Did Osceola surrender or was he captured?
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The capture made Osceola a national hero, a symbol of the martyred red man and innocent noble savage. As Patricia Wickman writes:
"This single act certainly did more to solidify the image of Osceola as a hero in the minds of the American public than anything that the man had previously accomplished on his own."
Historians have been fairly unanimous in viewing the capture as an act of treachery, yet an interesting question remains: Did Osceola know prior to the meeting that Jesup was going to take him prisoner? If so, was he for all practical purposes surrendering when he came in under the white flag?
Wickman, one of the foremost historians within the Seminole Tribe, has advanced this point of view. "Osceola," she writes, "was well aware that, no matter what the pretext, his meeting with Jesup's forces at Fort Peyton would be final."
In her chapter "Man Vs. Myth" in Osceola's Legacy, Wickman weighs the evidence surrounding Osceola's surrender. She concludes that with his band facing starvation, his health in serious decline, and his warrior-base beginning to erode, Osceola made a decision to cease fighting.
Officers on the scene shared this opinion, as did at least one Indian ally, Coa Hadjo. Coa Hadjo and other informants later reiterated that Osceola was well aware of Jesup' s warning that if they came in for
a parley, it had better be to surrender. Coa Hadjo relayed his information to Dr. Storrow, who recorded it for posterity. If the report can be trusted, then in October of 1837, a sick and exhausted Osceola truly "surrendered himself," as Storrow wrote, "knowing and believing that he would not be permitted to leave the Camp again."
These claims lend credence to Jesup's lifelong argument that Osceola was not the victim of treachery. As strenuously as Jesup maintained this position, however, he was never able to overcome the stigma of having captured a noble warrior under a white flag of truce, in flagrant violation of the rules of war. Americans preferred the legend to the truth. The truth only detracted from the perfectly crafted romance of Osceola, the innocent, victimized noble savage.
Part 2, War: l