“I hope that this attention will translate into more awareness about allotment crime and injustice about Creek people in Tulsa and Tulsa County,” – Brittany Harlow, Verified News Network.
TVLSE, Okla. – The locally-shot Hollywood film, “Killers of the Flower Moon” was finally unveiled to audiences two years after it wrapped production in Oklahoma. The story details a dark chapter in Osage history known as the Reign of Terror. During that time, Osage families were murdered and turned up missing, all in an effort to steal allotments and the rich oil minerals that resided within them.
Production on the film began in 2021 after delays from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Based on the book of the same name, the film details the horrific events of the Reign of Terror. During this dark chapter of history, Osage citizens were killed or went missing under mysterious circumstances. This would lead to an investigation, and ultimately the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigation would uncover that the Osage victims were murdered for their royalties, or headrights from the Osage Oil Boom.
Notably, the film’s script underwent a major rewrite that shifted the story’s perspective toward the Osage people, rather than the birth of the FBI. Although the film was directed by non-Indigenous filmmaker Martin Scorsesee, many view the story as a genuine effort to capture the brutality and injustices of the crimes committed against the Osage people.
Now that the Osage Reign of Terror story has been told on the big screen, it opens up the possibility of more allotment crime stories to be uncovered, researched, and shared. Particularly, allotment history found in neighboring Muscogee (Creek) Nation. While it is well known that Tulsa began as a Mvskoke settlement that marked the end of their journey on the Trail of Tears, what is not well known is how the modern city’s infrastructure was built on Mvskoke allotments.
The Stealing Tvlse Series
Among those researching and seeking to spread awareness of the Mvskoke allotment history in Tulsa are Tatianna Duncan (Mvskoke) and Brittany Harlow. Both have been vocal in their fight to tell the suppressed history of Tulsa, and the allotment grid it was initially comprised of.
Harlow is the founder and director of Verified News Network (VNN), an Indigenous-owned media outlet dedicated to community-minded journalism. In partnership with the nonprofit Lucinda Hickory Research Institute (LHRI), they have partnered together to tell the story of Mvskoke allotment era in Tulsa through the Stealing Tvlse series.
Duncan is the founder and director of the LHRI. The nonprofit’s purpose is to research the accounts of Mvskoke individuals and families who lost their allotments to outside legal guardians. Although it is not common knowledge that Tulsa was developed on Mvskoke allotments, VNN and LHRI are fighting to change that.
Seeing history come to life on the big screen, “Killers of the Flower Moon” left an impact on Duncan and Harlow as allotment researchers. Although the film was not told from a Native perspective, Duncan still believes there is value in the picture.
“It was not a Native point of view, but it was still important,” Duncan said. “I want to make it clear that it was historically still very important and I would encourage people to see it.”
The film alluded to the legal guardians assigned to Native families who would often steal their allotment through legal probate. However Duncan wished the film had explored that historical aspect in further depth, given how the guardianship system allowed outsiders to take allotments with few legal obstacles.
Another way outsiders would get their hands on headrights as seen in the film was through marriage. This approach was not exclusively used on the Osage people.
“We see that in our Mvskoke history, where a non Native will marry one of our Indian ancestors, and we find them dead not long after that,” Duncan said. “It just leaves us with a lot of questions.”
“Killers of the Flower Moon” does mention its ties to Tulsa, particularly in a direct reference to another dark historical event that occurred there: the 1921 Race Massacre. However, the film does not reference the allotment history that took place there. History that as Harlow argues, set the stage for the murders in Osage Nation.
“It was really clear that what happened in Tulsa from 1900-1920 really laid the groundwork for the Reign of Terror.” Harlow said. “That’s the consensus that these crimes and injustice happened in the two decades before the Reign of Terror.”
According to Harlow, there is much work to be done on uncovering the full scope of allotment crimes in Tulsa, as well as why it has taken so long to bring public attention to it.
Colbert on Emvpanayv
Mvskoke Author J.D. Colbert appeared on Mvskoke Media’s podcast, Emvpanayv to discuss his novel, “Between Two Fires” and its relation to the story of the Reign of Terror. Published in November of 2022, the book details a fictional Creek character who sees first hand the murders and disappearances of Mvskoke families in Tulsa and Glenpool during the allotment era.
While the book features similarities to “Killers of the Flower Moon”, it has notable differences. Although “Between Two Fires” focuses on two characters who fall in love, it is a fictional story that was written to be told from a Native perspective.
“What I endeavored to do was tell a Creek story from a Creek perspective, and a Creek history,” Colbert said. “Rather than what we’ve seen for far too long; the treatment of Natives in the media. Particularly movies where Native stories are seemingly always told from a white point of view. Natives are just victims and collateral damage to the story.”
Both stories explore themes of crime, love, and greed. Just like the Osage in “Killers of the Flower Moon”, the book alludes to the Mvskoke peoples’ own dark chapter of allotments stolen through guardianship, and legal probate. Colbert’s inspiration for writing the book came from oral accounts he heard as a young man from original allottee owners.
Although “Between Two Fires” has been published for over a year now, it is not strictly a nonfiction account of history. However, Colbert claims that 90 percent of the characters and events in the book are real. Further research on the Mvskoke allotment era has yet to be published.
The Future of Mvskoke Allotment History
When asked if Mvskoke allotment history will ever be properly taught in schools or to the general public, Duncan said her research is available to anyone who wants to use it.
“They’re welcome to look at it, they’re welcome to sit down and talk with me,” Duncan said. “It’s not about me telling the story, it’s about people knowing it.”
While there is still more progress yet to be made on spreading Mvskoke allotment history awareness, Harlow believes “Killers of the Flower Moon” was a step in the right direction.
“I hope that this attention will translate into more awareness about allotment crime and injustice about Creek people in Tulsa and Tulsa County,” Harlow said.
A film or television adaptation of Mvskoke allotment history is not entirely out of the question. Colbert said that a copy of “Between Two Fires” has been passed along to Taylor Sheridan, the television producer well-known for the television series, “Yellowstone”. Whether or not an adaptation is in the works has yet to be announced.
Colbert says his next book will focus on the guardianship system that allowed outsiders to control the lives of Native allotment owners, and their headrights. Duncan is also in the process of writing a book detailing her research into Mvskoke allotment history. Harlow continues to share research coverage with local communities in articles published as part of the Stealing Tvlse series.
“Killers of the Flower Moon” is currently playing in theaters, and can be viewed on the Apple TV+ streaming service.