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The Decimation Of The Osage Nation

The Burkhart Family
The Burkhart sisters.

Native Americans have been getting forced off their land for a long time.  Although Thomas Jefferson promised they shall know the United States as only "friends and benefactors," he forced them from their ancestral home in 1804 after he signed the Louisiana Purchase.  

Assured by the government that Kansas territory would belong to the Osage forever, they were soon forced from their new home by white settlers (including the Wilder family of Little House fame) who plundered their burial sites and squatted on their land until they felt little choice but to sell to them.

The Osage finally settled on territory in Oklahoma that most whites found "unfit for cultivation," at least until they found oil underneath those rocks. Then it became attractive to powerful white men who hatched a plot to kill the Osage obtain and obtain mineral rights to the land. 

This is the chilling story of the systematic murder of one group of native people. It's the bigger story of how the United States government has betrayed and controlled the sovereignty of a nation of people who lived here first.

This story never seems to end. In 2019,  Attorney General William Barr announced a plan to address the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans. I wonder whether anything has changed. 


  • David Grann - Staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Lost City of Z: Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon and Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
  • Denny McAuliffe - Editor at The Washington Post, adjunct professor in journalism at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the author of The Deaths of Sybil Bolton: An American History
  • Jim Gray - Former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation and current Tribal Administrator for the Sac and Fox Nation

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Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired August 10, 2017.

Editor's note: A photo was removed from this post because it has been verified by the Library of Congress that the subjects were not members of the Osage Nation.

Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.
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