Osceola of Florida, Drawn on Stone by Geo. Catlin, from his Original Portrait
Osceola was a Seminole war chief who led the resistance to the campaign by U.S. federal troops to forcibly resettle his tribe to territory west of the Mississippi River. Known as the Second Seminole War (1835-42), this was one of the most destructive campaigns by federal authorities against American Indians. Despite outnumbering the Seminoles ten to one, the U.S. troops failed to secure a quick victory. They then turned to desperate measures and deception, including capturing and imprisoning Osceola under the pretence of negotiating a truce. The American painter George Catlin was outraged by this act of duplicity and went to South Carolina, where Osceola was imprisoned, to show his support. In 1837, the Seminole chief agreed to sit for a portrait, which served as the basis for this lithograph. Osceola died in captivity the following year. Catlin was concerned that westward expansion spelled the end of Native American life and decided to travel across the United States to document the “primitive looks and customs” of the “savage Indians” before they disappeared. He created a vast “Indian Gallery” of idealized landscapes and portraits that helped to raise public awareness about the vanishing tribal cultures.
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Last updated: September 18, 2015