The El Paso Connection in Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”
First things first: this article has NO SPOILERS. It’s more about the history of the Osage Murders and not the movie that’s currently playing in theaters.
100 years ago, there was a series of murders of wealthy members of the Osage tribe in rural Oklahoma. Some sixty tribe members were killed by unscrupulous non-Indians who wanted to get at their considerable riches.
Because oil was discovered on Osage land, members of the tribe got regular payments. In the 1920s the Osage nation was, per capita, the wealthiest in the world.
The Osage couldn’t get the local or state police to do anything about the murders. The movie portrays local law enforcement as definitely being in on the murderous conspiracy.
This is where our El Paso connection shows up.
Tom White (played by the always solid Jesse Plemons) is an agent for the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation sent in to try and solve these murders. White found evidence of a massive cover-up and a handful of non-natives got life sentences.
After his work on the Osage murder case, White was made warden of Leavenworth Prison. This was where the ringleader (no spoilers so I won’t say who played him in the movie) was sent to serve his sentence. While warden, White was taken hostage and shot in an escape attempt (unrelated to the Osage case).
White survived but the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided to give him a “less strenuous” assignment. They sent him to…El Paso to become the warden of a brand new federal penitentiary: La Tuna prison, which opened in 1932.
Tom White was the warden of La Tuna for 20 years. During his time in El Paso White ran La Tuna as a progressive, self-sustaining institution. La Tuna had its own dairy, turkey farm, fruit tree orchard, and cattle ranch. At one point, La Tuna produced most of the food the inmates ate with enough left over to sell at the market. Some of the food was also used to feed Fort Bliss soldiers and the El Paso community.
White retired as a warden in 1951 and spent six years serving on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. After that, he retired for good. He and his wife Bessie settled in a spent the rest of their retirement in El Paso. Tom White died in El Paso on December 21, 1971. White is buried at Restlawn Cemetery on Dyer Street.