A Painting by Christopher M. Still
Oil on Linen 48 x 126 in
The proud, fierce Seminole warrior Osceola, looks you straight in the eye. One hand points toward a ship meant to remove Indians to a reservation in the west the other grips a knife, planted with determination into a symbolic U.S. document. Faces in the trunk of a palm tree evoke the spirits of three chiefs one for each war fought against them. These and other symbols recall the struggles of Floridas Seminole Indian people before and during its Territorial Period (1821-1845).
The name Seminole translates to free people and evolved from the Spanish word, cimmarones, which means wild or untamed. It is an appropriate name for this amalgamation of people who shared a common desire to be free of domination.
The Seminoles were made up of the ancestors of Florida tribes, combined with Indians from the southeastern Creek nation who emigrated into Spanish-owned Florida in many cases fleeing from encroaching white settlers and the U.S. troops protecting them. Runaway African slaves joined and intermingled with the Indians, infuriating southern plantation and slave owners.
Spains weakness in protecting her Florida residents became clear in what became know as the First Seminole War. In 1818, General Andrew Jackson let a punitive expedition into Florida, burning rebellious Indian villages. He brazenly captured Spanish forts as well, which helped lead to the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 that would make Florida a U.S. territory.
In 1823, the Treaty of Moultrie Creek set apart four million acres of land south of Ocala as Indian Territory, and the Seminoles were relocated to make way for more U.S. settlers. Conflict remained between the two groups. The Second Seminole War erupted in 1835, after many bands refused to agree to a treaty relocating them yet again, this time to present-day Oklahoma. The warrior Osceola led the Indian uprising, beginning the longest, most costly Indian war in U.S. history.
Fighting ceased in 1842, and the few hundred Seminoles that remained managed to live in relative peace for 14 years. In 1855, a third and final attempt to relocate the remaining Seminoles was marked by a series of skirmishes led by Chief Billy Bowlegs, the Third Seminole War. When the U.S. withdrew in 1858, still with no treaty, the small number of remaining Seminoles the most defiant members of a famously defiant tribe took refuge in the swamps of the Everglades.
The painting shows the six coin-like Florida State Seals, including the current one, which features a Seminole woman. There is no county in the state that isnt marked by the footprints of the courageous Seminoles, who fought against overwhelming odds to remain here. They, and their culture, are now valued as one of the states greatest treasures.