William Hale (cattleman)
|William King Hale|
December 24, 1874|
Greenville, Hunt County, Texas
August 15, 1962 (aged 87)|
Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona
|Other names||Bill Hale|
|Occupation||Cattleman, murderer, criminal|
|Known for||Masterminding Osage Indian murders|
William King Hale (December 24, 1874—August 15, 1962), often known locally as "Bill", or the self-styled "King of the Osage Hills," was a U.S. cattleman and convicted murderer. Born in Greenville, Texas, he came to the Indian Territory late in the 19th century and settled on the Osage Indian Reservation, where he built the noted Hale Ranch and made a fortune raising cattle. When Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907, the land occupied by the reservation became contiguous with Osage County, Oklahoma.
A power player in the Osage Indian Reservation in northern Oklahoma, Hale rose to local prominence in the late 19th century through years of bribery, intimidation, and extortion. In 1921, he ordered the murders of his nephew's wife and mother-in-law, followed by her cousin, sister and brother-in-law two years later, to gain control of their oil rights. Over the next few months, he had killed at least two dozen others who had threatened to testify against him.
Little seems to have been written about Bill Hale's early life, other than that he was born in Greenville, Texas. He apparently came to the Osage Indian reservation in Indian Territory just before the turn of the 20th century.
Thomas B. White, special agent in charge, wrote in a 1932 memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: "Eventually (Hale) became a millionaire, who dominated local politics and seemingly could not be punished for any of the many crimes which were laid at his door...His method of building up power and prestige was to put various individuals under obligation to him by means of gifts and favors shown to them. Consequently he had a tremendous following in the vicinity composed not only of the riffraff element which had drifted in, but of many good and substantial citizens."
Murders for money
William King Hale and his nephews, Ernest and Bryan Burkhart, conspired to kill several Osage Indians for the oil headrights. Ernest married Mollie Kile (or Kyle), a native Osage. Through various permutations, William King Hale had Mollie's sister Anna Brown killed in 1921. Anna's head rights were inherited by her mother Lizzie Q and Mollie. The death of Lizzie Q and several cousins left Mollie Burkhart and therefore Ernest as heirs to the headrights worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars in 1920s. Mollie fell ill and was later discovered to have been poisoned. When she moved away from Fairfax she recovered. She divorced Ernest afterward, and their children inherited Mollie's estate.
The Osage Tribal Council suspected Hale early on, but couldn't elicit any testimony from the townspeople, many of whom Hale had bribed or threatened into silence. The council turned to the FBI, who sent four undercover agents to the Reservation who, over the next few years, gained the townspeople's trust enough that they began speaking out against Hale. Hale's nephew whom he had coerced into helping with the scheme confessed, and charges were finally brought against Hale, as well as the contract killer he had hired to perform the murders and his corrupt attorney. In 1929, Hale was convicted of ordering the murders, and imprisoned.
Conviction and later life
After four trials Hale was convicted before a Federal District Court in 1929 for only one killing - that of the shooting death of Anna Brown's cousin, Henry Roan, and sent to the Leavenworth prison in Kansas. Hale had attempted to cash in a $25,000 insurance policy on Roan's life only a week after the man's death; obligingly, Hale had also served as one of Roan's pall bearers. He was sentenced to life but was paroled on July 31, 1947. He spent some of his life in Montana working as a ranch hand for Benny Binion. He died in Arizona in 1962 and was buried in Wichita, Kansas.
Bryan turned state's evidence and never served time. His brother Ernest was sentenced to life in state court and was sent to Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. He was released in 1959 and received a pardon in 1966 from Governor Henry Bellmon.
- Osage Indian murders
- David Grann. Killers of the Flower Moon (2017) reports Hale as mastermind of murders with detailed evidence
- Linda Hogan. Mean Spirit (1991) presents fictional yet historically accurate account of murders based on FBI files
- May, John D. "Osage Murders." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed April 21, 2016.
- Christian, Jason. "Terror's Legacy." This Land Press. August 14, 2013. Accessed April 21, 2016.
- Howell, Melissa. "The Reign of Terror." NewsOK. January 12, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2016
- Stephey, Molly (1 March 2011). "The Osage Murders: Oil Wealth, Betrayal and the FBI's First Big Case". Buried History. The National Museum of the American Indian. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
- Fixico, Donald and Donald Lee Fixico, The Invasion of Indian Country in the Twentieth Century. Accessed April 22, 2016.