About Billy Powell
Osceola, also known as Billy Powell (1804 – January 30, 1838), became an influential leader and war chief of the Seminole in Florida. Of mixed parentage: Creek, Scots-Irish, and English, he was raised by his mixed-race mother in the Creek tribe. They migrated to Florida when he was a child, with other Red Stick refugees after their defeat in 1814 in the Creek Wars.
As a man in the 1830s, Osceola led a small band of warriors in the Seminole resistance during the Second Seminole War, when the United States tried to remove the Seminoles from their lands. He became an adviser to Micanopy, the principal chief of the Seminole from 1825-1849.
Early life and education
Osceola was named Billy Powell at birth in 1804 in the Creek village of Talisi, now known as Tallassee, Alabama, around current Elmore County. "The people in the town of Tallassee...were mixed-blood Native American/English/Irish/Scottish, and some were black. Billy was all of these." His mother Polly Coppinger was the daughter of Ann McQueen, whose mother was mixed-race Creek and whose father, James McQueen, was Scots-Irish. Ann was likely the sister or aunt of Peter McQueen, a prominent mixed-race Creek leader and warrior.
Billy's maternal grandfather was James McQueen, a Scots-Irish trader who in 1714 was the first European to trade with the Creek in Alabama. He stayed in the area as a fur trader, married into the Creek tribe, and became closely involved with the people. He is buried in the Indian cemetery in Franklin, Alabama near a Methodist Missionary Church for the Creek Indians. Because the Creek have a matrilineal kinship system, McQueen's children were considered to be born into their mother's clan; they were reared as Creek and gained their status from their mother's people. His son Peter McQueen became a warrior and leader of the Red Sticks (Upper Creeks) in the Creek War. His daughter Ann married Jose Coppinger. Their daughter Polly became the mother of Osceola.
Many sources, including the Seminole, say that Osceola's father was William Powell, an English trader.
In 1814, after the Red Stick Creek were defeated by forces of General Andrew Jackson, Osceola and his mother moved from Alabama to Florida, together with other Creek. In adulthood, when he was part of the Seminole, he was given his name Osceola (/ˌɒsiːˈoʊlə/ or /ˌoʊseɪˈoʊlə/). This 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. In 1821 the United States acquired Florida, and more settlers started moving in, encroaching on the Seminole.
Osceola and his family would have moved with the Seminole into central and southern Florida after the 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek, by which the US seized northern Seminole lands.
Resistance and war leader
The American settlers kept up pressure on the government to remove the Seminole to make way for their agricultural development. 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 in Indian Territory. According to legend, Osceola stabbed the treaty with his knife, although there is no contemporary reports of this.
Five of the most important of the Seminole chiefs, including Micanopy of the Alachua Seminole, did not agree to the move. In retaliation, the US Indian 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 them. Osceola, a young warrior beginning to rise to prominence, was particularly upset by the ban, as he felt it equated Seminoles with slaves, who were forbidden to carry arms.
Like some other leaders, Osceola had two wives. He had a total of at least five children. One of his wives was a black woman, and he fiercely opposed the enslavement of free peoples. Thompson considered Osceola to be a friend, and gave him a rifle. Later, though, when Osceola quarrelled 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 Fort King, while another group of Seminole ambushed and killed a column of US Army troops marching from Fort Brooke to Fort King, in what Americans called the Dade Massacre. These near-simultaneous attacks began the Second Seminole War.
On September 21, 1838, on the orders of U.S. General Thomas Sidney Jesup, Osceola was captured when he went for peace talks at Fort Moultrie. 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 by many congressional leaders. That December, Osceola and other Seminole prisoners were moved to Fort Moultrie, Charleston, South Carolina. They were visited by townspeople.
George Catlin and other prominent painters met the war chief 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 cigar store figures.
Osceola died of quinsy (though one source gives the cause of death as "malaria" without further elaboration) on January 30, 1838, less than three months after his capture. He was buried with military honours at Fort Moultrie.
Legacy and honors
Numerous landmarks, including Osceola counties in Florida, Iowa, and Michigan, were named after him.
Florida's Osceola National Forest was named for him.
Relics of Osceola
After his death, army doctor Frederick Weedon persuaded the Seminole to allow him to make a death mask of Osceola, as was a European-American custom at the time for prominent people. Later he removed Osceola's head and embalmed it. For some time, Weedon kept the head and a number of personal objects Osceola had given him. Later, Weedon gave the head to his son-in-law Daniel Whitehurst. In 1843, Whitehurst sent the head 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. Some of Osceola's belongings are still held by the Weedon family, while others have disappeared.
Captain Pitcairn Morrison sent the death mask and some other objects collected by Wheedon to an army officer in Washington. By 1885, the death mask and some of Osceola's belongings ended up in the anthropology collection of the Smithsonian Institution, where they are still held.
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.
In 1979 the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma bought Osceola's bandolier and other personal items from a Sotheby's auction. Because of the chief's significance, people have created forgeries of Osceola's items. Rumors persist that his embalmed head has been found in various locations.
Light a Distant Fire (1988) by Lucia St. Clair Robson
In the Wilds of Florida: A Tale of Warfare and Hunting (1880) by William Henry G. Kingston.
Freedom Land: A Novel by Martin L. Marcus. In this version, Osceola the son of a respected British officer and his Creek consort.
Osceola (1858) by Thomas Mayne Reid.
Nature Girl, a novel by Carl Hiaasen, gives an abbreviated history of Osceola's capture and imprisonment.
Captive, by Heather Graham (1996), historical novel features Osceola as one of the 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, novel in German based on historical sources.
Osceola His Capture and Seminole Legends (2010) by William Ryan.
Osceola was an early pen name used by the Danish author, Karen Blixen, most known for her works set in Kenya. She also published as Isak Dinesen.
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, starring James Craig as Osceola.
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.
Seminole (1953), highly fictionalized American western film directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Rock Hudson and Anthony Quinn as Osceola.
The song "Seminole Wind", the title track of the album by John Anderson, refers to hearing the ghost of Osceola. The song has been covered by James Taylor and Gravemist.
The song, "Osceola's Crying," claims the ghost of Osceola cries over the Gulf oil spill.
In popular culture
Chief Osceola and Renegade represent the Florida State Seminoles football team. Before every game a student dressed as Osceola rides a horse onto the field and plants a flaming spear at the 50-yard line. The use of Osceola and Renegade as a symbol is approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.