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You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Manque. The Dakota people had reached their breaking point, 1862 had turned out to be a difficult year in their territory, lacked the supplies necessary to keep their people alive with the approach of the harsh Minnesota winter. It was clear they faced starvation. So the tribal leaders held a conference and then asked for assistance. But the U.S. government ignored their cry for help with little choice left to them.
The leaders made the hard decision to go to war. The conflict lasted 37 days. The fatalities included 77 American soldiers, 29 citizen soldiers. Three hundred and fifty eight settlers. And 29 dakotah warriors.
In the end, United States Colonel Sibley took in 2000 hostages, many Dakota people on the reservation fled with their families and little else. Then the U.S. created a court of inquiry and military commission. The captured Dakota people were put on trial without representation. They likely had no idea what was happening, since none of them spoke English on the sole testimony of local white witnesses, 303 of the Dakota prisoners were sentenced to death. President Lincoln reviewed the cases and spared the lives of all but 38 of them.
No one told the Warriors about their impending death sentences until December 22nd of 1862. The following day, the condemned men danced, sang and spent a few precious last moments with their families and loved ones. The day after Christmas, lawmen and soldiers led the 38 Dakota prisoners to scaffold constructed, especially for their execution. Despite the 25 degree weather, 4000 American citizens gathered, each cheering loudly as the men stood bound on the platform. The Warriors wriggled their wrists loose from the ropes just enough, allowing them to hold hands with their brethren in their final moments.
They chanted together as Sjaak hugs were placed over their heads, a drum tap three times signaling the executioner to cut the rope that would drop all 38 trapdoors simultaneously. The first attempt failed, but after taking another whack at the ropes, the doors dropped while the crowd whistled and shouted. One rope broke in the crowd, strung the man up once more. For 30 minutes after the execution, the bodies hung, giving the crowd a morbid view of some McCabe museum.
When everyone had had their fill of viewing the dead, the men's bodies were cut loose and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave.
That night, bodysnatchers dug the men up while doctors drew straws to see which cadaver they'd get for anatomy research, one, Dr. William Mayo used a dead warrior to teach anatomy to his sons, Will and Charlie, the same Mayo brothers who would eventually form the now famous medical clinic bearing their name. By the end of 1863, a quarter of the remaining Dakota people who had surrendered were dead. The rest were exiled to Montana and Manitoba. Years later, the people of the Osage tribe found themselves moved off the tribe's land again.
This time they scraped off money together to buy their new home, a piece of rocky land in Oklahoma that no one else thought much of.
Maybe, just maybe, the Osage finally had a chance to be left alone. Sadly, though, that wasn't meant to be. I'm Lauren Bichlbaum. Welcome to American Chateaux. President Jefferson told the Osage people he'd take care of them when the United States purchased the territory of Louisiana from the French. He promised that they would know the nation as friends and benefactors. He addressed the Osage as his children and said that they should consider him their father in Washington.
Now, it hardly seemed fair that someone else had the right to sell their ancestral homeland, but like other tribes, the Osage had little to no rights. And for four years, the newly displaced community was left alone. But then as the population, the needs of the settlers grew, the Osage found themselves forced off the 100 million acres originally promised. To them, refusal meant becoming enemies of the United States. Essentially, they were threatened with war.
Their entire tribe was pushed into just a 50 by one hundred and twenty five mile plot of land in Kansas. Faith in the colonists had long vanished and they just wanted to be left alone. But the federal government still wanted more land. In 1890, their reservation was divided into allotments, with each tribe member getting a small portion while the rest became open to settlers. The Osage watched the government destroy the Cherokee when they resisted a similar offer, essentially all their land had been parceled out to any settler who staked claim on it.
The men and women who came shot and trampled, anyone who got in their way before long, every bit of Cherokee land had been taken. With little choice, the Osage made the best deal with what they'd been given this time, the government offered a rocky stretch of land in Oklahoma. They passed in what became known as headrests, rights to the land, gas's, minerals and oil on it. That would only be passed on to family members. It couldn't be reclaimed by the government.
Maybe this time, they reasoned, that finally be left in peace. Little did anyone realize that the worthless outcrop of land called Osage County was oil rich. By the early 1920s, the tribe members would become some of the wealthiest people in the world, each tribe member with had rights was quickly assigned a white guardian to help manage their wealth under the false narrative that Native Americans were alcoholics or would squander away their money. Swindling was rampant, as you might imagine, but merely taking a cut of the tribe's 30 million dollars, that's 383 million in today's money, wasn't enough for some.
And that's when the murders started. Rich beyond their wildest dreams, the Osage found themselves with a target on their backs and no amount of money could buy them protection, although some would try. A death here there didn't raise a lot of eyebrows, especially if the victim was Native American, even when a handful of deaths turned into dozens. No one paid a lot of attention. Officials quietly labeled most deaths as accidents or suicides, sweeping the matter under the rug of bureaucracy.
The stories begged for a closer look, though a healthy champion steer Roper suddenly collapsed, his body convulsing as he suffocated to death in any other place, the coroner would have looked for strychnine. A woman named Lizzie died from a mysterious illness, causing her to waste away. But no one looked for arsenic or any other poison. And sure, authorities had no choice but to label some as murderers. It's hard to hide gunshot wounds. After all, one tribe member was found shot between the eyes.
Hunters found another body thrown down a ravine, shot execution style. But here's where it gets odd. Most of the time, the coroner's claimed that they never found the bullets and thus couldn't trace the guns. In February of 1923, triad member Henry Rowan's car was discovered down a steep slope. Rowin, the father of two, had also been shot in the back of the head. Instead of notifying his wife, though, authorities informed Bill Hale, a white man who claimed to be Roan's best friend.
Just weeks before, Hale had taken out a twenty five thousand dollar life insurance policy on Rowan. More deaths followed, ruled as accidents, unknown causes and suicides, family members died one after another, sometimes weeks apart, and naturally, people were scared. But reports to local law enforcement did nothing. Afraid they'd be next. They left their lights on and guard dogs, but neither would save them. One by one, the dogs, but their own mysterious deaths often being left on the family's doorsteps.
Barney McBride, a wealthy oil man who had befriended many of the Osage, went to Washington, D.C., to ask the government to investigate. After an evening playing pool, locals found McBride's body with a burlap sack over his head and 20 stab wounds on the body. The Washington Post's headline said it all, conspiracy believed to kill rich Indians. Tribe members Bill and Rita Smith moved to a neighboring town, hoping to put some distance between themselves and the killers that already lost part of their family.
They settled into a large home on a tree lined street in an upscale neighborhood, Bill, once outspoken about the murders, grew quiet. A neighbor reported hearing the sounds of a blast at 3:00 in the morning with the explosion, he said the earth shook, moved as if a great earthquake had struck. As people streamed from their homes, it became clear what had happened, someone had placed a bomb under the Smith's house, leveling it to a pile of fiery rubble.
Firemen and neighbors rushed to extinguish the flames in the debris, they found the body of Rita killed by the explosion. Although badly injured and covered in serious burns, Bill was miraculously found alive. He muttered again and again about how his enemies had gotten to him and Rita. Firemen and volunteers searched the rubble for Smith's Irish American servant, Netty, who also lived in the house with her small child. In the end, it was assumed she must have been downstairs when the bomb went off because not enough human remains have been found to make an identification.
After crying out that someone should shoot him now that Rita was gone, Bill faded in and out of consciousness. When he awoke two days later, he was at the hospital in Oklahoma City the following day, Bill Smith was dead. Local attorney vivants dug into the murders after a lot of investigation, he got word that Osage member George Big Heart had key information and refused to talk to anyone other than him. Time was of the essence, though, big heart lay dying in an Oklahoma City hospital from suspected poisoning.
The attorney rushed to meet with him. They talked and then Vaughn stayed with George until he passed away. Excited that the case had finally been cracked, he found the Osage County sheriff telling him that big heart had confided valuable information. He assured the sheriff that he'd catch the first train out of the city in the morning. The next time anyone saw Vonne, he was face down next to the tracks right outside Oklahoma City, someone had broken his neck and thrown his body from the train.
By 1925, the murders became so frequent that the remaining Osage appealed to their tribal council. They were not safe, not on the tribe's lands and not in their homes. And their leaders agreed they didn't bother to go to local law enforcement, though everyone had heard what had happened to Van and it seemed that they couldn't be trusted. With no other choice, the leaders requested that the Department of Justice investigate the murders and prosecute whoever was responsible. Their plea came at a time when the DOJ had selected a brand new director, a man named J.
Edgar Hoover. Hoover looked over the case and summoned the Houston, Texas, field agent named Pam White. He told the young agent that he'd need to move his family to Oklahoma City to head up the investigation and that given the cases, history, doing so would put them at great risk. Still, the agent relocated and got to work immediately. After sifting through reports of the deaths, he decided to focus on the cases he thought he could most likely solve and bring to justice.
He ran into a snag, though the residents of Osage County were afraid that talking would get them killed as White poured over the deaths and suicides that might be homicides, accidents that probably weren't executions, stabbings and poisonings. He came to the conclusion that he was tracking more than one killer and those killers were organized. No longer able to handle the case alone, White recruited others from out of state as well. A retired sheriff, a former Texas Ranger, a deep cover operative and a fellow agent from the bureau.
Each man had their own style and they slid into the community quietly, one by one, the sheriff set up shop as an elderly cattleman. The ranger is a rancher, the operative is an insurance salesman and the field agent as somebody searching for relatives among the Osage. The team suffered a few setbacks early on, testimonies and death reports began to vanish. At first glance, not a single piece of evidence from the crime scenes had been preserved. Then a breakthrough.
The undertaker for gunshot victim Anna Brown admitted to taking a rather odd souvenir, her skull. And on closer examination, it proved enlightening. The skull had a single gunshot hole in the back of the head, but no exit wound and to the team, that meant the coroner couldn't have missed the bullet during the autopsy without it determining the precise type of handgun would be impossible. The coroner turned out to be two doctors, brothers, in fact, also present.
The autopsy had been the sheriff, the undertaker and curiously, the owner of a local trading company. Anyone could have tampered with the evidence. But as the team dug deeper into the case, three men began to surface as primary suspects. William Hale and his nephews, Ernest and Brian Burkhart, were well known around Osage County while the men were wealthy. It had been Ernest who had married into money, though he was white as the husband of an Osage member named Molly.
He and the couple's three children would have inherited her had rights should she die.
And curiously, Rita Smith and Annette Brown had been Molly's sisters. And that hadn't been all, it seems that Ernest's mother in law had also died a mysterious death not too long before, and now Molly herself had fallen ill. The doctors claimed she had diabetes and they regularly gave her insulin injections, but White discovered that her doctors were the same men who had been performing the autopsies. He also learned that Bill Smith had asked questions after the deaths of his family members.
Agents considered that his home may have been bombed to destroy evidence. And when White questioned the Oklahoma City hospital nurse who last attended Bill Smith, she claimed he never mentioned anyone who might have been involved, although Smith's lawyer recalled that Bill once said his only enemies on Earth where the Burckhardt brothers and their uncle, William Hale. The investigation continued to uncover more corruption in the guardianship program, millions of dollars had been stolen from the very people the Guardians had promised to protect.
The syphoning had hardly been a secret. Judges and politicians openly promised profitable guardianships in exchange for votes. White turned his attention to Marley's family. He determined that whoever killed her mother, sisters and brother in law knew exactly what they were doing. They killed Anna Brown first, who left all had rights and money to her mother, Lizzy. From there, figuring out the motive became easier. When Lizzie died, it left Molly and Rita with incredible wealth.
And finally, if Bill and Rita died together, their entire estate would go to Molly. William Hale, it seems, controlled to the Burckhardt brothers and they did everything he asked if Molly died and entire families immense fortune would go to Ernest Burckhardt, something needed to be done and quickly. White asked for arrest warrants for hail in the burkhart's, and the Department of Justice issued them on January 4th of 1926. During the interrogation, ringleader William Hale refused to talk, but Earnest did he claimed he hadn't wanted to blow up Bill and Rita's home, but had trusted his uncle's judgment and that Hale had hired a bootlegger to do the job.
The same man used to kill Henry Rowan. That hit man, a guy named John Ramsey, later admitted to the killings, confronted with the statements, though, Hale still refused to talk. Instead, he simply shrugged a cavalier attitude, no doubt. But considering how many people Hale had in his pocket, it's hard to be surprised. Hale sat in his jail cell smiling, I'll fight it, he told the agents, but Agent White and others had no idea just how far Hale would go.
Justice often moves slowly, Pam White's investigation took three years and 13 agents before William Hale and the others ever stepped foot in a courtroom. Even then, progress proved difficult while crimes on Native American land fell under federal jurisdiction. Those that happened on tribal land that had been sold to white people had to be tried at the state level. Hale had already proven his reach, trying him in a state court appeared riskier than federal. Prosecutors chose the one case they had the best chance of getting a conviction on the murder of Henry Rowan, Hale naturally hired the best possible law firm paying for hitman John Ramsey's defense as well.
His lawyers were every bit as unscrupulous as Hale himself. One of the attorneys claimed federal agents had tortured their clients into a confession and the dirty tactics didn't stop there. Witnesses were encouraged to lie, the defense questioned the drinking behaviors of others, devaluing their testimony. Some jurors were bribed and many credible witnesses were threatened. The corruption angered Hoover and White so much that they pressured the Justice Department to prosecute Hale's lead attorney. And then the prosecution got another break.
Ernest Burkart slipped a note to investigators, fearing he might soon be bumped off, he offered testimony in exchange for protection. Tom White shared that fear. Despite round the clock guards and moving their key witness, he feared someone might still slip Burckhardt poison. The hearings moved along until March, when the judge suddenly determined that since the case involved had rights, it wasn't strictly involving tribal land and therefore the trial must be held in a state court. The federal government appealed the decision.
The odds the prosecution would get a conviction in Osage County began to look dismal at best. Everyone in town showed up for the trial, Osage chiefs wore traditional headdresses and ranchers wear their cowboy hats. Everyone grew silent when Ernest Burckhardt entered the courtroom. Things got worse for the prosecution after that, a whole lot worse. William Hale's lawyer asked to speak with Burckhardt in private despite the prosecution's objection. Earnest left the stand, returning with Heils lawyers 20 minutes later.
The defense then asked they be granted a day to talk to the prosecution's key witness. And the judge agreed. When the court resumed the next morning, Hale was all grins, Burckhardt took the stand and recanted his confession. Inhales own trial, the one for the bombing of Bill and Rita Smith. Heils attorneys pushed for an acquittal. The defense continued to insist that federal agents had tortured and beat suspects to gain confessions, Hale took the stand and said that Agent White had put a gun to his face and threatened him with the electric chair.
He added that other agents had then put a hood over his head and attached a device with a clock to it. The story made the newspapers back in Washington, Hoover naturally demanded answers. White and the other agents reassured the bureau director that the entire story had been fabricated. Finally, the prosecution caught a break. Bootlegger and hitman Kelsey Morrison stepped forward. He had become tired of the lies, he said. He told the courtroom how he and Burckhardt had gotten Anna Brown drunk before driving her to a ravine where he admitted to shooting her with a gun that William Hale had supplied, it was a paid job, netting him sixteen thousand dollars in cash.
His next confession on the stand revolved around killing Bill and Rita Smith after refusing the job once he said the deal was sweetened. He'd been told that with the Smiths dead, Molly would inherit everything. Hale had promised that this windfall would enable Burckhardt to pay him well. In May, the Supreme Court overruled the state judge placing the trial back in federal court. When the trial resumed, all witnesses for the prosecution remained under heavy Federal Guard, but protecting star witnesses was only half the battle.
Finding jurors who hadn't been approached by Hale proved difficult enough. But as inhumane as it sounds in the eyes of the white residents of Oklahoma at the time, killing a Native American was no more serious than animal cruelty. Burkhart became increasingly nervous, White noticed this, but so had the man's uncle, William Hale. On June eight, Ernest and Molly's four year old daughter died suddenly. While officers led Burckhardt into the courtroom, he slipped prosecutors another note telling them he was ready to testify.
He claimed that going to his own lawyer would certainly have gotten him killed. The courtroom sat in stunned silence when Burckhardt approached the judge, he dismissed his defense team and entered a guilty plea. He told the courtroom how he had given the order to a man named Aissa Kirby to blow up the Smith house. He stated that the allegations of beatings and coercion had been an outright lie. And once on a roll, Burckhardt just kept going. He began to cry, telling the courtroom he promised to only tell the truth.
He said his uncle had planned to poison Henry Rowans moonshine. Something had done many times to other Native Americans. The plan had changed, though, and he recalled how angry his uncle became with Ramsey shot round in the back of the head and kept the gun instead of leaving it behind to make it look like a suicide. Adding to the statement, bootlegger Matt Williams testified that Hale had talked about his plans to bump off Henry Roon. He said Haloed also asked his lawyers if federal prosecutors would have jurisdiction in a murder case on Native American grounds.
Hale had been boasted that his lawyers assured him that the federal government had no jurisdiction. An insurance examiner testified that Hale once told him he'd planned on killing Native Americans for insurance money. But despite all this shocking testimony, the jury failed to reach a verdict even after five days of deliberation, as it turned out, a large portion of the jurors had been bribed. So a retrial was set in Oklahoma City. Finally, after four trials, Hale and Ramsey were found guilty of murdering Henry Rowan and were sentenced to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.
Ernest Burkhart admitted to having a hand in eliminating his wife's entire family and was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. Molly Burkhart recovered from being poisoned by the phony insulin. She divorced Ernest and lived another 10 years passing away in 1937. Her three surviving children inherited the remains of the family fortune. But the story was far from over. After the trials were over, so to where the murders, well, mostly, you see some of the killers had never been caught while others weren't brought to justice at all.
Burkhart hadn't been the only one to marry and kill for had rights. And it's easy to wonder just how tolerant American citizens would have been if those murders had taken place in mainstream suburbia. William Hale never served time for his part in killing all of Molly's family. The murder that sent him to prison had been that of Henry Rowan. Even then, he served just 21 years. And when he was set free, he moved right back to Osage County.
Brian Burkhart was acquitted as part of a deal with the prosecution for his testimony, and his brother Ernest spent just 10 years in prison for his part in murdering his wife's family. Appallingly, Governor Henry Bellmon granted him a full pardon. Years later, hit man Kelsey Morrison was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in nineteen thirty one. A Sacirbey, the man who bombed Bill Smith's house, didn't even make it past the trials, though. After he gave his testimony, he was shot and killed during a store robbery after a convenient tip off to the store's owner by William Hale.
Just like the Dakota before them, the Osage had found themselves with nowhere to turn. Everyone, it seems, was out to get them bankers and lawyers, businessmen and undertakers, doctors and the local authorities, all of them had conspired against them and those that hadn't simply turned a blind eye consent by silence, if you will. As you might imagine, the case had a long reaching effect, one Osage descendant said, it's in the back of our minds.
You just have it in your head. You don't trust anybody. The Bureau of Investigation, which later became the FBI, had to unravel a lot of leads. Just getting the cases to trial took an enormous amount of work from Agent White and the others. And while they did their best, in some instances, they spent more time working on the cases than the perpetrators spent behind bars for committing those crimes. And if what passed is justice for the Osage angers you, well, it should.
In the end, though, what made the investigation so difficult? Aside from how Native Americans were viewed, was the cover up that swept it away with much of the evidence ignored or destroyed. It's honestly a miracle that the Department of Justice had enough to try the five cases they did. But if the story of the Osage tragedy has larger lessons to teach us, maybe the most obvious one on the list is also the most hopeful, even looking back more than a century later.
We can try to bury the truth, but one way or another, it will always find its way back to the surface. There's more to the story. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. Before the FBI's creation and Hoover's work in standardizing the field of law enforcement, investigators were on their own. Most had limited training, little resources, and without higher authority and inquiries, they could be bought off more easily. But there's more to solving a case than interrogating suspects and field observations.
When we turn on any crime show today, there are the people behind the agents in the field who are instrumental in solving a case or making a charge stick. We know that field is forensic science. It wasn't one of Hoover's men who started that field, though, no, the founder was a 51 year old millionaire named Francis Lee, who had three grown children and six grandchildren. The road leading up to Lee's career had been a long one, stretching back to early childhood.
Lee was born in 1878, the youngest of three children born to John and Frances Glazner eldest brother John George was born in 1871, and a second brother, John Francis, died in infancy in 1874. It was common practice to name children similarly at the time. The family enjoyed immense wealth, their father being the vice president of International Harvester. With the best education money could buy, the children, by all accounts, became intellectual forces to be reckoned with.
And right from an early age, the two remaining siblings shared other family traits as well perfectionism and attention to detail, which they later attributed to their mother, Frances, a talented seamstress and needle worker. As a teen, Lee became fond of Sherlock Holmes novels and decided to follow Dr. Watson into a career in medicine, the sights set on attending Harvard that wasn't to be, though. Harvard opened its doors to only one of the Glazner children, eldest sibling George.
Lee married shortly after finishing school, settling down in Chicago and raising three children happily ever after, wasn't in the cards, though, and the marriage fell apart in 1914. And then tragedy struck when George passed away from influenza complications in nineteen twenty nine. The rest of the family soon followed mother Frances in nineteen thirty two and Father John in 1936 with nothing left in Chicago and the children all grown up. Lee moved to the cottage, a private residence on the family estate in New Hampshire.
And this was the pivotal point. Lee, who inherited a hefty fortune, finally reconnected with Harvard, donating two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a cool four point six million in today's money. But it came with a catch. The money was to help establish the Department of Legal Medicine, the forerunner to forensic science. To assist students, Leigh created The Nutshell Studies, a series of 20 miniature models that depicted real challenging cases spanning homicides, accidents and suicides, each set had been meticulously crafted right down to the very last detail.
Light switches and door locks were fully functional. The Nutshells contained small trash cans filled with beer cans, hand rolled cigarettes and pencils made of toothpicks, ligature marks and blood splatter were intricately painted on the doll victims. Even skin colorations such as those associated with rigor mortis were included. It was with these tiny details that specialists at the FBI usually solved a case, Lee believed that investigators often only found clues to support hunches, ignoring key information such as social and financial status, a possible frame of mind and the time of death.
By nineteen forty five, the seminars were highly sought after, participants were given a flashlight, a nutshell model resting behind a plate of glass and 90 minutes to detect what had happened, whereas witness statements could be inaccurate. Lee believed the scene had all the potential to expose the guilty and clear the innocent, and that bias often led to missteps that may permanently harm the investigation. New Hampshire state police granted Lee an honorary post that was completely unheard of in 1943, the title of captain and educational director.
What's more astounding than the Nutshell models is Lee, you see Frances Glazner Lee was a woman. Harvard didn't allow women to attend their medical school until 1945, a full half century after she went looking for her education and her honorary post as captain in New Hampshire came at a time when women weren't permitted to have their own beats on patrol, much less rise to the top. Those tiny dioramas are still used to teach at both Harvard and the Maryland medical examiner's office in Baltimore.
To this day, Francis Klusener Lee is considered the mother of forensic science. And thanks to her, modern investigators have a chance to do what Agent Tom White and his team never could follow every clue on the trail to the truth, no matter how hidden it might be. American Chateaux is hosted by Lauren Vogel Bomb. This episode was written by Michelle Muto with researcher Robin Miniter and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick.
To learn more about the show, visit Greyman, Millicom for more podcast from My Heart Radio, visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.