Though he was of mixed heritage (his born name was Billy Powell), Osceola was raised as a Creek Indian by his mother, and after the family moved to Florida in 1814 he rose to become an influential leader of the Seminole Indian tribe. He achieved notoriety by leading a group of native warriors fighting against federal occupation during the Second Seminole War.
Unfortunately, Osceola was captured at St. Augustine in 1837 in a controversial encounter: Army troops lured the Seminole leaders into their trap by deceptively using a flag of truce. After his capture, the chief was transferred to a prison cell on the grounds of Fort Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, where he is buried today.
This chief’s fame resulted in a number of distinguished visitors and Osceola posed for several portraits during his detention, although the chief soon became ill and died from “quincy” after just a few months. After his death, the attending Army doctor removed Osceola’s head for further study—although this relic is thought to be lost to history, a “death mask” cast still resides in the Smithsonian Institution.
Osceola’s legend continued to grow after his death, and in 1966 a Miami businessman named Otis Shriver even claimed he’d dug up the chief’s remains for use at a Florida tourist attraction. The National Park Service disproved this claim by disinterring the body in 1967, and Osceola was then re-buried adjacent to the original grave site.
In 1982, fantasy author Byron Preiss also used Osceola’s grave for a landmark within his armchair treasure hunt book, The Secret. One of the author’s poetic verses cited the fact that “a wingless bird ascended” on this site, a couplet which is thought to reference Osceola’s unique ostrich-feather headdress.
Preiss’s actual “treasure casque” is believed to have been buried beneath a since-removed cypress tree at Fort Moultrie, marked off in distance from the only other nearby landmark, an obelisk monument erected in memory of the sailors who perished during the 1865 sinking of the ironclad USS Patapsco.
Know Before You Go
Fort Moultrie houses the administrative offices of Fort Sumter National Monument, and the GPS street address is 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Fort Sumter can only be visited by ferry, with departure points available either in Mount Pleasant or downtown Charleston.