Osceola, Seminole, by Catlin
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Osceola ("Black Drink")
Seminole

Seminole history begins with bands of Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama who migrated to Florida in the 1700s to avoid conflict with Europeans as well as Native groups. Groups of Lower Creeks moved to Florida to get away from the dominance of Upper Creeks. Some Creeks were searching for rich, new fields to plant corn, beans and other crops. In the 1770's the Florida Indians became known collectively as the Seminoles, which means "wild people" or "runaway."

Florida Division of Historical Resources: Seminole History

In 1821, the U.S. Government bought Florida from Spain for five million dollars and began urging Indians to move west. A series of three Seminole wars were fought between 1832 and 1858 between the Seminoles who loved their land and the U.S. government who wanted this land for settlement.

History of Bay County Florida : Seminole Indians

When the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, the U.S. government wanted to send the Seminoles to Oklahoma. causing yet another war -- the Second Seminole War.

Those years brought out two legendary Seminole leaders - the famous warrior Osceola (a.k.a. William Powell) and the inspirational medicine man Abiaka (a.k.a. Sam Jones). Elegant in dress, handsome of face, passionate in nature and giant of ego, Osceola masterminded successful battles against five baffled U.S. generals, murdered the United State's Indian agent, took punitive action against any who cooperated with the white man and stood as a national manifestation of the Seminoles' strong reputation for non-surrender. Osceola was not a chief with the heritage of a Micanopy or Jumper, but his skill as an orator and his bravado in conflict earned him great influence over Seminole war actions.

Osceola's death in prison at Fort Moultrie, SC, was noted on front pages around the world. In 1838 he was the most famous Native American.

Though his exploits were not as well publicized, Seminole medicine man Abiaka may have been more important to the internal Seminole war machine than Osceola. Wise old Sam Jones kept the resistance fueled before and after Osceola's period of prominence and, when the fighting had concluded, was the only major Seminole leader to remain in Florida.   Official Seminole Tribe of Florida: History: Osceola and Abiaka

"The word Osceola is a corrupted English pronunciation of the Seminole name for Black Drink Singer. During purification rites, a Seminole warrior drinks a black liquid brewed from the leaves of holly bushes. The word "Assin-ye-o-la" is the long, drawn-out cry that accompanied the ceremonial drinking."  From Osceola: NPS page, cited below.

After defeating the U.S. in the early battles of the Second Seminole War, Seminole leader Osceola was captured by the United States on Oct. 20, 1837, when U.S. troops said they wanted a truce to talk peace. This event remains today one of the blackest marks in American military history.

click Curtis and Catlin portraits for larger versions
Osceola captured
Oct. 20, 1837,
under flag of truce.
 
Portraits of Osceola, by
artist Robert John Curtis, 1838.
(Courtesy of the Charleston Museum)



Osceola by George Catlin
Catlin: "a most
extraordinary
man...."

 

In December 1837, Captain Pitcairn Morrison of the 4th U.S. Infantry transferred Osceola and 202 other prisoners to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina. Osceola was not locked in a prison cell but housed in the Fort Moultrie Officers' Quarters. He was also permitted the privelege of "liberty within the walls" of the fort and received visits from the elite of Charleston society. Osceola also spent entire mornings posing for many artists

Death came for Osceola at 6:20 p.m. on January 30, 1838. He lived only 3 months and 10 days in captivity.

Osceola's life and the fact of his untimely death combine to make his story seem more legendary than real. Though much about Osceola's life will remain a mystery, his role as defender of his people is undeniable.

Osceola: National Park Service, Fort Sumter National Monument, Fort Moultrie page. Please read End of the Journey, describing his manner of death, on this page.

[Footnote: When the third war ended in May 1858, more than 3,000 Seminoles had been moved West. About 200 to 300 remained hidden in the Florida swamps. Today, more than 2,000 Seminoles live on six reservations in the state located in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton, Immokalee, Ft. Pierce, and Tampa. There was never a peace treaty signed and the Seminole have always been an independent nation.]

Other Pages:

Osceola in Florida

Biography

Bibliography

Boyd, Mark F. "Asi-Yaholo or Osceola." Florida Historical Quarterly 30 (July, 1951): 249-305.

Covington, James W. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1993.

Goggin, John M. "Osceola: Portraits, Features, and Dress." Florida Historical Quarterly 33 (January-April, 1955): 161-192.

Hartley, William, and Ellen Hartley. Osceola: The Unconquered Indian. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973.

Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1967.

Wickman, Patricia R. Osceola's Legacy. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.


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