Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Killers of the Flower Moon


Summary

Killers of the Flower Moon depicts the devastating consequences of the murders, theft, and mistreatment suffered by the Osage Nation, as they finally attain justice.
William King Hale’s plan involved killing Mollie Burkhart’s entire family in order to inherit their headrights, which represented their wealth. Hale was able to carry out his crimes due to his deceptive nature and influence within the community.
Ernest Burkhart’s decision to testify against his uncle stemmed from being backed into a corner and realizing that his uncle did not care about the consequences of their actions. The Osage Nation trusted Hale and Ernest, and their crimes were a profound betrayal to the community.

Killers of the Flower Moon’s ending is a devastating one. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon sees the Osage Nation getting justice after years of murders, theft, and mistreatment. Following the arrival of the Bureau of Investigation’s Tom White, William King Hale is aware that he’ll be questioned, so he plans for the murders of those involved in the killings of Osage Nation members, including Henry Roan. But after Blackie Thompson is arrested, he reveals who hired him, and Ernest Burkhart is taken into custody where he decides to testify against his uncle.

During the BOI’s investigation, Mollie Burkhart, at the brink of death after being poisoned by her doctors (under Hale and Ernest’s behest), is found and taken to a hospital where she begins to recover. Still believing Ernest’s innocence, Mollie stands by her husband at first, but learns during his testimony how closely involved he was in the murders of her family members, and other Osage. Following the death of their youngest daughter, Mollie leaves Ernest, horrified by what he’s done. Hale and Ernest are both sent to prison for their crimes, with Ernest pleading guilty for his role in the death of Rita, his sister-in-law, and her family.


William King Hale & Ernest Burkhart’s Osage Plans Explained

In the late 1890s, the Osage Nation discovered oil on their land, and they became wealthy. To maintain their land and wealth remained under tribal control, the Osage were given headrights that could be passed down through family. This was at the center of William King Hale’s murderous plot. He essentially wanted Mollie’s entire family dead so that the headrights would be inherited by him. Hale recruited Ernest to help him, which is why he married Mollie. It’s likely he planned to kill Ernest, too, so that he wouldn’t have to share the wealth with his nephew because one person could inherit more than one headright.

Hale believed he could get away with his crimes because he was firmly embedded in the Osage Nation’s community. He befriended the tribal council and other Osage Nation members, loaned money, built local businesses and invested in the community overall. He also had local law enforcement in his pockets, which meant he could get away with just about anything. All this allowed Hale to continue pretending with the Osage while simultaneously killing and robbing them. Hale’s plan was born of greed; Ernest went along with it because he valued money above all. While Hale pretended to be a friend, he didn’t really believe the Osage should have wealth or prosperity.

Why Ernest Finally Decides To Testify Against His Uncle

Ernest realized he was backed into a corner when the FBI arrested Blackie Thompson, who told them who hired him to kill Henry Roan and reached out to Kirby to kill Rita. Perhaps a small part of him felt guilty for his role in the Osage murders, but he knew there was also no way out of the investigation without consequences. Ernest figured he’d be the trial’s key witness in the hopes he’d get off with a lighter sentence.

Ultimately, Ernest losing his youngest daughter and realizing that his uncle barely cared about what happened tipped him over the edge, pushing him to reveal the truth to judge and jury. It’s possible he felt like he had nothing to lose at that point, especially since Mollie was no longer speaking to him or standing by his side. And while Killers of the Flower Moon asserts that the original plan was headed by Hale, Ernest was complicit.

Why The Osage Don’t Suspect Hale Or Ernest In The Murders

Watching Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese reveals the guilty parties from the start and viewers watch as everything unfolds from that perspective. However, Mollie Burkhart and the Osage Nation trusted Hale and Ernest. Hale was well-liked, respected, and the Osage believed him to be trustworthy. He was a friend of the Osage, and nothing — at least not openly — showed him to be otherwise. Hale even appeared to be helpful in trying to find Anna’s killer, so it makes sense the Osage wouldn’t have suspected him during the Reign of Terror.

Similarly, Mollie believed that Ernest wasn’t capable of doing any harm. She thought he loved her and would never hurt her or their children. After all, Mollie and Ernest were married for a decade before the truth was finally revealed. Ernest and Hale’s crimes were a breach of trust, and a betrayal to the Osage, who had been nothing but kind to them. To think about someone so close doing something so sinister is something the Osage couldn’t fathom. They were also afraid to speak out against Hale for fear of retaliation.

What Killers Of The Flower Moon Changes From The Book

Killers of the Flower Moon is based on a true story, and it draws many of its facts and research from David Grann’s 2017 book about the Osage Nation murders. But unlike Grann’s book, the mystery of who committed the murderous plot against the Osage is clear from the start in Killers of the Flower Moon. What’s more, the book is focused more on the FBI investigation, with Mollie and Ernest, in particular, in the periphery. It’s Tom White, played by Jesse Plemons in the film, who takes center stage in Grann’s book, but Scorsese inverted the book to spotlight Mollie’s family and her relationship with Ernest amidst the tragedies.

Mollie Burkhart’s Guardianship Explained

Throughout Killers of the Flower Moon, Mollie is shown asking to use her own money — for her mother’s medicine or to go to Washington, DC to speak with President Coolidge about the murders. These scenes underscore the guardianship that Mollie and the Osage Nation were living under. Similar to a conservatorship, the guardianship system declared the Osage as “incompetent” if they didn’t pass a competency test introduced by Congress in 1921.

Thereafter, non-Osage — white guardians — were given ownership over Osage finances to control, which required them to gain approval for anything they wanted to spend on. So even though Mollie and the Osage had money from the oil on their land, they couldn’t freely use it under guardianship. They were being controlled by those who sought harm and became complicit in the plans to kill for headrights inheritance. Mollie ultimately sued to end the guardianship in 1931 and won.

What Happens To Mollie, The Osage, Ernest & King After The Film

After Ernest admitted to his hand in the murders, Mollie divorced him and was remarried in 1928 to John William Cobb. Mollie’s children were heavily affected by what happened and their father’s involvement in the murders of their aunts. She successfully removed herself from the guardian system, and seemingly lived a quiet life for several years until her death in 1937 at the age of 50. Mollie’s children inherited her estate, but the Osage oil money began to diminish over time. Mollie’s granddaughter, Margie Burkhart, still lives in Oklahoma.

Following the trial, Ernest and Hale were both given a life sentence in prison. Ernest received parole in 1937, the year Mollie died, but he then robbed another member of the Burkhart family, his sister-in-law Lillie, and had his parole revoked. Ernest was released on parole again in 1957, and he attempted to reconnect with son James, but the latter was too hurt and angry to forge any relationship with Ernest (via Tulsa Kids).

Ernest eventually applied for and successfully received a pardon in 1966 due to his cooperation in the FBI’s investigation and testimony identifying his and Hale’s roles in the murders. He died in 1986. Hale, meanwhile, never admitted to any wrongdoing or openly expressed guilt over what he did. After multiple trials, Hale was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Hale would eventually get out of prison on parole in 1947, and finally settled in Arizona a few years later. Hale died in 1962.

The Deeper Significance Of The Osage Tragedies

The murders not only deeply affected the Osage Nation for generations, but they uncovered the racist practices in place that led to Hale taking advantage of their trust, and Killers of the Flower Moon attests to that. If the Osage had been allowed control over their own money, instead of having guardianships, they may not have been so easily exploited. The guardianship, and the theft of Osage land, money, and lives is just another example of the unjust treatment of Indigenous populations in the US. The Osage murders made that all the more obvious as it was a ploy steeped in white supremacy and hatred.

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