American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Emathla, Charley

Title: Emathla
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Born a Creek in Georgia, Charley Emathla (Creek and Seminole, ca. 1790–1835) moved to Florida during the late 1820s, where he would become identified with the Seminole as an opponent of Osceola. Although many of the Georgia Creeks were forcibly relocated west of the Mississippi, Emathla settled on a small farm near Fort King (near Tampa, Florida) with a herd of cattle. He subsequently assumed a leadership role among the Seminoles. As a signatory of the Treaty of Payne's Landing in 1832, Emathla agreed to relocate to Indian Territory (later called Oklahoma). While accompanying a Seminole delegation to inspect the new lands promised in Indian Territory, he also signed the 1833 Treaty of Fort Gibson.

In June 1835, Indian Agent Wiley Thompson imprisoned Osceola, a leader of the Seminoles who opposed relocation. Having decided to resist the plans of Emathla and his supporters to leave for Oklahoma, Osceola pretended to change his position. He asked Emathla to intercede for him. Emathla, convinced of Osceola's sincerity, agreed to help. Osceola was released only after he promised to use his influence in favor of emigration.

Instead, Osceola met with other chiefs who were hostile to the move, and all agreed that death was the only appropriate penalty for any Seminole who sold his stock or otherwise prepared to leave. At this news, four hundred and fifty Indians who had agreed to emigrate fled to Fort Brooke for protection. Emathla continued to defy Osceola and openly sold his possessions. As Emathla was returning from the sale with his money, on December 18, 1835, he was ambushed and killed by Osceola's band. Some accounts say that Osceola threw the cattle money over Emathla's dead body as he awaited burial. Others say that he scattered the money to the four winds.

Osceola's faction then killed Agent Thompson on December 28, while another party massacred a military command under Major Francis Dade, after whom Dade County, Florida, is named. Their actions provoked the Second Seminole War (1835–1842).

Bruce E. Johansen

Further Reading
Bland, Celia. 1994. Osceola, Seminole Rebel. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.; Covington, James W. 1993. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.; Mahon, John K. 1967. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

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