Historic Film Shows Osage Life 100 Years Ago

Join Tess Maune review a family’s films from the 1920s and 30s. Some of the video was used in the "Killers of the Flower Moon" movie.

Monday, October 9th 2023, 9:27 pm

By: Tess Maune, News On 6


The movie Killers of the Flower Moon will be released worldwide next Friday. It tells the story of the real-life Osage murders, also known as the Reign of Terror.

And while the movie looks back on a tough part of our history, there were also some lighter moments captured with the help of an Osage family's historic film from 100 years ago.

“It was fun times for them, I think... yeah,” said Meg Standing Bear Jennings.

It has no sound, but the images tell the story. Clips of film. Moments frozen in time from a century ago.

“That's my grandfather right there. That's him,” Jennings said. “It's really neat to see them when they're young, and he's all dressed up in his fine clothes.”

The film belongs to Jennings, giving a glimpse into her family's life in the 1920s and 30s.

“The majority of the filming was by my grandmother, so I'm sure she's yelling at them orders," Jennings laughed. "I'm sure she is."

Her grandmother, Mary, was the daughter of the Osage Nation's longest-serving chief, Fred Lookout.

“This is Chief Fred Lookout and his wife, Julia. These are my great-grandparents," Jennings said.

Their daughter, Mary, married Eugene Standing Bear, a Sixou from the Rosebud Reservation. He loved to fly planes.

“He didn't own one, but he could fly, and he loved planes and golf and acting, so he was a ham in the videos,” said Jennings.

Together, Mary and Eugene welcomed George, the star of a lot of these clips, and also Meg's dad.

“Oh yeah... she had him always dressed up to the nines,” Jennings said.

The film shows what life was like in Osage County after oil made the Osage people some of the richest in the world.

“They drove Cadillacs, Lincolns. She used to tell me about driving her little yellow roadster around town,” Jennings said. “She had a beautiful full brick home with the Italian tile on the front porch. They had indoor plumbing; they had indoor toilets. Things that most people didn't have in the 1920s. So they were living life well.”

The people in the film seem to be happy.

“I think life was good when they weren't in Pawhuska. They had bodyguards watching their farm. They knew something was up. They knew people were dying, and so they spent a lot of time away from Oklahoma,” said Jennings.

The Osage were being murdered for their money and land. The majority of the deaths were never investigated and, to this day, are too painful for many to talk about. But next week, the whole world will know the story when the book-turned-movie Killers of the Flower Moon is released.

“I'm just glad Martin Scorsese is bringing this history to life, and yeah, we're proud to be a part of it,” said Jennings. 

Martin Scorsese directed the film using Meg's family film to help set the scene for inspiration and accuracy.

“I told his assistant, 'Sure, I'd be happy to let him have my film, but I have to hand it to him myself,'" Jennings said. “I got to go onto the set, and I watched him in action with Leonardo and Lily and everybody there filming, and then after multiple takes, that's when they hustled me into a tent with him in there, and he took a few minutes to visit with me... a very nice man, very appreciative."

The movie will feature re-enactments from the film. 

"There's a scene where there's a young couple sitting in, like a roadster, I guess, and she's dressed beautifully... and the camera comes up quickly to them. That's a re-enactment," said Jennings.

But some moments were impossible to recreate.

“So, he actually used some of my video, so that was kind of nice to see that," Jennings said. “Some of the airplane scenes, they used the real film for that. Just the family scenes, I guess, of everybody being eating together and together.”

They're parts of her family's past, her tribe's history, and they're now more protected than ever before.

“I don't even have my original films now. They're in New York. Mr. Scorsese has a foundation where he refurbishes and restores vintage films in a temperature-controlled environment. So, they asked if they could keep them there to keep them protected, and I said yeah, sure, great... I'm honored," said Jennings.

And while Meg's films showcase happy scenes, the movie carries a heaviness that still weighs on those in Osage County.

“It's opening up a lot of wounds because obviously there's still families up there that were... that their family was a victim or their family participated in some way to the murders," Jennings said. "They may not talk about it, but you know they're still there. It is complicated.”

But even through the complexity, Meg says there's a story to tell, one that looks back on the past and puts the present into perspective.

“People need to know that we're here and we're strong people," Jennings said.

And the Osage are here to stay.

“We're educated. We're dedicated. We're smart. We love our country, and we've been here a long time. Even though we've been moved around... we've maintained," said Jennings. “We're here to stay. We're not gonna go away. It's an honor. It's an honor to be an Osage.”

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