The Strange but True Story of the Pioneer Woman’s Link to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Sometimes guardians made crooked deals with merchants; sometimes, Synder says, they “were the merchants themselves.” Osage headright holders, who were only paid out periodically, could be driven into debt by the high prices of stores like the Hominy Trading Company. Guardians would then offer a bailout: sell us your land, or offer it in trade, and we’ll make sure the debt is erased. Transferring a headright was hard, with a slew of federal documents that had to be filed and approval by various bureaucrats. By comparison, selling your allotment to the person appointed to approve all your business transactions was easy.

“It was corruption,” says Everett Waller of the guardianship program and the schemes around it. Waller lives in Pawhuska, not too far from Ladd and Ree Drummond’s ranch. He’s the chairman of the Osage Nation’s mineral council, which oversees all the oil and gas rights in the county; he also appears in Killers of the Flower Moon as Paul Red Eagle, an Osage chief whose 1926 Tulsa speech to a group of wealthy oil men spoke mockingly of the efforts of white men to woo wealthy Osage women.

According to In Trust, modern-day members of the Drummond family characterize their forebears as honorable men and savvy business people who purchased their land fairly, and who had good relationships with their Osage neighbors. Waller isn’t so sure about that. “It’s easy. Just look at the ownership,” he says of the Drummonds’ many land purchases during the Reign of Terror. “Anything over a quarter million acres is far beyond just a lucrative business.” (Vanity Fair reached out to several members of the Drummond family for this story, as well as to Ree Drummond, who married into the clan in 1996. None of them responded as of publication time.)

Osage oil fields.Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society.

An ancestor of one of Waller’s colleagues on the mineral council, Myron Red Eagle, might agree. In 1934, tribe member Myron Bangs Jr. hired an independent auditor to examine his finances, which were being managed by his guardian, the Drummond brothers. “The auditors filled five pages with discrepancies or issues they found,” Adams-Heard says on her podcast. Bangs sent the federal government the report, and the US filed suit against the brothers in 1941, alleging they “conspired and devised a scheme to defraud” Bangs. A federal judge, however, dismissed the case.

Adams-Heard also discovered that the Drummonds—seemingly without Bangs’s permission—borrowed $15,000 from Bangs’s funds. They used the money to purchase William Hale’s ranch, which he’d put on the market as he was headed to prison. “To see that he might not have known that his money was used to purchase this land from a man who was convicted of aiding and abetting a murder of another Osage man—I mean, that was really striking,” Adams-Heard told Slate this month. (Vanity Fair reached out to Adams-Heard for this story, but Bloomberg declined to make her available for an interview.)

The Drummonds made that purchase with another local ranching family, the Mullendores, who ended up buying out a lot of the Drummonds’ interest in the land. Another portion of the Hale ranch was owned by Charles Drummond, Ladd’s father and Ree’s father-in-law; he sold it to broadcast magnate Ted Turner in the early 2000s. In 2016, the Osage Nation bought it, and the rest of Turner’s 43,000-acre Bluestem Ranch, back.

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