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Osceola by George Catlin
Tribe Seminole
Born 1804
Tallassee, Alabama
Died January 1838 (aged 33–34)
Fort Moultrie
Native name Asi-yahola
Nickname(s) Billy Powell
Cause of death malaria
Resting place Fort Moultrie

Osceola (1804 – January 30, 1838) was an influential leader with the Seminole in Florida. Osceola led a small band of warriors (never more than 100) in the Seminole resistance during the Second Seminole War when the United States tried to remove the Seminoles from their lands. He exercised a great deal of influence on Micanopy, the highest-ranking chief of the Seminoles.[1]

Osceola was named Billy Powell at birth in 1804 in the village of Tallassee, Alabama around current Macon County. "The people in the town of Tallassee, where Billy Powell, (later named Osceola) was born, were mixed-blood Native American/English/Irish/Scottish, and some were black. Billy was all of these."[2] His mother Polly Coppinger was daughter of Ann McQueen, who was part Muscogee and part Scottish.[citation needed] Many sources, including the Seminole, state that Osceola's father was an English trader William Powell.[3]

Osceola's mixed white ancestry would have been an anomaly at the time because the Seminoles strictly forbade intermarriage with whites.[4] Osceola's great-grandfather was James McQueen, who was Scottish and the first white man to trade with the Creeks in Alabama in 1714. He stayed in the area as a trader and became closely involved with the Creek. James McQueen's daughter Ann married Jose Coppinger. Their daughter Polly was the mother of Osceola. Osceola claimed to be a full-blood Muscogee.[citation needed]

In 1814 Osceola and his mother moved from Alabama to Florida together with other Creeks. In adulthood he received his name; Osceola (pronounced /ˌɒsiːˈoʊlə/ or /ˌoʊseɪˈoʊlə/) is an anglicised form of the Creek asi-yahola (pronounced [asːi jahoːla]); the combination of asi, the ceremonial black drink made from the yaupon holly, and yahola, meaning shout or shouter.[3][5]


Resistance and war leader

Osceola, stabbing the treaty with his dagger

In 1832, a few Seminole chiefs signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing, by which they agreed to give up their Florida lands in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi River. Five of the most important of the Seminole chiefs, including Micanopy of the Alachua Seminoles, did not agree to the move. In retaliation, Native American agent Wiley Thompson declared that those chiefs were removed from their positions. As relations with the Seminoles deteriorated, Thompson forbade the sale of guns and ammunition to the Seminoles. Osceola, a young warrior beginning to rise to prominence, was particularly upset by the ban, as he felt it equated Seminoles with slaves.

Osceola had two wives and at least five children. One of his wives was a black woman, and he fiercely opposed the enslavement of free peoples.(Katz 1986) In spite of this, Thompson considered Osceola to be a friend, and gave him a rifle. Later, though, when Osceola quarreled with Thompson, Thompson had him locked up at Fort King for a night. The next day, to get released, Osceola agreed to abide by the Treaty of Payne's Landing and to bring his followers in. On December 28, 1835 Osceola and his followers ambushed and killed Wiley Thompson and six others outside of Fort King.[6]

Captured by deceit

On October 21, 1837, on the orders of U.S. General Thomas Sidney Jesup, Osceola was captured when he arrived for supposed truce negotiations in Fort Payton. He was imprisoned at Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida. Osceola's capture by deceit caused a national uproar. General Jesup and the administration were condemned.[citation needed] That December, Osceola and other Seminole prisoners were moved to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. They were visited by townspeople.

George Catlin and other prominent painters met him and persuaded him to pose. Robert J. Curtis painted an oil portrait of Osceola as well. These pictures inspired a number of other prints, engravings, and even cigar store figures. Afterward numerous landmarks, including Osceola Counties in Florida, Iowa, and Michigan, were named after him, along with Florida's Osceola National Forest.

Osceola died of malaria on January 30, 1838, less than three months after his capture.[2] He was buried with military honors at Fort Moultrie.

A tile painting of Osceola

Relics of Osceola

After his death, army doctor Frederick Weedon persuaded Seminoles to allow him to make a death mask of Osceola, as was a custom at the time. Later he removed Osceola's head and embalmed it. For some time, he kept it and a number of personal objects Osceola had given him. Captain Pitcairn Morrison took the mask alongside other objects that had belonged to Osceola and sent it to an army officer in Washington. By 1885, the death mask and some of the belongings ended up in the anthropology collection of the Smithsonian Institution, where they are still held. Later, Weedon gave the head to his son-in-law Daniel Whitehurst who, in 1843, sent it to Valentine Mott, a New York physician. Mott placed it in his collection at the Surgical and Pathological Museum. It was presumably lost when a fire destroyed the museum in 1866.

In 1966, Miami businessman Otis W. Shriver claimed he had dug up Osceola's grave and put his bones in a bank vault to rebury them at a tourist site in the Rainbow Springs. Shriver traveled around the state in 1967 to gather support for his project. Archaeologists later proved that Shriver had dug up animal remains; Osceola's body was still in its coffin. Some of Osceola's belongings remain in the possession of the Weedon family, while others have disappeared.

The Seminole Nation bought Osceola's bandolier and other personal items from a Sotheby's auction in 1979. Because of his significance, people have created forgeries of Osceola's items, and rumors persist about his head.

Osceola. (1838 lithograph)

In literature

  • Freedom Land: A Novel by Martin L. Marcus. In Marcus's story, Osceola is born Billy Powell, the son of a respected British officer and his Creek consort.
  • Osceola (1858) by Thomas Mayne Reid.
  • Nature Girl, by novelist Carl Hiaasen gives an abbreviated history of Osceola's capture and imprisonment.
  • The Patriot Chiefs (1993) A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance-page 177
  • Captive by Heather Graham (1996) A historical fiction romance novel which features Osceola as one of the main protagonists.
  • War Chief of the Seminoles (1954) by May McNeer. Part of the Landmark Books series for children.
  • Osceola, Häuptling der Seminole-Indianer (1963) by Ernie Hearting, poignant novel in German based on historical sources.
  • Osceola His Capture and Seminole Legends (2010) by William Ryan, Old Kings Road Press, Flagler Beach Florida. New information on white flag capture site south of St. Augustine FL on Old Kings Road, new image of Osceola wife and son, based on historical sources, includes photographs and maps of locations.

In film

  • In the mid-1930s Nathanael West wrote a 17-page treatment entitled Osceola, but failed to sell it to a studio.
  • Naked in the Sun (1957), the life of Osceola and the Second Seminole War.
  • Osceola - Die rechte Hand der Vergeltung (1971) by Konrad Petzold, an East German western with Gojko Mitić as the Native American hero.
  • Dennis Cross (1924-1991) played Osceola in the film The Osceola Story.

In music


In the pilot episode of the short-lived science fiction television series Freakylinks, the characters investigate the purchase of Osceola's severed head on the black market.


  1. ^ Osceola, the Man and the Myths - URL retrieved January 11, 2007
  2. ^ a b "Osceola Seminole Chief", Myths and Dreams: Exploring the Cultural Legacies of Florida and the Caribbean, Kislak Foundation, 1999-2002, Historical Museum of Southern Florida, accessed 10 Oct 2009
  3. ^ a b "Osceola", The Florida Memory ProjectFlorida State Library and Archives, accessed January 27, 2007
  4. ^ Mary Barr Munroe, "The Seminole Women of Florida", Tequesta, 2 Jan 1981, p. 27
  5. ^ Bright, William Native American Placenames of the United States, University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. p. 185 ISBN 9780806135984
  6. ^ Mishall, John and Mary Lou Mishall. 2004. The Seminole Wars: America's Longest Indian Conflict. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-2715-2. Pp. 90-91, 95-97.
  • Marcus, Martin L. Freedom Land. Fiction, Forge Books (Tom Doherty Associates), 2003.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. "Osceola's Head", Archaeology magazine, January/February 2004
  • Wickman, Patricia R. Osceola's Legacy. University of Alabama Press, 1991.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

OSCEOLA (a corruption of the Seminole As-se-he-ho-lar, meaning black drink) (c. 1804-1838), a Seminole American Indian, leader in the second Seminole War, was born in Georgia, near the Chattahoochee river. His father was an Englishman named William Powell; his mother a Creek of the Red Stick or Mikasuki division. In 1808 he removed with his mother into northern Florida. When the United States commissioners negotiated with the Seminole chiefs the treaties of Payne's Landing (9th of May 1832) and Fort Gibson (28th of March 1833) for the removal of the Seminoles to Arkansas, Osceola seized the opportunity to lead the opposition of the young warriors, and declared to the U.S. agent, General Wiley Thoinp son, that any chief who prepared to remove would be killed. At the Agency (Fort King, in Marion county) he became more violent, and in the summer of 1835 Thompson put him in irons. From this confinement he obtained his release by a profession of penitence and of willingness to emigrate. Late in November 18 3 5 he murdered Charley Emarhla (or Emartla), a chief who was preparing to emigrate with his people, and on the 28th of December he and a few companions shot and killed General Thompson. On the same day two companies of infantry under Major Francis L. Dade were massacred at the Wahoo Swamp near the Withlacoochee river, while marching from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay to the relief of Fort King. In a battle fought three days later at a ford of the Withlacoochee, Osceola was at the head of a negro detachment, and although the Indians and negroes were repulsed by troops under General Duncan L. Clinch (1787-1849), they continued, with Osceola as their most crafty and determined leader, to murder and devastate, and occasionally to engage the troops. In February 1836 General Edmund P. Gaines (1777-1849), with about troo men from New Orleans, marched from Fort Brooke to Fort King. When he attempted to return to Fort Brooke, because there were not the necessary provisions at Fort King, the Indians disputed his passage across the Withlacoochee. In the same year Generals Winfield Scott and Richard K. Call (1791-1862) conducted campaigns against them with little effect, and the year closed with General Thomas Sidney Jesup (1788-1860) in command with 8000 troops at his disposal. With mounted troops General Jesup drove the enemy from the Withlacoochee country and was pursuing them southward toward the Everglades when several chiefs expressed a readiness to treat for peace. In a conference at Fort Dade on the Withlacoochee on the 6th of March 1837 they agreed to cease hostilities, to withdraw south of the Hillsborough river, and to prepare for emigration to Arkansas, and gave hostages to bind them to their agreement. But on the 2nd of June Osceola came to the camp at the head of about 200 Mikasuki (Miccosukees) and effected the flight of all the Indians there, about 700 including the hostages, to the Everglades. Hostilities were then resumed, but in September Brigadier General Joseph M. Hernandez captured several chiefs, and a few days later there came from Osceola a request for an interview. This was granted, and by command of General Jesup he was taken captive at a given signal and carried to Fort Moultrie, at Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in January 1838. The war continued until 1842, but after Osceola's death the Indians sought to avoid battle with the regular troops and did little but attack the unarmed inhabitants.

See J. T. Sprague, The Origin, Progress and Conclusion of the Florida War (New York, 1848).

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