If there is a hero in Killers of the Flower Moon, it is Tom White. Like the Osage themselves, White seems to be a man from a bygone era. He is described as having the composure of a gunfighter who would have been completely at home at the Alamo. White seems himself to have been aware of the danger of being a relic, Grann explains, and this is why he joins the Bureau of Investigation in 1917. The romance of the Wild West, often attached to the Osage case, holds little appeal to White, who knows that the reality differs importantly from the myths. Raised in Texas with three brothers, White’s father was the sheriff of Travis County and, because the family lived in the jail, Tom grew up asking questions about justice. From his youth onward, he believed capital punishment was judicial murder. 

White might not match the Bureau of Investigation’s image of an ideal agent, but he is a careful investigator. In the 1920s, agents were not permitted to carry weapons, but, familiar with the dangers of remote rural counties, White sometimes disregards this rule, even if he prefers to avoid violence. From his father, White learned the importance of treating people equally and he puts this in practice in his investigation, selecting a team that includes a Native American agent and working diligently to resolve some of the Osage murders. He instructs his team to differentiate between fact and fiction and to seek evidence that can support successful convictions. His tenacity finally yields results, as does the fact that he is not open to bribery or other forms of corrupt influence. 

These qualities are equally on display in White’s career after leaving the Bureau. He becomes a prison warden, first at Leavenworth, a federal penitentiary, and then at La Tuna in Texas. Inmates recalled that White tried to look for the best in even the most hardened criminals, focusing on rehabilitation and redemption. But this did not mean he was soft—White’s bravery led him to single-handedly calm a prison riot, and, at significant harm to himself, saved several hostages during a prison escape. No matter how heroic he was personally, White avoided drawing attention to himself. He would not gossip about inmates to reporters and worked diligently to draw attention to all the agents who worked on the case. Upset that the nation was forgetting the Osage’s ordeal, he worked with an author to write a history of the period. J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted the attention to remain focused on him or the agency, was not forthcoming with materials, and White’s history was never completed.