Downtown Pawhuska has been transformed into the 1920s with dirt roads and new building facades for the filming of "Killers of the Flower Moon." (Photo by Kristi Eaton)

Walking through downtown Pawhuska, Oklahoma, will transport you to another time and place. 

The capital of the Osage Nation and the county seat for Osage County, Pawhuska has been transformed into a film set for the Martin Scorsese-directed movie “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

The movie, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, is based on the book of the same name by David Grann. In it, Grann recounts how, in the 1920s, Osage tribal members were killed so others could take over their oil-rich land mineral rights. It exposes a forgotten history, corruption, and exploitation. 

Now, the pages are coming to the screen and with it, increased tourism to this area in northeastern Oklahoma. 

“Within the last month and a half, we have seen a dynamic shift,” said Kelly Bland, executive director of Osage County Tourism. That’s when news of the filming of “Killers of the Flower Moon” started reverberating and people began arriving in the area. 

Located about an hour from Tulsa and 2.5 hours from Oklahoma City, Pawhuska and Osage County, which is also known as the Osage Nation, is now the go-to destination in Oklahoma. 

In Pawhuska, main thoroughfares have been closed, dirt placed on the ground and buildings remodeled to resemble those of the 1920s from nearby Fairfax, Oklahoma. 

“The streets are booming with actors in costumes,” Bland said. “At any moment you can see 1920-model cars all of a sudden come up the streets and areas get blocked off.”

Although the chance to see high-profile entertainers attracts some to the area, Osage County/Nation had been seeing an increase in visitors for many years, thanks to Ree Drummond, known as The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond has various books, a television, a magazine, and a blog where she documents her life in rural Osage County/Nation. She opened a combination retail store, restaurant, and bakery in Pawhuska called The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in 2016. 

The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is seen in this July 2021 photo. (Photo by Kristi Eaton)

In addition to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, the business also includes P-Town Pizza, a wood-fired brick oven pizzeria; The Boarding House, a boutique hotel; The Pioneer Woman Collection, an upscale retail boutique; Charlie’s Sweet Shop, ice cream and candy store named for the beloved Drummond family basset hound; and an event center that seats up to 180 guests for dining and receptions.  

More than 2 million people have visited the restaurants, according to Kurtess Mortensen, general manager, and executive chef.

“The vision of The Merc was to help revitalize Ladd Drummond’s hometown while simultaneously giving visitors a real-world opportunity to experience the hospitality and culture described in Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman media brands,” said Mortensen. 

Visitors to the various Pioneer Woman establishments have come from all 50 states and more than 10 countries. The majority of visitors are from outside Oklahoma, Mortensen said. 

Rhian Chambers flips through the visitor book at Mariposa, a boutique clothing store in downtown Pawhuska that is situated next to a filming location for “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

“It’s really cool,” said Chambers, who has worked at the store for six years. “I love meeting people and telling them about the town.”

Chambers, who also lives in Pawhuska, has watched as the area has exploded with visitors. Now, large buses full of tourists delicately maneuver through the streets. Visitors from Russia had visited the store just the day before. 

“We love it. We love having all the people here. We want them to get to know the town more,” she said. 

One thing visitors from far-away destinations may not be accustomed to is the lack of hotel accommodations and public transport. 

There is no public transportation and most visitors stay in AirBnBs, Bland noted. 

But with the ornate and intricate homes all over Osage County/Nation, there’s no limit to the unique experiences that can be had, she added. 

We have some of the most unique and exquisite AirBnB properties,” Bland said. “Just like downtown Pawhuska is historic and unique in that it’s true to the time period of the early 1900s, a lot of the homes in Pawhuska are huge 1900-model homes and many have been renovated to bed and bath stays.”

Even when the movie wraps, Bland hopes people continue to visit Osage County/Nation. 

“In Osage County, it’s a place of beauty and history and we are a combination of three eclectic cultures that make us such a unique place: it’s a combination of the oilman, the cattleman, and the Osage Native American.” 

To that end, Marla Redcorn-Miller, executive director of the Osage Nation Museum, said the increase in visitors has allowed for cultural exchanges.

“Within the last two to three months, it has really picked up,” she said, adding: “We have some great one-on-one conversations with visitors who come into the museum.”

The museum, which is undergoing a plan for expansion, recently opened up a new exhibition looking at drums and the unique way it intertwines with the Osage culture and life. 

In terms of the moving filming, Redcorn-Miller said there are still some questions about the impact it will have on the community. 

“We have to be prepared for that. We are working hard to prepare ourselves and be ready for opportunities but also protection of certain things as well,” she said, adding that the exhibit examining drums will tour for the next five years and will be another story that circulates about the Osage Nation members. 

The Osage Nation is much more than just “Killers of the Flower Moon,” she said.

“It’s much more than just that story,” she added. “We want to be respectful, but also let people know there’s a lot going on and we’re not victims but surviving, thriving people.”  

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