Mollie Burkhart, also known as Mollie Kyle, is one of the central figures whose story is explored in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ Within the fictionalized historical drama film, Lily Gladstone essays the role of Mollie’s character as the woman finds her life deteriorating down a dangerous path when her wealthy Osage Nation family catches the interest of one William Hale. Thus, the film revolves around Hale and his nephew, Ernest Burkhart, who goes on to marry Mollie before plotting her family’s death. Given the lucrative depiction of Mollie and her family’s wealth, which remains the driving force behind other characters’ motives, viewers are bound to wonder about the real-life Mollie Burkhart, particularly her financial status before her death.
How Did Mollie Burkhart Earn Her Money?
Mollie Kyle’s source of income is intricately tied to the history of the Osage People in Oklahoma. After the colonizers’ arrival in America, the Osage People had to move around quite a bit across Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. Eventually, the Native Tribal Nation settled in Oklahoma, where the Osage people bought their lands. For the same reason, when the Dawes Act rolled around in 1887, declaring Indian Land to be allotted to individuals in pieces, the Osage Nation could avoid the change.
Nevertheless, by 1906, the government found a way to allocate land to the Osage Nation by announcing that the only way to acquire the land was through tribe inheritance. Furthermore, they included a provision stating that the tribe would collectively share any resources found underneath the land. As such, the Osage Nation were able to profit off of the oil found underneath their lands, becoming the wealthiest people per capita across the country. For instance, as per official records, in 1926, an average Osage family would receive more than $65,000 a year. That’s close to $1 million per year in today’s currency.
To ensure fair distribution of land, the 2,229 Osage tribe members received an equal share of the land. Over time, the members passed down these shares, known as headrights, to their descendants. Consequently, Mollie’s wealth came from her share of the headrights. Although Mollie possessed considerable wealth and had a comfortable life, there were still restrictions in place to control her money flow.
According to the government’s guardianship system, any Osage person deemed “incompetent” had an assigned guardian, usually a white person, who controlled their finances, often abusing their position to skim the Osage’s money. Therefore, as per sources about the Osage’s financial trends in 1925, although Mollie should have received $3,350 as quarterly payments that year since she was marked incompetent, it’s likely that her guardian passed down at least $1,000 to her.
Mollie Net Worth At The Time Of Her Death
Since Osage headrights could only be inherited, a death in the family would often leave other members with increased claims over the land. As such, when Mollie’s family started dying in short succession after each other, her headrights continued to grow. In fact, her husband, Ernest Burkhart, intentionally schemed to murder several of Mollie’s family members to ensure his wife inherited their wealth. Consequently, even though Mollie was unaware of her husband and his uncle’s murderous ploy, her own wealth continued to grow because of it.
Likewise, due to Bukhart’s marital relationship with Mollie, he and his children were in line to inherit her headright. Moreover, due to their marriage, Bukhart also took over Mollie’s financial government-mandated guardianship. Nonetheless, the authorities, namely the Bureau of Investigation, caught Bukhart’s crimes, putting an end to his control over Mollie. Subsequently, the woman divorced her husband following his guilty plea. The same secured her headrights, confining them to her and her children.
Over time, the value of these headrights continued to rise and fall with industry trends. But conservatively, Mollie Burkhart could easily have been worth over $100000 ($1.3 million today) at the time of her death.
Mollie died while married to John Cobb and left her wealth to him as well as her kids from her marriage with Burkhart: Elizabeth and James. According to David Grann, who did extensive research on Mollie and her family, the woman’s second-generation descendants— her grandchildren— grew up in a small house comparable to a cabin. Just as other Osage wealth diminished due to financial malpractice and the Great Depression, so did Mollie’s inheritance.