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Cedar Key attorney back with historical fiction

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Story of Osage Indians largely unknown

By Lou Elliott Jones

Cedar Key attorney Pierce Kelley is back with his 10th novel and like his last, Roxy Blues, this one has a lesson – only this time it's a history lesson.

He takes readers into the history of the Osage Indians, a small tribe of Native Americans, who lived on millions of acres in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas before agreeing with the U.S. government to cede much of the land and settle on property they purchased for a reservation. 

Only thing, the property they owned sat on top of the midcontinental shelf petroleum field that would make the 2,229 certified members of the tribe and their descendants rich for eternity. Oil companies lined up and signed contracts that guaranteed checks as long as the crude flowed.

“Who knew that this was a tribe that sat on a mother lode of oil,” Kelley said. 

And that's when the Osage's troubles began. The government felt the Osage needed guardians to help them handle the cash and some were not upstanding citizens. A number of Osage were married to whites and soon died leaving the white survivors owning “headrights” to the land and mineral rights of Osage territory. Poisonings and house burnings were nothing nefarious or so some locals thought.

Eventually the U.S. government stepped in to clear up the mess. That was the job of the new Bureau of Investigation, an agency that later became known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The man who led the investigations in the 1920s into the crimes against the Osage was none other than J. Edgar Hoover. 

Hoover's  undercover investigators brought about the convictions of several people who had caused the deaths of Osage in order to obtain those headrights. 

Speed up to 2011 and Indian tribes sign a settlement with the U.S. government over the mismanagement of their assets. It's a big payday for Indians, including members of the Osage tribe. Some of them, especially the novel's Tommy Tallchief and his father, Henry Tallchief, are high profile  targets for a second round of crimes to obtain the Osages' money and land. As the two Osage spend the money from the government to buy a new home and start a cattle business, a former convict has the two men in his sights and uses a waitress as the bait to get to the younger Osage. 

Pierce Kelley, said his story is based on history. “That was a story unique to the Osage,' he said in a phone interview. “It was really enjoyable for me to do the research and to learn all that and to gather all that information. 

“In 1906 the government decided to break up tribal ownership,” Kelley said. The goal was to make Indians like every other citizen by trying to do away with tribes and the way they functioned. 

He said the Osage bartered and were not used to an economy based on dollars and cents, “So they appointed these guardians and they could be like expected – they could abuse their power over the Indians,” Kelley said. The government, Kelley said, had a duty not to violate that trust with its programs. 

Kelley, who is friends with a Cedar Key resident who is a member of the Osage, and who spent time on the family's tribal land and did his research in that area, said, “It was really just fortuitous that I stumbled on a tribe that had such an interesting history.”

Kelley's book, like his other reality-based fiction is a pleasurable read. But its history lesson – and even a gardening lesson, too – are not to be overlooked. 

It's the holiday gift giving season and would make a perfect gift for family and friend, from age 12 and up. 

 

A Deadly Legacy by Pierce Kelley

Fiction, 258 pages

$17.95

Available at www.iUniverse.com

 

BOOK SIGNINGS

   Pierce Kelley will be signing copies of his book: A Deadly Legacy" at the following locations:

   • Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Branford Library, Suwannee County

   • Jan. l6 at 6 p.m. at the Lafayette County library in Mayo

   • Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Taylor County library in Perry