Published on January 11, 2011 by John
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Osceola (Asi-Yahola, Bill Powell, Talcy), Seminole c.1803-1838.
Osceola, whose name was derived from ‘asiyahola’ (meaning “Black Drink Crier”), was born on the Talapoosa River near the border of Alabama and Georgia. His mother was Polly Copinger, a Creek woman; she married William Powell, a white man. As the result of his mother’s marriage to Powell, Osceola was sometimes called Bill Powell, but he considered Powell his stepfather and asserted that he was full-blood.
As a boy, Osceola moved with his mother to Florida and took up residence along the Apalachicola River about 1814. As a young man, he is believed to have fought in the first Seminole War of 1817-1818. Indeed, some reports during the war assert that he was captured in 1818 along the Enconfino River by troops under General Andrew Jackson and then released because of his youth.
In 1823, Seminole leaders such as Neamathla agreed to the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, which ceded tribal lands and created reservations for the Seminoles. Later, as a result of the U.S. removal policies, the Treaty of Payne’s Landing of 1832 required all Seminoles to leave Florida within three years for Indian Terretory. According to the treaty, Seminoles with African American blood were to be sold into slavery. In 1833, seven Seminole chiefs, including Charley Emathla and Foke Luste Hajo, endorsed the Treaty of Fort Gibson, which created a homeland in Oklahoma near the Creeks. However, most Seminoles did not comply readily with the requirements of the treaty. At this time Osceola became a noted antiremoval leader. He urged various bands to remain in Florida.
At Fort King in April 1835, Wiley Thompson, the Indian agent, dictated a new treaty with the Seminoles, forcing their removal to Oklahoma. Several chiefs declined to endorse the treaty or to deal with white officials. Seminole tradition has it that Osceola angrily slashed the treaty with his knife. Subsequently, Osceola was seized and jailed. Although he continued to protest, in the end he agreed to the terms of the treaty. After his release, however, he slipped into the marshes with many Seminole people following him.
During preparation for removal, Osceola ambushed Charley Emathla. Osceola allegedly threw the money the whites gave Emathla on his dead body. Osceola attacked and killed Wiley Thompson on December 28, 1835. On the same day, Alligator, Micanopy and Jumper, with about three hundred men, attacked Major Francis Longhorne Dade’s detachment of 108 soldiers and killed all but three soldiers.
On New Year’s Eve 1835, Osceola’s men won a battle against General Duncan Lamont Clinch’s force of 800 men on the Withlacoochee River. Four infantrymen were killed and only three Indians died. Osceola was injured but eluded capture. While waging a guerilla war for two years, Osceola devastated the countryside. Finally Micanopy and other rebel chiefs stopped fighting in the spring of 1837. Osceola forced Micanopy to flee with him into the swamps, but Micanopy stopped fighting again later in the year. In October 1837, General Thomas Jesup seized Osceola through subterfuge. Under a flag of truce, Osceola attended a peace council at Fort Augustine in fall 1837. Despite the flag of truce, Osceola was captured, bound, and incarcerated at Fort Moultrie outside of Charleston, South Carolina. There are varying accounts of Osceola’s demise: poisoning, malaria, or abuse in prison may have been the causes. In any case, the whites were excoriated by public opinion for their treachery and his tragic death.
On January 30, 1838, Osceola died at Fort Moultrie in full battle regalia. Even in death, Osceola did not escape white exploitation. Dr. Frederick Weedon, the military surgeon, kept his head in a medical museum until it was destroyed by a fire in 1866. In spite of the death of their renowned leader, many Seminoles continued to resist removal to Oklahoma for many years, using the Florida swamps as a base for their operations.