Artifact Uncovered: 200-year-old Sash worn by Seminole warrior Osceola now on display
A sash reportedly belonging to Seminole warrior Osceola sat crumpled up in a brown paper bag filed away in a cabinet for more than 200 years before it was returned to the Seminole Tribe by private donors in 2018.
Osceola is widely known as a Seminole Chief, but Gordon Wareham, director of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, strives to clarify that history.
“That’s a myth," said Wareham. "He was in charge of a war party, but he gained his respect by the tribal people because he had the ability to bring his soldiers home.”
Wareham says Osceola was a great strategist who was passionately vocal about the survival of the Seminole people and their right to stay in Florida against all odds and U.S. colonization. Osceola defeated U.S. generals during the height of the Seminole Wars and refused to sign a peace treaty.
“They knew if they sent their boys out there, sons out with this man, that he would come up with a great strategy to bring them home safely, and so his reputation started growing within our community, within our tribe," said Wareham. "We honor him by putting up the sash and telling his story properly.”
Under a white flag of truce, Osceola was captured by the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War and eventually died under imprisonment in South Carolina.
Tara Backhouse, collections manager of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, says Osceola’s possessions were likely split up amongst Army personnel after his death. The museum worked with an external textile conservator to restore the sash.
“It's not safe to display it for long periods of time because the wool and the seed beads are so fragile the light will damage them and disintegrate,” said Backhouse.
"This reportedly belonged to Osceola, and I say reportedly because with historic objects like this, you probably never have 100% surety that it belonged to an important historic figure, but the provenance, or story, associated with it, we're probably about 80% to 90% sure that it was one of the regalia pieces that Osceola was wearing."
The sash is made of finger-woven wool, a rare Seminole art form that is still practiced today, adorned with white seed beads.
Wareham says the sash was handmade by Osceola.
“That's something that wasn't made by his mom or his wife or his kids, it’s something that he would have made for himself to adorn for himself to go into battle,” said Wareham.
Backhouse says displaying the sash is one way to educate people about Seminole culture and history.
“This is the Seminole tribe of Florida's only museum, and our mission is to preserve Seminole history and also to tell that story to the world and that story of Osceola is really important, really relatable to everybody who hears it," said Backhouse. "And that's what we need to do is make this Seminole story mean something to people.”
For Wareham, displaying the sash of Osceola helps show who Seminole people are through today.
“Why we fought, why we're here, and why we're thriving is very, very important to tell to the world," said Wareham. "We aren't from the 1850s. We are now. Our stories are now. We are here, we are living and we are so proud to be part of Florida.”
The sash of Oceola will be displayed until November 17 at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.
WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.