Smithsonian Channel has commissioned Arrow Media to make a film which tells the true story of the Osage Reign of Terror of the 1920s and its enduring legacy on Osage people today.

America’s Hidden Stories: The Osage Murders, commissioned by Smithsonian Channel in the US, tells the story of the scores of murders and unexplained deaths that occurred in the 1920s on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. An investigation into some of these murders led to the birth of the FBI – but there were hundreds more that were never investigated.

This hour-long documentary will be made in collaboration with Osage filmmaker, David Bishop.

The documentary’s release coincides with the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated, Killers of the Flower Moon at the Cannes Film Festival in May, which covers the same shocking period in Osage history. The Osage Murders broadens out from the story told in the movie, by showing just how widespread the crimes committed against the Osage were, as well as their historical and cultural context.

The Native American Osage Tribe, driven repeatedly from their ancestral lands, eventually settled in the 1870s in a rocky – apparently worthless – territory in Oklahoma. But the reservation they bought was sitting on top of one of the largest oil deposits in the United States. As the oil started to be extracted, the Osage, who owned the rights to it, became wealthy – so much so that, by the early 1920s, they were the richest people per capita in the world. These oil ‘headrights’, as they were known, made them targets for murder.

David Bishop will go on an investigative and deeply personal journey to uncover the shocking true story behind the murders of up to 400 members of the Osage Nation for their headrights. Because headrights could only be transferred by inheritance, criminals infiltrated Osage families by marrying into them and then committing murder. As well as investigating these horrifying killings, Bishop will delve into the Guardianship system put in place by the federal government, which denied Osages control of their own finances and left them at the mercy of corrupt ‘guardians’ who stole thousands from them – all of which has left a lasting impact on the tribe to this day.

Anna Davies, Executive Producer, Arrow Media, says: “The Osage Reign of Terror is an extraordinary story, and the true scale of it is only now coming to light, a hundred years on. The Osage Murders reveals just how widespread these murders were, as well as the jaw-dropping levels of financial exploitation perpetrated against the tribe.”

This commission sees Arrow Media build on its longstanding relationship with Smithsonian Channel, following its hugely successful ‘in-colour’ brand of programmes. America in Color and Britain In Colour have both become fan-favourites for the channel and a hit internationally, with America in Color enjoying multiple series.

America’s Hidden Stories: The Osage Murders is executive produced by Anna Davies and Tom Brisley for Arrow Media. The director is Anna Keel and the producer is David Bishop. It was commissioned for Smithsonian Channel in the US by Tim Evans with Siobhan Walshe as Executive in Charge. It will air on Smithsonian Channel later this month.

Pippa Considine

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