Thursday, June 23, 2022
70.5 F
HomeCommunityOsage citizens protest Fairfax bank's Reign of Terror memorabilia

Osage citizens protest Fairfax bank’s Reign of Terror memorabilia

A storm erupted on social media Feb. 10 about the spurs of William K. Hale hanging in the Security State Bank in downtown Fairfax.

Kelly Bland, the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Director, has been searching for ways to promote the sleepy town of Fairfax.

On Feb. 8, she thought it would be a good idea to show some of the history in Fairfax, including a photo of some spurs that belonged to William “Bill” Hale hanging on a plaque in the Security State Bank. She posted a photo of the spurs on the Chamber’s “Visit the Osage” Facebook page and said, “Have you seen the spur collection in Security State Bank in Fairfax? From famous to infamous, you’ll be amazed!”  

Hale was the orchestrator of the 1920s murders of Henry Roan, Lizzie Kyle, Anna Brown, Minnie Smith, Rita Smith and her husband Bill. Possibly more.

The reaction wasn’t immediate, but two days later a storm erupted on social media and Osage tribal members far and wide asked for the post to be taken down due to cultural insensitivity. Then they asked for the bank to take down the spurs.

Bland said yes, and the bank said no.

“I took the post down because of everybody feeling very sensitive about that. But that was not ever meant to be offensive or hurt Osages,” Bland said. “My job as tourism director is to promote Osage County and the spurs was promoted as the ‘Famous to the Infamous,’ as in the villains, and William Hale was a villain.”

When considering tourism for Osage County, Bland said a big draw in the past year has been the filming of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The film, based on the bestselling book about the Osage Reign of Terror by author David Grann, drew thousands of tourists from across the country hoping to catch a glimpse of its considerable cast. Although the actor Robert De Niro is playing Hale in the film, it’s not lost on Osages that Hale was a real person who helped commit real murders.

Stan Griffin, the branch president of the bank in Fairfax, said he doesn’t believe in “Cancel Culture” and that Hale’s spurs are a reminder of the town’s dark history. Hale’s spurs are not prominently displayed. Also of note, there are 158 spurs in the collection and they include spurs of Osage Chiefs Paul Pitts, George Tallchief and other tribal members.

“The spurs collection has been in existence for a long time and was in the old bank originally, across the street and started there,” Griffin said, who is from Stillwater and has worked at the Fairfax bank for three years. “It’s a historical display, it’s not a hall of fame, you don’t get elected to this thing. It is a display of people that have had an impact on the history of our area, and most of them are cattlemen, primarily.”

He said there are spurs from the famous western swing musician Bob Wills, who played at Jump’s Roller Inn back in the town’s heyday, and memorabilia from the famous actor and rodeo champion Ben Johnson. Also in the bank’s possession is the gun of notorious bootlegger Henry Grammer, who was thought to be in league with Hale.

He said there were most likely a lot of bad people back then that may have also done horrific things that didn’t have a book written about them. He said the bank doesn’t make money off the spurs collection and that they aren’t a museum. When asked if the bank would consider donating the spurs to the Fairfax Community Foundation’s museum on the Reign of Terror, he said “they’re displayed better here.”

He said growing up in Stillwater he never heard of the Reign of Terror until “Killers of the Flower Moon” came out.

“Should it be ignored? If we don’t remember this now, it’s been 100 years, if we don’t do things to remember the tragedy now, it will be lost,” he said. “You know, it’s kind of this cancel culture thing. It’s our history and it’s shaped us, and we need to acknowledge it.”

Jim Gray, former Principal Chief of the Osage Nation and a descendant of Henry Roan, said it’s not about “Cancel Culture” and it’s not about the spurs collection as a whole, it’s about Hale murdering Osages.

“It’s a reminder of what happened back then and how people killed Osages and it’s on prominent display for people to see,” Gray said. “Exploiting the tragedy on our tribe’s history for someone to benefit financially or otherwise is wrong. And for those people whose lives were lost, please give them the dignity they didn’t get in life.”

When asked about next steps, or whether he will consult with the Osage Nation or take down the spurs, Griffin said no one from the tribe has contacted the bank.

“We’re not going to benefit directly from this one way or the other, except for this book and movie provide interest from people to come up here and see what Fairfax has to offer, see the museum that the people are establishing down the street, eat lunch at Brandy’s and fill their tank at the convenience store,” Griffin said. “We only benefit through this through the effect it has on our community, which we have opportunities now to create interest.”

When contacted at the time of publication of this article, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said he was reviewing the situation.


Get the Osage News by email!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Legal Studies, Indigenous Peoples Law from the OU College of Law. She served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) from 2013-2016 and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee from 2017-2020. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED). In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive the Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, NAJA’s highest honor. An Osage tribal member, she and her family are from the Grayhorse District. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and six children.

In Case You Missed it...