The Mystery of Mollie Burkhart: The Untold Perspective Behind ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Since its release, “Killers of the Flower Moon” has sparked a new wave of shock and controversy among the public. The film by Martin Scorsese showcases the gruesome murders of Osage Nation members in 1920s Oklahoma.
An adaptation of the book by American journalist David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the movie centers on the true story of a Caucasian war veteran, Ernest Burkhart, and his uncle, William K. Hale, who conspired the murders of Osage Nation members to inherit their fortunes.
How did they do this? Well, Burkhart married Osage woman Mollie Kyle. Soon after, he unleashed a “Reign of Terror” against her family, killing approximately 20 Osage. And although the film centers around these crimes, we are still left wondering: who was Mollie Kyle? Shouldn’t this story be told from her perspective?
After all, as Smithsonian Magazine retells, nearly all of Mollie’s family was murdered, leaving her in charge of her family’s oil headrights. But as much as Ernest and Hale’s story is highlighted, hers remains a mystery.
Here’s all we know.
Mollie Burkhart was originally born Wah-kon-tah-he-um-pah in December 1886 in Osage Nation lands
According to History Extra, Mollie was born in the Northeast of what is now Oklahoma on December 1, 1886, as Wah-kon-tah-he-um-pah, an Osage name. During her upbringing, the Osage were merging their customs with Christian religions, which encouraged members to merge and socialize with Caucasian settler communities.
The publication notes she changed her name to Mollie and her sisters to Rita and Minnie. She attended Catholic school during her upbringing, eventually becoming a devout Christian. Since the Osage were removed from their land in Kansas in the 1870s and came across vast oil deposits in 1897 in Oklahoma, Mollie and her family took part in the “Osage roll.” This meant they owned a share of the wealth distributed.
Interestingly enough, as History Extra notes, the headrights to the oil fortune could only be inherited, not bought or sold.
She met Ernest Burkhart when he worked as a taxi driver in Oklahoma
Mollie and Ernest married in 1917 after they met while he worked as a taxi driver. The couple had three children: James, Elizabeth and Anna.
Margie Burkhart, Mollie’s granddaughter, told Tulsa Kids she met with Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying Ernest in the film and explaining the dynamics of her grandparents.
“He wondered how somebody could love someone and murder the rest of the family. It was hard for him to wrap his head around it,” she told the publication. “I told him that Ernest was so under the influence of his uncle he would have done anything asked of him.”
According to The Oklahoman, after the murders, the Osage shunned Mollie for standing by Ernest during his trial.
Mollie Burkhart’s family was among the first victims of the “reign of terror”
By 1920, the Osage were among the wealthiest people in the world, with their fortunes reaching over $534 million in today’s currency. As the Washington Post reports, Osage tribal leaders made a deal with the U.S. government to divide the land into 657-acre parcels owned exclusively by the nation.
Additionally, the Osage owned all oil, gas, and minerals on the lands. They evenly distributed oil acquired in the lands among Osage members. However, Osage did not have total control of their wealth since the U.S. government determined Native Americans could not handle their own affairs. Most were allotted Caucasian guardians to do it for them.
Margie retells how she grew up knowing of the tragic deaths of her family members. In 1918, Minnie died of poisoning. Then, her great-aunt Anna disappeared and was found shot in a ravine in 1921. Even worst? Just three months later, her grandmother, Lizzie, was also poisoned.
Finally, to top it off, in 1923, a random bombing killed Mollie’s sister Rita and her husband. Coincidentally, Mollie and her son, James, escaped the bombing after they left for the doctor due to the child’s ear pain.
“I think I grew up in a stressful household,” Margie tells the Washington Post. “I feel stressed a lot. And I feel depression at times, not all the time, but a lot of the time. I truly believe it’s in our DNA, that generational trauma.”
The Oklahoman reports Mollie later survived a poisoning attempt by Ernest.
After surviving the murders, Mollie divorced Ernest and remarried
Despite standing by Ernest during the trial, Mollie divorced him and remarried John Cobb, The Oklahoman reports. Her children with Ernest inherited the Kyle family fortune. She died in 1937 at 50 years old under suspicious circumstances.
Suffering the losses of the Great Depression, the fortune was reduced significantly, with Margie telling Grann in his book it was “not enough to live on” for their descendants.
“I think for the next generation of my family, they’re going to be OK just because of the way we talk about it,” Margie Tulsa Kids. “We don’t put any shame on anything. It was a tragedy, and we’re strong because of it, and they’ll be strong because of it, too.”