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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 third episode and we encourage you to listen to the story from the beginning. Find previous episodes here. A transcript of this episode is available.
Ask just about anyone how the Drummond family got its start in Osage County, and you’ll hear about the store.
In the late 1880s, Frederick Drummond moved to the Osage Reservation and secured an important document that set his family on a path toward wealth and influence. a license from the US government to sell goods to the Osages.
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Shortly after the turn of the century, Frederick and his wife, Addie, moved the family from Pawhuska to Hominy, where he took over the Hominy Trading Company. One descendant would later refer to it as the “Super Walmart” of the time, more like a department store than a simple trading post. The Hominy Trading Company sold hardware, high-end clothing and farming supplies.
The three Drummond boys — Fred Gentner, Cecil and AA “Jack” Drummond — grew up around the business. According to Jack, he and Cecil were more drawn to fishing and camping than the ins and outs of the store. But Fred Gentner was a natural trader. “Cecil and I were outside all the time, and Gentner, he was always up there in that store,” Jack Drummond recalled in decades-old interview recordings collected for his biography.
After their father died in 1913, Fred Gentner Drummond took a more active role at the Hominy Trading Company. Jack worked there for a while, too. In the tapes, he explains the kind of environment in which they operated. Just take the silk shirts he sold to Osage men at a hefty markup.
Jack tells his biographer that he was simply charging top dollar for something his customers wanted. But many Osage families long suspected that they were paying more than White customers for the same goods. Several families recalled “the Osage Price” they were charged at the Hominy Trading Company — later known as the Pioneer Store — and other stores in Osage County. In this episode, you’ll hear how one family put its suspicions to the test.
But the price tags on silk shirts and groceries were only the beginning of how the store provided financial leverage for the Drummond brothers. Many Osages became indebted to the store, partly because of higher prices, but also because the US government later limited access to their own money. These were the early days of credit for much of the country, but merchants saw good borrowers in their Osage customers, who had big accounts held with the US government.
Some of the biggest debts showed up when an Osage individual died. That’s because the Hominy Trading Company offered undertaking and funeral services, too. This was not unusual for Osage County merchants at the time, but the bills for Osage funerals were so high that they got the attention of lawmakers in Washington.
One bill was $3,182.67. Another was $2,368.90. In some cases, a funeral could cost more than $9,000, the equivalent of more than $100,000 today. In Congressional testimony from 1924, lawmakers expressed their surprise at the costs.
When an Osage estate owed money to the Hominy Trading Company and other creditors, those debts would be reviewed and paid out by an estate administrator — a role that Fred Gentner Drummond himself performed for at least 28 Osage individuals. That meant he was in the position to present bills from his family’s store and then approve their payment. It was one example of how US policies for handling Osage affairs put White men in multiple positions of power.
There were other examples, too. Tune in for episode four to learn more.
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