Osceola painting by George Catlin.
James McQueen was a Scots-Irish fur trader, the first to trade in 1714 with the Creek in Alabama. He became closely involved with the Creek and married into the tribe. James McQueen was the great-grandfather of Osceola, legendary Seminole leader.
Thomas Woodward, in 1859, reminiscing about the Creek in the book “Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians,” said the following:
James McQueen was the first white man I ever heard of being among the Creeks. He was born in 1683-went into the Nation in 1716, and died in 1811. He married a Tallassee woman. The Tallassees then occupied a portion of Talladega county. In 1756 he moved the Tallassees down opposite Tuckabatchy, and settled the Netches under the chief Chenubby and Dixon Moniac, a Hollander, who was the father of Sam Moniac, at the Tallassee old fields, on the Tallasachatchy creek. McQueen settled himself on Line creek, in Montgomery county. I knew several of his children–that is, his sons, Bob, Fullunny and Peter. Bob was a very old man when I first knew him. He and Fullunny had Indian wives. Peter, the youngest son, married Betsy Durant. They raised one son, James, and three daughters, Milly, Nancy and Tallassee. The Big Warrior’s son, Yargee, had the three sisters for wives at the same time, and would have taken more half sisters. After Peter McQueen died, his widow returned from Florida and married Willy McQueen, the nephew of Peter, and raised two daughters, Sophia and Muscogee, and some two or three boys. Old James McQueen had a daughter named Ann, commonly called Nancy. He called her after the Queen of England, whose service he quit when he came into Nation. Of late years it was hard to find a young Tallassee without some of the McQueen blood in his veins.
Ann McQueen was the daughter of James McQueen and an Indian woman. Peter McQueen, a prominent Creek leader and warrior, was either the brother or uncle of Ann McQueen. Ann McQueen married Jose Copinger and they had daughter Polly, who married English Trader William Powell. To Polly and William, a son, Billy Powell was born in 1804. Billy, also known as Osceola, became an influential leader of the Seminole in Florida, even though he was raised as a Creek by his mother. In the matrilineal culture of the Creek people, the father’s heritage did not matter, the child was raised in the clan of the mother.
Ann McQueen was half Creek. Her daughter Polly was one quarter Creek. Osceola was one eighth Creek, although in Creek culture, he was Creek, an all or nothing proposition, according to the clan of the mother, and that was all that mattered.
In 1814, after the Red Stick Creek were defeated by United States forces, Polly took Osceola and moved with other Creek refugees from Alabama to Florida, where they joined the Seminole. In adulthood, as part of the Seminole, Powell was given his name Osceola (/ˌɒsiːˈoʊlə/ or /ˌoʊseɪˈoʊlə/). 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”.
In 1837, Osceola was deceived when he went for peace talks in St. Augustine and captured by government soldiers and transferred to a fort in SC.
George Catlin and other prominent painters met the war chief and persuaded him to allow his picture to be painted. Robert J. Curtis painted an oil portrait of Osceola as well. These paintings have inspired numerous prints and engravings, which were widely distributed.
Osceola died only 3 months later, at Fort Moultrie, Charleston, SC, of either infected tonsils or malaria.
It’s rare to have an image of an early Indian chief. Of Osceola, we have at least four.
Osceola 1838 lithograph.
Osceola by Robert Curtis
Osceola Catlin graphite