"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Masons In Movies: 'Killers of the Flower Moon'

by Christopher Hodapp

I haven't seen Martin Scorsese's newest film, Killers of the Flower Moon, but Reddit and the Intertubz lit up all week long over a bizarre scene that takes place in a very real Oklahoma Masonic hall.

The movie is about a unique moment in the mid-1920s that dramatically changed the way of life for the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. The discovery of oil on their tribal land set off a huge economic boom that was well covered by writers and photographers at the time. Osage Indians driving around in lavishly expensive cars, while wearing dazzling jewelry from Tiffany's (sold at the tribal general store) and hiring white servants. Their elaborate wedding ceremonies became the stuff of legends, combining their ageless traditions with 20th century extravagance.  But the sudden wealth also attracted the attention of organized criminal groups, and brought envy and jealousy from from plenty of Oklahoma residents and out-of-staters who DIDN'T have oil on their land.

The movie is largely based on author David Grann's 2017 book, Killers, which tells the horrible story of what came to be known as the 'Osage Reservation Murders.' Much of the book revolves an Osage woman, Mollie Buckhart (played by Lily Gladstone), and the deaths of her family members, along with the work of the newly established Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

As Grann explains (and the film shows), the quickest way for nefarious non-Osage members to get their hands on their oil rights was to marry into an Osage family, then get rid of them and inherit the rights. Poisonings were common, as were doctors and morticians who lied about causes of death. While the film zeros in on one family, there were scores of actual killings, and some believe they ran into the hundreds. In many cases, local law enforcement was incompetent, overwhelmed, or complicit. When the murders climbed to at least two dozen, the FBI was sent in, as they mostly had jurisdiction at that time over crimes committed on federal land — including tribal lands.

Much of the story takes place near Fairfax, Oklahoma, but Scorcese shot many scenes in and around Pawhuska, as the area was less modernized than Fairfax is today. 

The villain of the picture, real-life rancher William King Hale (played by Robert DiNiro), actually was a Freemason at Grayhorse Lodge 124 in Fairfax, and a member of the Guthrie Valley of the Scottish Rite. According to descriptions from several Masons online, there is a bizarre scene in the picture when Hale brings his nephew Ernest Buckhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) into an empty Masonic lodge room to punish him. He bends the man over the lodge altar, whacks him with a wooden paddle, then brags about being a 32° Mason to intimidate the younger man with just how powerful and influential he is in the community.

Filmmakers used the very real Grayhorse Lodge in Fairfax for the pivotal scene (and it appears several times throughout the movie's official trailer). According to comments on Reddit and Facebook, they repainted the interior of the lodge room in the dark blue that appears in the movie. They also brought in a checkered floor rug for the scene, along with some other bits of set dressing, like the pot-bellied stove. The oval-framed Past Master portraits on the walls are authentic to the lodge.

Master's station in the East (with the Senior Warden's pedestal - probably 
placed there by an art director). Photo: Robert G. Davis

Prop pot-bellied stove was temporarily placed in the 
lodge for the scene. Photo: Robert G. Davis

My understanding is that the scene isn't meant to imply that 'the Freemasons' are part of any evil schemes, the murders themselves, or any sort of coverup to keep their members out of jail. Rather, it's there to emphasize Hale's arrogance and power in the area – the man called himself 'The King of the Osage Hills'.

Just to be clear, you won't (or at least, you shouldn't) find college fraternity-style whacking paddles in Masonic lodges because Masons don't engage in hazing their candidates or members. Yes, you'll occasionally see these sold online with a Masonic square and compass on them (like the image here), but they are NOT found in what we call regular, recognized Freemasonry. There are bogus, illegitimate lodges and organizations in the world that call themselves 'Masonic,' but have no standing whatsoever in the overwhelming majority of the Masonic community. And for those who use these paddles as displays of their Greek fraternity membership, they may want to display Masonic membership the same way. Just rest assured - nobody should be paddling your ass at the altar of Freemasonry.

As for the fate of William Hale, he had first been initiated into Grayhorse Lodge 124 in 1907. Hale was expelled from Freemasonry in 1926 after being arrested for the murder of Anna Brown. (Scorsese might have worked that in somewhere, but at only 3 1/2 hours long, I guess he just ran out of time.) Hale was convicted for murdering Henry Roan, but that was overturned due to the case being tried in the wrong district court. Hale was later convicted (in the proper court) of Roan's murder in 1929. (See this article by T.S.Akers on the Oklahoma Masonic History website
He's the Curator of Collections for the McAlester Valley of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.)

Brother Mark Wright posted this photo of the lodge room taken last month (image below). The lodge's unusual woven carpet dates from 1924. Note how much wider the room seems in the film, thanks to a wide-angle lens and subdued lighting.

And, yes, the filmmakers took their checkered rug and pot bellied stove back home with them.


  1. Check out Ill. Mark Wright's lecture "The Osage Indian Murders, the Founding of the FBI and the Masons Involved" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhMjfXkZTXw&t=8s

  2. No padding.
    Now you tell me.

  3. Having seen the movie, there is some addressing of individuals as brother, a full screen shot of a lodge membership card, some lapel pins, all of this spread out elsewhere than the ultra dramatic lodge scene where the leading bad guy cites both his blue lodge and Scottish memberships as a claim to leadership and uses the altar of the lodge for the confessional paddling. Certainly to the knowing suggests that the lodge played a part in the evil bigotry of the white townspeople, emphasized by the jovial Klan in the holiday parade. Not our finest hour.


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