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Osceola

Native American Nations | Indian Warriors
 

Not all of the Indian wars of the nineteenth century occurred on the Western frontier. One notable exception was the Seminole War of 1835 in which this Southern tribe was led by the great warrior Osceola, who also was known by the name As-se-he-ho-lar. A remarkable strategist, Osceola mastermind a highly effective program of harassment against the U.S. Army in the great, eerie swampland that is today the Everglades National Monument.

Osceola was not born a chief nor was he ever so named by formal election. He was born in Georgia, near the Chattahoochee River, in the country of the Creeks. His name means Black Drink Crier. His paternal grandfather was a Scotsman, and contemporary descriptions indicate Osceola's features were more those of a white man than a Indian. After the death of his father Osceola's mother married a white man named William Powell, which led to a popular but erroneous belief that he was a half-breed.

As a young man Osceola evidenced qualities of leadership, and was a leader in opposing the cession of the Seminole lands of Florida to the United States. He advocated passive and non-violent resistance until 1835, when his wife, the daughter of a fugitive slave who had been hiding among the Indians, was seized and taken away as a slave. Osceola angrily upbraided the Indian agent, General Wiley Thompson, who ordered him chained and imprisoned in irons for six days. Several months later, on December 28, Osceola and some of his followers massacred Thompson and four others, thus precipitating the conflict known variously as Osceola's Rebellion and the Seminole War.

Secreting the women, children and old men of the tribe in the depths of the Everglades, safe for a long time from the vengeance of his enemies, Osceola carried on his rebellion with skill and daring. From hiding he emerged to strike at such strongholds as Fort Drane and Micanopy. Major Dade took a detachment into the jungle to attack Osceola and were cut off. Only two or three men escaped. General Gaines was unsuccessful in routing the Indian raiders, as were his various successors.

The terrified white populace demanded more drastic action, and the war became one of the most savage in American history. Operations were stepped up-Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott were among the noted generals thrown eventually into the conflict-but the outnumbered Seminoles clung doggedly to their land, making capital use of the almost impenetrable fastness of the Everglades to baffle their pursuers.

The Seminoles had been subdued in 1818 by General Andrew Jackson, who used the tactic of destroying their villages until they were forced to submit. This second war was another matter; it was impossible to raze villages that could not be found. It was only through treachery that the wily Osceola could be brought to bay.

General Thomas Jesup, smarting under public criticism for the army's failure to deal conclusively with the Seminoles, called Osceola to a conference under a flag of truce in October, 1837, almost two years after the rebellion started. When the Indian leader and some of his followers appeared, they were seized and imprisoned. Even the public which had demanded Osceola's destruction was horrified at Jesup's act, despite his protests that such tactics were excused by the fact that Osceola had himself disregarded all treaties.
Osceola and several of his men were imprisoned at Saint Augustine and later were moved to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. The Indian leader brooded over the manner of his betrayal and despite his youth and strength, died only a few months later, on January 30, 1838.

Osceola's martyrdom doubtlessly lent impetus to Seminole determination to remain free, and the war lasted until 1842. The Seminoles did not formally accept peace with the United States until 1926, long after all the other tribes had capitulated.

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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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