Os-ce-o-lá, the Black Drink, a Warrior of Great Distinction, 1838
30 7/8 x 25 7/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
During the 1830s, Osceola led the Seminoles of Florida in their long war against Indian Removal. At war's end, in January 1838, he was imprisoned at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. When Catlin received a government commission to paint a man of such stature, he closed his exhibition in New York for several weeks to travel there, completing the portrait just in time: almost immediately after the sitting, Osceola died of a throat infection and, in Catlin's opinion, a "broken spirit." The tragedy of Osceola's life and death was not lost on Catlin, but it did not stifle his instinct for profit either. Instead of delivering the picture to the commissioner of Indian affairs in Washington, Catlin added it to his gallery and published lithographs priced at $1.50 apiece.