How ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ used Texas actors, Fort Worth archives to tell its story

The “Killers of the Flower Moon” book and film shed light on the investigation of the murders of Osage Indians that began in Osage County, Oklahoma, in the early 1920s — famously known as the Reign of Terror.

While the FBI was able to solve the murder cases of Osage Indian tribe members Anna Brown, her sister Rita Smith, and Henry Roan, the tribe was still left with the pain of Osage Indians whose murders went unsolved throughout the decade.

David Grann, journalist and author of “Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” wrote in his book, “History is a merciless judge,” referring to the many unsolved murders. Grann’s investigation suggests that the unsolved killings could be tied to William King Hale, who was convicted in the murder of Roan and was suspected of several other crimes toward the Osage tribe.

A few Texas-based actors who had roles in the film not only agree with Grann that this particular time in Osage history was traumatic and agonizing to members of the tribe, but they are also honored to have had the opportunity of retelling the story of an unfortunate period in Oklahoma they deem crucial to U.S. history.

“I was shocked at how such a big piece of American history had never been brought up to me in school or anything,” said Delani Chambers, who played Hale’s daughter, Willie Hale, in the film directed by Martin Scorsese.

Chambers, a 24-year-old actress based in San Antonio, Texas, has family from the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area and is also related to people who grew up on a Cherokee reservation. Because of her family’s roots, she was heavily influenced to partake in impactful projects such as “Killers of The Flower Moon.”

“It made me realize how important it is to make stories like this as accessible as possible, so that people from all over can learn and hopefully empathize with other humans who have gone through such a tragedy and have been silenced or scared to tell their story for so long,” Chambers said.

She was able to work alongside members of the Osage tribe, who were also involved in the making of the film.

“Even though I wasn’t a very big role in this film, it just felt like an honor to get to be there and help this story be told,” said Chambers. “I couldn’t have asked for a better first major film to be in.”

Her experience working on the film was even better thanks to Barry Corbin, actor and longtime resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, who played the Undertaker in the film.

Corbin, 80, started working in the film industry at the age of 39, but also considers “Killers of The Flower Moon” to be one of the most relevant projects he’s been able to work on.

“It’s always fun to do a period movie for me,” said Corbin. “And this particular one, it’s very important that this story be told in a way that a lot of people will see it.”

For Corbin, the film can help viewers learn more about underrepresented groups and cultures.

“Our history is colored in such a way that is glossed over not only Native Americans, but also any minority in our nation,” said Corbin. “That’s why I’m proud of being part of this exposure.”

“I mean, we know about it, but we don’t know about it, you know,” said Corbin about periods in American history that tend to be swept under the rug.

Corbin hopes to see more areas of Oklahoma that are rich with history being represented more in films.

“It was a great honor to be involved in such a prestigious project about a subject that has been largely ignored in the movie business, so it’s something that needs to be seen,” Corbin said.

Like Chambers and Corbin, 75-year-old Moe Headrick, of Mineral Wells, prides himself on being able to reenact an individual who was based in Osage County during the Reign of Terror, as opposed to usually playing a fictional character.

“He was a kind of guy that kind of sat on the fence. He didn’t go with a bad guy, he didn’t go with the good guys. He was kind of in the middle,” said Headrick, who played the sheriff, Harve Freas. “The nicest thing about it is that I was playing a real person.”

Similar to Corbin’s experience, Headrick was taken aback by the story of the Osage tribe considering he did not have any prior knowledge about the group and its history.

“I thought it was fascinating, but I didn’t know anything about that up there [Osage County],” said Headrick.

Considering “Killers of the Flower Moon” is also one of the biggest films he’s been cast in, Headrick hoped the movie would be successful in recounting the tragic events.

“It’s really a dark movie and I wasn’t sure how the public would take to it,” said Headrick. “But it appears that everything is going pretty good about it so far.”

“I’m just honored to be in this movie and I hope everybody will go and enjoy it because I think it’s something that you don’t see in the movies these days,” said Headrick. “This actually happened and it’s very gripping.”

But Grann’s story of the Reign of Terror is tied to Texas in ways aside from the actors hired for their roles.

Grann also utilized resources at The National Archives at Fort Worth to dig deeper into unsolved murder cases of other Osage Indians during the Reign of Terror, specifically those that were never investigated by the FBI.

According to Michael Wright, director of Archival Operations at The National Archives at Fort Worth, Grann’s investigation is not the first to turn to the North Texas office to retrieve records about the Osage tribe.

Historian Terry P. Wilson spent two summers at the National Archives researching Osage records for his book, “The Underground Reservation: Osage Oil.”

“The National Archives safeguards these records for the American people,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “The staff of the Archives is here to provide access to our records to continue telling stories like this and many others.”

Since the release of “Killers of The Flower Moon,” Wright says the National Archives at Fort Worth has seen an uptick in requests for records related to the Osage.

“Our Bureau of Indian Affairs records are some of our most highly requested,” said Wright. “We predict as more people see the movie and/or read Grann’s book, that the reference of the Osage records will continue to grow.”