Friday, July 18, 2008

Osceola - Part One

This is a view of a casting prepared from the actual face of the Seminole war leader Osceola at the time of his death in 1838. It is located in the display area of the visitor center at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park near Gainesville, Florida.
It is a haunting view of the man that emerged as one of the most noted Native American figures of the 19th century.
Osceola was born in the Creek Nation of present-day Alabama in around 1804. Different claims have been made as to his actual place of birth. Some sources hold that he was born among the Lower Creeks on the Chattahoochee River, while others state that his birth took place among the Upper Creeks on the Tallapoosa River.
It should be noted that he would not have been called by his later name at this time. What his childhood name was is not known, although he was often called Billy Powell by the whites.
There also has been debate as to whether his father was a white trader or a Native American warrior. The use of the Powell name by whites to refer to Osceola prompted speculation that he descended from a trader of that name operating in the Creek Nation at the time of his birth.
Because his mother by 1818 was known to have been part of the band of Peter McQueen, a refugee chief from Tallassee on the Tallapoosa River, it appears likely that Osceola was born among the Upper Creeks.
As to the heritage of his father, Osceola himself stated during his lifetime that his father was Creek, not white. Testing of an alleged sample of his hair revealed that the great Seminole may have had mixed ancestry, but this does not necessarily mean he descended from a white father. His mother was a member of the McQueen family. The McQueens, including the chief Peter McQueen, were descended from the Scottish trader James McQueen that had lived among the Creeks for many decades and had married a Creek woman.
By 1813, Peter McQueen and many of his followers from Tallassee had joined the Red Stick movement of the Creek Prophet, Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo). When the Red Sticks concentrated at the Holy Ground town on the Alabama River between the modern towns of Montgomery and Selma, it is likely that Osceola and his mother were among them. This was believed to be a place of security where women and children would be protected while the Prophet's warriors engaged American armies in the Creek War of 1813-1814.
Holy Ground was attacked and destroyed by Mississippi Territorial Militia late in 1813, although most of the Red Stick warriors and noncombatants escaped across the Alabama River.
By the summer of 1814, Peter McQueen and his followers had fled south into Spanish Florida in search of food and arms. They were supplied there by British forces then engaged in fighting the United States in the War of 1812. McQueen was reported in several locations in 1814-1815, including Pensacola and then a British fort on the Apalachicola River. By the end of 1815, he and his followers had settled among the Seminoles then living in the area around present-day Tallahassee.
Assuming that Osceola and his mother stayed with the rest of Peter McQueen's followers through this time period, then their movements can be traced by following McQueen's. This means they would have followed him south to Pensacola and eventually into the Tallahassee area. It is known they were there by the time of the First Seminole War in 1817-1818.
Our series on the life of the Seminole leader Osceola will continue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Life of Osceola - Seminole Warrior

I've become interested recently in the story of the great Seminole warrior Osceola.
Osceola, of course, was a major leader of Native American forces during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). He is portrayed before hundreds of thousands of people each year by a mounted rider at Florida State University football games. Although he was not a hereditary chief, he rose to prominence through his ability and intellect.
I've always been curious about this charismatic Native American leader, but my renewed interest was sparked earlier this month while on a visit to Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville. To pass the time while waiting for appointments, I stopped by the visitor center at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park to check out the museum exhibits there. Among the displays in the park's excellent little museum was a bronze cast prepared using Osceola's "death mask."
For me it was a moving experience to look at the real face of the man that had such an impact on the history of Florida, the South and the United States. I had only known his appearance before from the famed portrait of Osceola (seen here) painted just a few days before his death by 19th century artist George Catlin.
The painting presents Osceola as he was best known, a brave and talented Seminole warrior that helped his people successfully defy the military might of the United States. The bronze cast, however, was a much more sober reminder of the tragic fate of this remarkable person (I'll show you a photo of it tomorrow).
Over the next few days, I will share the true story of Osceola with you along with some little known facts about his life and death. Be sure to check back!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part Seven

Resuming our look at historic sites in and around Branson, Missouri, this is the Showboat Branson Belle.
Although the Belle is of modern construction, she is a remarkable historic landmark in her own right. She is the largest paddlewheel vessel on a landlocked lake in the United States.
The Branson Belle also brings the days of the grand Mississippi River showboats back to life. She takes passengers for a variety of cruises that include live entertainment and a chance to experience the spectacular scenery of the Ozarks.
The boat was built on the shores of the lake she now sales. To avoid contaminating the water, the builders could not use grease to slide her down into the lake. Instead, they used thousands of bananas. She may be the largest boat in history ever launched using bananas.
To read more about historic sites around Branson, please visit
The photo above is courtesy of the Showboat Branson Belle.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part Six

This is a view of what the residents of the Branson area call "bald knobs." This one can be seen at the Ruth and Paul Henning State Conservation Area.

This unusual rocky hilltops became known as the meeting places of the "Baldknobbers." These gangs of outlaws and vigilantes met at isolated spots in the Ozarks during the years after the Civil War to plot raids for robbery or to hand out mountain justice as they saw fit.

The groups terrorized the region for a number of years and were the outgrowth of guerrilla gangs that roamed southern Missouri during the Civil War.

The legends of the Bald Knobbers continue to live in Branson. One of the first musical groups to open a show on Country 76, the Branson Strip, was the Baldknobbers and a comical version of the original outlaws has treated train ridders at Silver Dollar City for many years.

The Bald Knobbers figure prominently in the famed novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, and the region is filled with folklore dating back to their reign of terror.

Our series on the historic sites of Branson will continue. Until the next post, you can read more about the area by visiting

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part Five

This is a view of the bison or buffalo herd at Dogwood Valley Nature Park near Branson, Missouri.
It is difficult to believe today, but these huge and majestic animals once roamed the Ozarks in great herds. Over hunting and the expansion of the frontier drove them out of the region in just a few decades.
Today, however, they can be seen again grazing in sight of the mountains. Dogwood Valley, owned jointly with nearby Big Cedar Lodge by Bass Pro Shops, preserves thousands of acres of beautiful Ozark scenery. The naturalists there are working to reintroduce a variety of rare native animals to the park, including bison and elk. They can be seen on the guided tram tour that takes visitors through miles of beautiful park terrain.
Our series will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part Three

One of the favorite historic sites in Branson actually rolls out of town almost daily for excursions through the beautiful Ozarks.
This is the locomotive of the Ozark Zephyr, a beautifully restored train now preserved and operated by the Branson Scenic Railway.
The railway operates on tracks that have been in use since a $239 million dollar project brought the railroad to Branson in 1902-1905.
Visitors to the railway can explore the original 1905 depot and take 20 mile rides that lead through the beautiful mountains of southern Missouri. Along the way, the conductor points out historic points of interest and provides an introduction to the history of the restored cars. Passengers can move from car to car and experience what it was once like to ride the rails through the South.
For more information on this and other historic sites in Branson, please visit
Our series will continue.

New Book: The History of Jackson County, Florida (Volume One)

I'm pleased to announce that the first volume of my new three volume set, The History of Jackson County, Florida, will be released for online sales on Monday, July 7th.

If you would like to go ahead and place an order, you can do so by visiting:

The cost is $24.95 plus $5 shipping and handling. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chipola Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, to help fund historic markers in Jackson County.

Volume One of the series covers the years from 1674 to 1860 and includes details on Jackson County's Spanish missions, Native American reservations, early settlements, Florida's oldest Baptist Church (Campbellton), the Marianna vs. Webbville fight, the county's role in the American Revolution, the Calhoun County War of 1860, the story of Jackson County's "Rip Van Winkle," Bellamy Bridge and much more.

The book will be available at Chipola River Book & Tea in downtown Marianna, Florida in about two weeks, but internet orders will begin shipping next week. If you have already placed an order for the book, your copy will arrive in the next two weeks.

I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Historic Sites of Branson, Missouri - Part Two

Long before the world ever heard of Branson, Missouri, this rough and picturesque mountain setting in the Ozarks was made famous by the talented novelist Harold Bell Wright.

Wright's 1907 book, The Shepherd of the Hills, brought the mountains, valleys and wilderness of the Branson area to life for readers around the world. A remarkable achievement in Southern literature, the book was the first novel in history to sell more than 1,000,000 copies. It also sparked a flood of visitors to the Missouri Ozarks, initiating the tourism industry that would eventually make Branson what it is today.

The Shepherd of the Hills is a haunting story about a man who suddenly appears in the mountains seeking peace and redemption for a dark secret. He endears himself to the people of the area and, in the process, comes to better understand life, love, nature and God. It is a magnificent book that has been enjoyed by millions of readers and is as timeless today as it was when written.

Many of the sites associated with the Shepherd of the Hills can still be seen today at the Ruth and Paul Henning State Conservation Area in Branson. The park offers beautiful Ozarks' vistas that include the valleys, mountains and forests brought to life in the book. Wright based his novel on real places around Branson and in doing so preserved forever the settings of a century ago.

Paul Henning, a native of Missouri and the creator of such classic television shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, fell in love with the settings described by Wright and, with his wife Ruth, preserved many of the locations from the book. Thanks to their civic mindedness, much of the land is now incorporated in the Henning State Conservation Area.

To learn more, please visit and look for the link. If you have not read Shepherd of the Hills, it can be read for free online by clicking here. The book is also still in print and available through most bookstores.

Our series on the historic sites of Branson, Missouri, will continue.