Osceola- Seminole Leader

Famed western artist George Catlin completed this painting of Seminole leader Osceola in January 1838. The tribal leader was born in what is now Tallasee, Elmore County, in 1804.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Gallery

Seminole leader Osceola (1804-1838) was born in the Creek town of Talasi (Tallassee), in present-day Elmore and Tallapoosa Counties. Also written as Asi-Yaholo, his name translates as “asi,” the ritual “black drink” popular among southeastern tribes, and “yaholo!,” the word shouted by the men serving asi during ceremonies.

Like many of the Native Americans living in the east-central region of what is now Alabama, Osceola was of mixed ancestry. His great-grandfather, James McQueen, was one of the first white men to live among the Creek Indians of the Tallassee area.

Osceola was born in 1804 to a Scottish trader named William Powell and Polly Copinger, a Creek woman of mixed European and Creek ancestry. Known as Billy Powell for the first ten years or so of his life, he took the name Osceola after a coming-of-age ceremony.

His family was allied with the anti-American Red Stick faction of the Creek Indians during the Creek War of 1813-14, after which they moved to Florida.