Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Face of Osceola - Florida's Great Seminole Warrior

This cast of the face of Osceola is among the displays that can be seen in the visitor center at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Micanopy.

The cast was prepared from a "death mask" made of Osceola on the day he died at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, and shows the real appearance of the famed Seminole warrior. It was made shortly after Osceola posed for the famous portrait by George Catlin (see below).

Born in the Upper Creek towns of Alabama in around 1804, Osceola's mother, Polly Coppinger, was a member of Peter McQueen's town. Disagreement continues today over whether his father was an English trader named William Powell or a Creek warrior that his mother married shortly after Powell's death. Either way, the young warrior was often called "Billy Powell" by the whites.

Osceola (a corruption of the Muskogee term Asi Yahola or "Black Drink Shouter") and his mother were among the followers of Peter McQueen that followed the chief to Florida following the defeat of the Red Stick faction during the Creek War of 1813-1814. He was likely present at Econfina Natural Bridge between the St. Marks and Suwannee Rivers during the spring of 1818 when the troops of Andrew Jackson attacked McQueen's band, killing dozens of warriors and taking scores of women and children prisoner.

The young Osceola, then about 14 years old, escaped the battle, however, and soon appeared among the Seminoles of the Ocala area. He went on to become a key leader during the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842, but was captured by U.S. troops when he approached an army camp near St. Augustine under a flag of truce on October 21, 1837.

Imprisoned first at the Castillo de San Marcos (Fort Marion) in St. Augustine and subsequently at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, the great warrior did not long survive his captivity. He died at Fort Moultrie of fever, probably malaria, on January 30, 1838, just three months after he was taken prisoner.

The original death mask prepared at Fort Moultrie is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., but a cast made using it can be seen along with other artifacts at Paynes Prairie, an outstanding state park and preserve in Micanopy (just south of Gainesville). To learn more, please visit

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