Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary, Media Reviews

BLOODLAND COVERby Dennis McAuliffe, Jr.
Council Oak Books, 1999
342 pages

Review by Marjane Ambler 

Dennis McAuliffe, Jr. confesses that he has not always been an Indian. When he was 15 years old, his mother sobbed as she told him that her real mother was an Osage Indian. “Denny, you’re an Indian. I’m so sorry.” She told him that his Osage grandmother had died of kidney disease. Shocked and upset by his mother’s tearful condition, Denny left the room convinced that his grandfather– not one of his favorite people–actually murdered his grandmother. This book records his journey as he comes to terms with his identity as an Osage and as he investigates the Reign of Terror during the 1920s. A journalist with the Washington Post at the time, McAuliffe brings his journalistic skills to work on his family’s own murder mystery. McAuliffe finds ample justification for believing that his grandmother was murdered. She actually died of a gunshot wound during the 1920s. At the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he finds a 3,274-page file on the Osage Indian murders during that decade. Because of their oil wells, the Osage were the wealthiest Indians in the country, and if someone married an Osage and she happened to die, the royalties went to the surviving spouse. In the process of tracing his tribe’s history, it intersects with a family known to millions of children: the Wilders. He reveals the racism in the Little House on the Prairie, suggesting the book would have been banned if it described black slaves instead of Osages, forced into starvation by trespassers such as Laura Ingals Wilder’s father. I recommend this book to any classroom where Indian and non-Indian students are coming to terms with the troubled relationship between their ancestors. 

Marjane Ambler has been editor of the Tribal College Journal since 1995. 

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