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, also known as Billy Powell (1804 – January 30, 1838), became an influential leader with the Seminole in Florida. He was of Creek, Scots-Irish and English parentage, and had migrated to Florida with his mother after the defeat of the Creek in 1814.

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 exercised a great deal of influence on Micanopy, the highest-ranking chief of the Seminole.[1][dead link]


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 Macon 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."[2] 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 Creek leader and warrior.[citation needed]

Many sources, including the Seminole, say that Osceola's father was William Powell, an English trader.[3] While the Creek had intermarried with European Americans as part of their strategic alliances, the Seminole, formed later as a tribe, forbade intermarriage with whites.

Osceola's maternal great-grandfather was James McQueen, who was Scots-Irish and in 1714, the first European to trade with the Creek in Alabama. He stayed in the area as a trader, married into the Creek tribe, and became closely involved with the Creek. He is buried in the Indian cemetery in Franklin, Alabama near a Methodist Missionary Church for the Creek Indians.[citation needed]

Because the Creek are a matrilineal culture, McQueen's children were absorbed into their mother's clan and reared as Creek. They gained their status from their mother's people. His son Peter McQueen became a warrior and leader of the Red Sticks in the Creek War. His daughter Ann McQueen married Jose Coppinger. Their daughter Polly became the mother of Osceola, from her marriage with an English trader, William Powell.

In 1814, after the Creek were defeated by forces of General Andrew Jackson, Osceola and his mother moved from Alabama to Florida, together with other Creeks. In adulthood he was given his name Osceola (play /ˌɒsˈlə/ or /ˌsˈlə/). 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.[3][4]

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 while another group of Seminoles ambushed and wiped out a column of US Army troops marching up from Fort Brooke to Fort King. These near-simultaneous attacks began the Second Seminole War.[5]

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

  • 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 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.
  • Osceola was an early pen name used by Danish author, Karen Blixen ("Out of Africa," "Seven Gothic Tales," "Winter's Tales," et al.) who also published under the better known nom de plume, Isak Dinesen.[6]

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

  • The song "Seminole Wind", the title track of the album by John Anderson, makes references to hearing the ghost of Osceola. The song has been covered by James Taylor.

In Popular Culture

  • Chief Osceola and Renegade represent the Florida State Seminoles football team. Before every game a student, dressed as Osceola, rides out onto the field and plants a flaming spear at the 50-yard line. The use of Osceola and Renegade as a symbol is supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.[7]


  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. ^ Bright, William Native American Placenames of the United States, University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. p. 185 ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,1000042420,00.html
  7. ^ Wieberg, Steve. "USA Today". NCAA allowing Florida State to use its Seminole mascot. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/2005-08-23-fsu-mascot-approved_x.htm. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  • 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.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Osceola, AR — U.S. city in Arkansas Population (2000): 8875 Housing Units (2000): 3551 Land area (2000): 7.813088 sq. miles (20.235803 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 7.813088 sq. miles (20.235803 sq. km) FIPS …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola, IA — U.S. city in Iowa Population (2000): 4659 Housing Units (2000): 2118 Land area (2000): 5.836581 sq. miles (15.116674 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.204067 sq. miles (0.528530 sq. km) Total area (2000): 6.040648 sq. miles (15.645204 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola, IN — U.S. town in Indiana Population (2000): 1859 Housing Units (2000): 739 Land area (2000): 1.365689 sq. miles (3.537117 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.009180 sq. miles (0.023777 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.374869 sq. miles (3.560894 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola, MO — U.S. city in Missouri Population (2000): 835 Housing Units (2000): 472 Land area (2000): 0.931856 sq. miles (2.413495 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.022663 sq. miles (0.058698 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.954519 sq. miles (2.472193 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola, NE — U.S. city in Nebraska Population (2000): 921 Housing Units (2000): 417 Land area (2000): 0.888291 sq. miles (2.300663 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.888291 sq. miles (2.300663 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola, WI — U.S. village in Wisconsin Population (2000): 2421 Housing Units (2000): 1072 Land area (2000): 3.685743 sq. miles (9.546030 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.129357 sq. miles (0.335034 sq. km) Total area (2000): 3.815100 sq. miles (9.881064 sq. km)… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Osceola — Osceola, 1) neue, noch unorganisirte Grafschaft im Staate Michigan (Nordamerika), ungefähr 16 QM., vom Maskegon River durchflossen; 2) Grafschaft im Staate Iowa, ungefähr 15 QM., vom Little Sioux River durchflossen; erst in neuerer Zeit gebildet… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Osceola — [äs΄ē ō′lə] 1804? 38; leader of the Seminole Indians …   English World dictionary

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