.” It always goes a long way.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Before Killers of the Flower Moon

On March 1, the Stillwater Public Library kicks-off its ninth community-wide reading series. This go-round, we’re reading “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by bestselling author David Grann.

The non-fiction book gives the story of mysterious deaths of Osages who were being murdered for their headrights to the rich reserves of oil under Osage land. It is the first time the story has received coast-to-coast recognition and the first time many Oklahomans have heard of it.

Grann, an investigative reporter, writes for the New Yorker and was formerly a senior editor at The New Republic and executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He’s also becoming Hollywood’s go-to for memorable movie material, with a recent movie based on his 2009 book, “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon;” three stories in development from 2011’s true crime book, “The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: tales of murder, madness, and obsession;” and, of course, the recent bidding war for the movie rights to “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Grann originally learned about the Osage murders in a conversation with a historian. He was shocked he had never learned about it in school and felt compelled to research further. A moving visit to the Osage Nation convinced Grann that he needed to write the story that so few had heard.

But Grann isn’t the first to address this topic.

One of the first books to include the murders was published in 1934 by Osage author John Joseph Mathews. “Sundown” is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Osage who returns to his Osage home after attending university and serving in the Great War. The main character, Challenge Windzer, struggles to navigate between his Osage and white identities, while the problem is compounded by the opportunists who have descended on the Osage’s new oil wealth.

Mathews, who served on the Osage tribal council and was instrumental in establishing the Osage Nation Museum, is named along with the museum in the list of Oklahoma Literary Landmarks.

Pulp-fiction western author Fred Grove, whose mother was part Osage, was just ten years old when he was close enough that he heard the bomb explosion which took the lives of Bill and Rita Smith and Nettie Brookshire, an incident you will read about in Grann’s book.

Grove co-wrote one non-fiction book about the Osage murders, but couldn’t find a publisher. The incident stayed with Grove though, and he included the murders in four of his novels “Flame of the Osage” (1958), “Warrior Road” (1974) and “Drums Without Warriors” (1976). Grove’s book “The Years of Fear” (2002) is a fictionalized version of his unpublished non-fiction book.  The prolific author wrote 30 books and won five “Spurs” from the Western Writers of America.

The murders were also covered on the big screen. In 1959, the movie “The FBI Story, starring Jimmy Stewart, recounted the birth of the FBI, including one its first cases—the Osage murders. Modern reviewers have criticized the movie for its length and sappy sentimentality, but in 1958, Variety called the movie as “a tense, exciting film story told in human terms.”

These are just a few of the titles that have included the Osage murders, and yet, again we puzzle over how so few people remember hearing about it. How does such a diabolical, years-long event become forgotten? Why is it just now that we are ready to hear and acknowledge this story?

These are some of the main questions we hope the series will answer. Through our programs with expert presenters and especially through our small group book discussions, we want people to talk about why these types of events are forgotten/ignored/brushed under the rug and how we can keep it from happening in the future.

Join us by sign-up for a book discussion at the kick-off event on March 1. Those who have already read the book are encouraged to sign-up for some of our early discussions.

For more stories focused on the Osage Murders, visit The library either owns each of the books on the list or has them on order.

Getting acquainted with the Osage Nation

One of the reasons we have been so excited about our spring reading series on “Killer of the Flower Moon” is that the book encompasses the history of so many different and fascinating Oklahoma topics – oil, the FBI and the birth of forensic science.

In partnering with members and organizations of Osage Nation, we’ve realized that for a library right smack in the center of Oklahoma, we don’t spend much time providing opportunities to explore the part of the book that is the most fascinating of all - the people of Oklahoma. Sharing this book will begin what we hope is an annual exploration of the many Nations throughout our state.

We also hope that participants will take advantage of this opportunity to find out about the history, traditions and current culture of the Osage. One of the statements we’ve heard again and again while developing this series is that many people think tribes all share the same customs and culture. But in fact, each group is often very different from one another, an idea that is made clear by naming the Osage the “Osage Nation.” Just as Italy, France, and Germany are different, discrete entities, so are the Osage, the Choctaw and Cherokees.

So we encourage you to take the next two months to get to know the Osage people---their history and their traditions, but even more importantly, who they are today. We will have many Osage guests throughout the series, giving you many chances to learn about the individuals who make up the Nation. 

We’ll also be highlighting our collection of books on different aspects of the Osage. Visit one of our displays to borrow one of the books before the series starts. It will inform your reading of Grann’s book and make each of the programs that much more meaningful. 

Here are some of the choices with descriptions from our catalog:

·         “Osage Indian Customs & Myths” by Louis F. Burns (1984) - Because the Osage did not possess a written language, their myths and cultural traditions were handed down orally through many generations. With time, only those elements deemed vital were preserved in the stories, and many of these became highly stylized. The resulting verbal recitations of the proper life of an Osage—from genesis myths to body decoration, from star songs to child-naming rituals, from war party strategies to medicinal herbs—constitute this comprehensive volume.

·         “Art of the Osage” by Garrick Bailey & Daniel C. Swan (2004) - This volume draws together over two centuries' worth of Osage art, tracing the patterns of Osage life and culture as they existed from contact to the present. The book explores the interconnections among their material culture, social organization, cosmology, aesthetics, and rituals.

·         A History of the Osage people by Louis F. Burns (1989) - Traces 400 years of Osage culture from prehistoric times to the group's current status as an officially recognized tribe. Louis Burns draws on ancestral oral traditions and research in a broad body of literature to tell the story of the Osage people. 

·         “Traditions of the Osage: stories collected and translated by Francis la Flesche” (2010) - The forty-nine traditional Osage narratives presented here, collected in Oklahoma between 1910 and 1923 for the Bureau of American Ethnology, have never before been assembled in one book. These stories offer insights into Osage culture and society that are not available elsewhere.

·         “The Osage Ceremonial Dance I'n-Lon-Schka” by Alice Anne Callahan (1990) - The participants, who now number in the hundreds, assemble each June in three Oklahoma communities-Pawhuska, Hominy, and Grayhorse-where the Dance Chairmen, the Drumkeeper (an eldest son of the tribe), and the dance organization have been preparing for the dance throughout the year. The I'n-Lon-Schka is religious in content and continues to establish conduct and ways of living for tribal members.

·         “The Osages, Children of the Middle Waters” by John Joseph Mathews (1961) – Drawing from the oral history of his people before the coming of Europeans, the recorded history since, and his own lifetime among them, John Joseph Mathews created a truly epic history.

To learn more about the library’s series, “One Book, One Community: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” visit the website at or call the Help Desk at (405) 372-3633 x8106.