Native Americans know well that much of the history of Indigenous Peoples is one sided, incomplete or fabricated, depending on the source.
It’s one of the reasons the Seminole Tribe has spent considerable time and resources to keep recordings of oral histories passed down by its elders.
One of those elders is medicine man Bobby Henry. He has had stories recorded about several subjects, like influential Seminole leader Osceola.
Working with Henry’s story as one starting point, Pensacola-based artist and historian – Sean Linezo – has recently taken a closer look at varying versions of Osceola’s death and says there’s more to the story.
Through the journey of his research he met Henry and forged other connections with the Seminole Tribe.
Linezo, who said he is of Indigenous ancestry, but not federally recognized, is the artist-in-residence at the nonprofit School House 4 Reimagining Education (SH4RE) – part of the Pensacola Private School of Liberal Arts.
He wants to create a bronze statue of Osceola in downtown Pensacola’s
The Seminole Tribune recently asked Linezo about the statue and his work with the Seminole Tribe. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you discover about Osceola?
Linezo: In my research I found an article from The Seminole Tribune published in 2015: ‘Bobby Henry’s story: U.S. soldier murdered Osceola.’ I had read so many stories of Osceola’s life and death.
Most of the popular history described an overdramatic and honorable death scene. All of the stories were almost identical – captured under a flag of truce, imprisoned, and in his last moments he dressed himself, painted his face red, said goodbyes to everyone and clutched his knife to his chest as he breathed his last breath.
However, all of these stories seem to be copied from a single source – a single diary entry that can be found in the official archives from Osceola’s last attending physician, Dr. Frederick Weedon.
Not the whole story.
Linezo: The diary entry leaves out the details that followed, which includes the well-known fact that this same doctor decapitated and stole the head of Osceola. Not to mention he also allowed Osceola to be stripped of all regalia, which was sent to an officer in the U.S. military with a Native American collection.
It’s interesting that they promoted the honorable death scene so much. They also made a death mask for some reason. This was not a common practice at the time and you will not find many other Native American death masks like this. So it always seemed suspicious, like something was missing or maybe they were covering something up.
How did Bobby Henry help clarify the story?
Linezo: He describes a different series of events that is still honorable but also more realistic than the over-dramatic scene as described by Weedon in his diary. He describes the negotiations, the refusal to sign a treaty and two gunshots at point blank range.
So when I found the Bobby Henry story, I made plans with my little sister to go to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and request to listen to the oral history that is recorded and stored in the archive.
Justin Giles mentioned that Tina Osceola knows a lot of things about a lot of things and she was selling jewelry in a booth with her daughter, Dakota, at an event. Tina was not only friendly; she seemed supportive and genuinely interested in our conversation.
When she realized I had travelled to listen to the oral history on DVD in the archive, she pointed across the way and mentioned I was lucky because Bobby Henry was there also selling jewelry with his family.
What was it like meeting Bobby Henry?
Linezo: I explained that I came to Big Cypress to listen to his oral history. I felt lucky to find him there and honored to meet him. He was a man of few words, but I told him the general idea of my project and asked if it would be OK to share his story. He said, yes that would be fine – he wants the story to be heard.
Tina also recommended that I talk with Paul Backhouse, who I eventually met, and he introduced me to Quenton Cypress, who invited me to Fort King where I met Charlie Osceola and his family and the weapons demonstration team and then eventually to Durante Blais-Billie.
So now I feel like I have real relationships. I have spent a lot of time with the three-hour oral history recording. I have listened to Bobby Henry talk about sitting around fires with his many teachers and how a lot of those stories are gone. His teachers are all gone, but he has the stories. He is the
messenger. There is a lot to hear and a lot to learn from.
It’s been a pleasure to work with Paul and Quenton and Durante and everyone at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki. Everyone has been so supportive and I truly feel an honor to have worked with such culturally sensitive subjects and the support of this team.
The experience gave you the idea for a statue.
Linezo: Around November 5th, I will be launching a fundraising campaign for the production costs of the bronze statue. The only resistance to the idea was in featuring Osceola in opposition to Andrew Jackson. So rather than Osceola as an adult, I have suggested that we feature Peter McQueen (Osceola’s great-uncle, a leader of the Red Stick Creeks) as the figure on the pedestal and at the base of the monument a full-size bronze statue of Osceola as a young boy looking up to him.
There’s still an element of Andrew Jackson?
Linezo: McQueen relates to Pensacola and the local Battle of Burnt Corn Creek, which led to the Fort Mims massacre and Battle of Horseshoe Bend. All of these local battles relate directly to Andrew Jackson, and to Osceola – as his great-uncle and as an elder who influenced his resistant spirit.
Where can people connect with you?
Linezo: The Pensacola Museum of Art will host a screening of “Statues Also Die,” which is about my work, followed by a discussion on Zoom on November 5th at 6 p.m.
Editor’s note: For more, go to pensacolamuseum.org. Search “Statues Also Die” at seminoletribune.com for more about the film. SH4RE’s programming for the remainder of the year will feature Linezo’s work through online workshops, panel discussions and screenings of “Statues Also Die.” Go to schoolhouse4.org for more.