SULLIVANS ISLAND, S.C. -- White carnations, a token of peace, were scattered on Osceola's grave Friday as about 1,500 people gathered on a warm winter day to pay tribute to the Seminole Indian warrior on the 160th anniversary of his death.
Delighted school children later joined Seminoles in a traditional dance outside the brick walls of Fort Moultrie where Osceola passed his last days as a prisoner.
Osceola led his people in the Second Seminole War in Florida over government attempts to move the tribe to what is now Oklahoma. He was taken prisoner while negotiating under a flag of truce in 1837, and he and 202 other Seminoles were brought to Fort Moultrie on Charleston Harbor the following January.
Less than a month later, on a cold, rainy day, the malaria-stricken warrior lay down upon the floor in full war dress, painted his face and hands with red paint, placed his knife across his chest and died.
"He stands as a symbol of all the things we don't understand about other cultures," said Patricia Wickman, director of anthropology and genealogy for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. "His whole entire life, his short life, was spent trying to remind his people they could fight back."
The fighting in Florida continued sporadically for 20 more years. The Army pulled out in 1858 believing the 200 or so Seminoles pushed into remote regions of the Everglades would not survive.
But there was no truce, treaty or capitulation by the tribe.
"They did not die. They did not die," Ms. Wickman said as she surveyed the 120 Seminoles in the audience, many of them in traditional dress. There are now about 2,500 tribal member in Florida.
"I like to think that Osceola is fighting still," she said. "He gave his life and his last drop of blood for his people."
The event was the largest gathering of Seminoles in Charleston since the time of Osceola, she said.
John Tucker, supervisor of the Fort Sumter National Monument that includes Fort Moultrie, said there have been smaller observances during the years, some attended by tribal members but that Friday's was the largest in recent memory.
James Billie, chairman of the Seminole Tribal Council, helped place a wreath of flowers by the grave which is marked by a marble slab with the simple inscription "Patriot and Warrior." It was his first visit.
"I don't know what the reasons were for all those years I didn't come up here," he said. "My father came up here. But something never really drove me to come up until a couple weeks ago when my people said they would."
During his brief time in Charleston, Osceola, whose capture attracted national attention, was under house arrest in the fort's officers' quarters. Charleston's elite visited, and he had his portrait painted.
He also attended the play The Honeymoon in downtown Charleston. Seminoles who came for the tribute were to attend a reception Friday night during which a portion of the play was to be performed.
"The passion and commitment of Osceola lives through you and your children," Larry Shirley, Charleston's mayor pro tempore, told the crowd. "We are all beginning to understand the history which ties us together."