|Photographer: Photoillustration by Jaci Lubliner Kessler. Photos: Courtesy The Oklahoma Historical Society/The Paul Comstock Collection (2), Courtesy The Frederick and Addie Drummond House|
Orphaned as a boy, Myron Bangs Jr. was under the guardianship of Drummond brothers for more than a decade. In episode four, hear about the alarms he raised to the US government and the paper trail he left behind.
In Trust, an investigative podcast from Bloomberg News and iHeartMedia, is a story about family, oil and a system that moved wealth over decades — dollar by dollar, acre by acre — and shapes this land to this day. This is the fourth episode and we encourage you to listen to the story from the beginning. Find previous episodes here. A transcript of this episode is available.
The Hominy Trading Company wasn’t the only way the Drummond brothers profited off Osage wealth. The US government had deemed Osages and other Native Americans incompetent, which meant they needed “guardians” to be put in charge of their financial affairs.
This system was billed as a way to protect Native American wealth from being swindled or squandered. But many times, guardians were in on the very schemes they were supposed to prevent. In the 1920s, the US government brought at least 20 lawsuits on behalf of Osage wards, alleging misdeeds by their guardians; these cases were settled without trial. Guardianship files in the local courthouse are kept under seal.
But one Osage man left behind a vivid look into the practice, thanks to the years he spent raising alarms about how his land and money were being managed. His name was Myron Bangs Jr. His guardians were Drummonds.
Bangs was educated. He could fly an airplane and write searing letters to US officials. But in the eyes of the law he was incompetent, simply for being Osage. For more than 15 years starting in 1918, his finances were controlled by his guardians — first, Cecil Drummond, and later, Fred Gentner Drummond.
Bangs didn’t trust his guardians. At one point, he even wrote the commissioner of Indian Affairs. “We are writing to you personally because we cannot get action elsewhere,” he said in a 1934 letter.
Later that year, he took matters into his own hands. He hired a lawyer named Paul Comstock and enlisted a team of accountants to audit his affairs. They came back with a five-page report, full of inconsistencies they encountered when combing through his finances. In 1935, Fred Gentner resigned.
Photograph: Courtesy The Oklahoma Historical Society/The Paul Comstock Collection
But the matter didn’t drop. Six years later, the US brought a case against Fred Gentner Drummond and his two brothers, accusing them of defrauding Bangs while they were supposed to be protecting his financial interests.
What a federal judge found, though, was something else entirely. The judge said the Drummond brothers were actually working to help Bangs after he was orphaned at a young age, using the guardianship to shield his family’s land from the man who married his mother just months before she died.
In episode four, a relative recalls Bangs and his fight against an unfair system. And Gentner Drummond, the Republican candidate for Oklahoma attorney general, discusses his support for tribal sovereignty and his family’s long history in Osage County, where he says they were respected members of the community and helped their Osage neighbors in the ways that were available at the time.
— With assistance by Allison Herrera