Osceola (1803-1838) was a warrior and famous leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. While he was never the chief of his tribe, he was acknowledged as the leader due to his military prowess and oratory skill.
Born to a white father, William Powell, and a Creek mother, Osceola was probably first known as Billy Powell. At some point, the young Powell left home and joined the Seminole tribe, where he was given the name Asiyahola, a reference to a dark ceremonial brew used in sacred rituals. White men, who couldn’t pronounce the name, called him Osceola.
In 1835, the United States coerced the Seminole tribe to move to Oklahoma – a trek much like the forced Cherokee migration known as the Trail of Tears. When Osceola was presented with the treaty, he refused to endorse it. Instead, he pulled out his knife and drove it into the table, through the parchment the treaty was written upon. This symbolic act has become one of the centerpieces of the Osceola legend. Even today this legend is re-enacted each fall by the Florida State University football program, which has a costumed Osceola mascot ride out onto the center of the football field to drive a flaming spear into the turf before every game.
With his act of defiance, Osceola began a long and bloody war with the United States, during which he is credited for outwitting five generals in battle and murdering at least one government agent. Osceola did not live to see the end of this war – government troops captured him by violating a flag of truce. The warrior spent the rest of his days in prison, eventually dying of malaria. At the time of his death, Osceola was the most famous American Indian, and his passing was reported in newspapers around the globe. Even to this day, his name is synonymous with a fierce resistance to tyranny.