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David Geister's rendition of Osceola

Osceola's origins

By Michael Butler

Chief Osceola is widely known for his ceremonious fiery spear toss into the turf at Doak Campbell Stadium prior to Florida State football games.

The legend of the Creek warrior is as great as the college football tradition. Chief Osceola, also known as Bill Powell, was a native born Tallasseean.

"He is credited with being born in Tallassee by several authoritative sources," said Tallassee historian Bill Goss. Among those sources is the Smithsonian Magazine, which ran an article in October in 2010 that Goss referenced.

"Born in Tallassee, Alabama in 1804, Powell was of mixed blood," cited the magazine. "His mother (Polly Coppinger) was part Muscogee and part Caucasian. His father is thought to have been an English trader named William Powell, though historian Patricia R. Whitman, author of "Osceola's Legends," believes (his father) may have been a Creek Indian who died after Osceola was born. "

William Powell's father, James McQueen, is buried in an Indian Cemetery in Franklin, about 10 miles from Tallassee, at Methodist Missionary Church for the Creek Indians.

In the book "Myths and Dreams: Exploring the Cultural Legacies of Florida and the Caribbean," Tallassee is listed as a town of "mixed-blood Native American/English/Irish/Scottish and black" descent. "Billy was all of these," the book notes. "Non-Indians at first called them Seminolies. The word is thought to be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning "wild or runaway," and probably was used because of the maroons or runaway slaves who were living nearby and friendly with the Indians."

"The authorities say that he grew up in the Indian village of Talisi and was probably born there," Goss added. "That's the Indian village that was on the east bank of the Tallapoosa River at Euphabee Creek which is now Macon County. Some authorities say he was born between Tallassee and the village of Franklin. We're not sure because records were not kept and there were no geographical boundaries, but most authorities now credit him with having been born in the village of Tallassee. So, we can claim him as a Tallasseean."

Osceola moved to Florida in 1814 to join the Seminole after the "Red Stick Creek were defeated by United States forces," a Wikipedia reference stated. The name Osceola came thereafter, "This is an anglicized 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."

A statue in Silver Springs, Fla. emulates Osceola's stabbing of the Treaty of Payne's Landing. The 1832 act was an agreement for Seminole chiefs to give up their Florida land in exchange for property west of the Mississipppi.

Osceola was imprisoned in 1837 after meeting for peace talks in St. Augustine, Fla. He died in Fort Moultrie, SC. in 1838 in his early 30s.

The late Mildred Weedon Blount of Tallassee was the great granddaughter of army doctor Fred Weedon, who was with Osceola during his final days. Mrs. Blount donated a diary kept by her grandfather to the Alabama Archives that describes his time with Osceola's during his illness in South Carolina.

Weedon wrote this account, "Osceola sent for me (saying he knew that I) was his friend, and had (saved) his life at Fort Marion, but he was unwilling to induce the Indians to believe he had any confidence in a white man.

"Said he had no will to live, knowing he would be sent to the west... asked as (favor) that his bones should be permitted to remain in peace and that I should take them to Florida and place them where I knew they would not be disturbed - here he declared that he done nothing except killing Gen. Thompson that he regretted his country had been taken from him."

Weedon's words tell of Osceola's death as well. "This morning visit Osceola, find him remarkably feeble. Knew me and gave me his hand but life was (ebbing) fast. (After I informed them he would live but a few hours)... he grasped in his right and knife in his left hand and placing both hands by his sides adusted himself and died 20 minutes past 6."

Weedon wrote that Osceola had quinsy, similar to tonsillitis. Other acounts indicate the cause of death as malaria.

In Jerald T. Milanich's book, "Osceola's Head," the story of the death mask of Osceola is recorded. "After his death, army doctor Frederick Weedon persuaded the Seminole to allow him to make a death mask of Osceola, this being a European-American custom at the time for prominent people," Milanich wrote. "Later he removed Osceola's head and embalmed it. For some time, Weedon kept the head and a number of personal objects Osceola had given him. Later, Weedon gave the head to his son-in-law Daniel Whitehurst. In 1843, Whitehurst sent the head 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. Some of Osceola's belongings are still held by the Weedon family, while others have disappeared."

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