In 1897 oil was first discovered in Osage County. The United States federal government's Department of the Interior managed leases for oil exploration and production on land owned by the Osage Nation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and later managed royalties, paying individual allottees. As part of the process of preparing Oklahoma for statehood, the federal government allotted 657 acres to each Osage on the tribal rolls in 1907; thereafter, they and their legal heirs, whether Osage or not, had "headrights" to royalties in oil production, based on their allotments of lands. The headrights could be inherited by legal heirs, including non-Osage.
By 1920 the market for oil had grown dramatically and the Osage were wealthy. In 1923 alone "the tribe took in more than thirty million dollars, the equivalent today of more than four hundred million dollars."
People all across the United States read about the Osage, called "the richest nation, clan or social group of any race on earth, including the whites, man for man."Some Osage used their royalties to send their children to private schools; others bought fancy cars, clothes and jewelry, and traveled in Europe; and newspapers across the country covered their activities. Along with tens of thousands of oil workers, the oil wealth attracted many white opportunists to Osage County; as the writer Robert Allen Warrior characterized them, some were entrepreneurial, while others were criminal, seeking to separate the Osage from their wealth, by murder if necessary.
Believing the Osage would not be able to manage their new wealth, (rather, lobbied by whites who wanted a piece of the action), by 1921 the United States Congress passed a law requiring that courts appoint guardians for each Osage of half-blood or more in ancestry, who would manage their royalties and financial affairs until they demonstrated "competency". Under the system, even minors who had less than half-Osage blood had to have guardians appointed, regardless of whether the minors had living parents. The courts appointed the guardians from local white lawyers or businessmen. The incentives for criminality were overwhelming; such guardians often maneuvered legally to steal Osage land, their headrights or royalties; others murdered their charges to gain the headrights.
A typical case is that of local rancher William "Bill" King Hale. He and his nephews, Ernest and Byron Burkhart, had migrated from Texas to Osage County to find jobs in the oil fields. Once there, they discovered the immense wealth of members of the Osage Nation from royalties being paid from leases on oil-producing lands.
To gain part of the wealth, Hale persuaded his nephew Ernest to marry Mollie Kyle, a full-blooded Osage. She was the sister of Anna (Kyle) Brown and Rita (Kyle) Smith. As the evidence revealed, Hale had arranged for the murders of Mollie’s sister Anna (Kyle) Brown; the Smiths; and her mother, Lizzie Q. Kyle; as well as her cousin, Henry Roan, to cash in on the insurance policies and oil headrights of each family member. Other witnesses and participants were murdered as investigation of the conspiracy expanded. Mollie and Ernest Burkhart inherited all of the headrights from her family. Investigators found when they entered the case that Mollie was already being poisoned.
Organized Jewish life was relatively late in coming to Oklahoma. Originally settled as Indian Territory, Oklahoma became the home of thirty different Indian nations after they were forcibly removed from the southeast during the mid-19th century. The earliest Jews in Oklahoma were peddlers who traded with the native tribes. Beauregard “Boggy” Johnson moved to Boggy Depot, the end of a stagecoach line in Atoka County, by 1865, setting up a business trading with Indians in the area. Johnson later married a Chickasaw woman. A few other early Jewish peddlers in the Oklahoma Indian Territory also married Native American women since it was the only way for them to acquire property on Indian lands. Other early Jewish settlers included Joseph Sondheimer, who got his start in Oklahoma supplying Fort Gibson for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, Sondheimer transformed his warehouse into a fur and hide trading depot, around which the town of Muskogee eventually grew. A small number of Jewish families settled in Ardmore in the 1880s after the growing town had been linked by the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad.
White settlement in Oklahoma did not begin in earnest until the great land run of 1889, which drew pioneers and enterprising individuals looking for free homesteads. A handful of Jews were among those who set out at noon on April 22, 1889, scrambling for desirable land. One of these land runners was Moses Weinberger, a Hungarian-native who came to Oklahoma from neighboring Kansas. As he was standing in line with hundreds of others to formalize their claims at the territory’s official land office in Guthrie, Weinberger got the idea to have a large shipment of bananas sent from Wichita, which he proceeded to sell to hungry land runners. From this modest start as a fruit peddler, Weinberger later opened Guthrie’s first legal saloon, becoming one of the territorial capital’s most prominent merchants.
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