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
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
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
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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