AnArchivist, Sean Linezo.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF OSCEOLA //
THERE IS MORE TO REMEMBER...
on exhibit at PENSACOLA MUSEUM of Art Sep 6 - Dec 5, 2020.
Osceola is an iconic figure in Florida History as a Seminole War leader who represents the spirit of resistance to the Indian Removal Act of Andrew Jackson. These 3 reproductions were made from a mold of his death mask and each illustrate a different version of the same event, the death of Osceola - from popular history, academic history and tribal history.
All three of these versions agree that Osceola was born of mixed-race and during times of war grew to be a charismatic and influential leader. He also refused to sign treaties and was eventually captured by the US government while under a flag of truce and died in prison at Fort Moultrie. From there the popular history keeps things simple by saying he died of starvation and a broken heart. The official archives and academic history continue with details that after his death, his attending physician made a death mask and then cut-off and kept the head of Osceola. The tribal history, which is omitted from Academic history and the official Archives, goes on to explain that for generations the oral tradition has always said Osceola was "shot in the head and the heart" during negotiations after continuing to refuse to sign a treaty and agree to move his people from their ancestral lands.
The story as told by Bobby Henry, a medicine man of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, makes us wonder... Why did they make a death mask? Why did they take the head? If what Bobby Henry says is true, it seems very convenient that the head was lost in a fire at the Surgical and Pathological Museum in NYC. If the head still existed and contained evidence of the tribal history, that would imply that the US government captured Osceola under a flag of truce, murdered him in prison and covered it up with the only official story being taken from the diary pages of Dr Weedon, the same man who stole his head.
The documents include signed statements by three soldiers delivering the head, letters from collectors requesting purchase and personal diary entries from Dr Weedon, with one page in particular including Osceola's last request. After he dressed himself in all of his finest garments, as is always mentioned in his death scene, they never mention that he also asked a "favour that his bones should be permitted to remain in peace and that I (Weedon) should take them to Florida & place them where I knew they would not be disturbed".
Instead of granting his last request, the doctor stole his head and under orders from commanding officers stripped him of all of his regalia. Rather than resting undisturbed in Florida, the remains of Osceola lie headless in a grave on display at the Fort where he was imprisoned. With this level of disrespect and desecration being recorded and admitted into the archive, it seems odd that Weedon never mentions taking the head, while there is plenty of evidence (including his own family oral history) that he did.
Popular culture and most of our public memory of Osceola can literally be traced back to Weedon. The impact can be easily illustrated when looking at the influence of the diary page directly into history books, postcards and even into the American Literary masterpiece, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, where our beloved poet practically plagiarizes the poem, OSCEOLA, from these diary pages. Whitman does write an original intro paragraph where he explains Osceola was wrongfully imprisoned and died of a broken heart, but the poem is lifted from the diary. The only original line in the poem is the last: (And here a line in memory of his name and death).