Native Themes in New Deal-Era Murals

Osceola in Conference with Hernandez

Refer to caption
Osceola in Conference with Hernandez by Eduard Buk Ulreich
Federal Bankruptcy Court Building, formerly the original Post Office Tallahassee, Florida
Used with the permission of the General Services Administration.

The muralist Eduard Buk Ulreich was born in 1889 in Austria-Hungary. He spent his childhood in Kansas City with his three sisters. Drawing was Ulreich’s main interest from a very early age, and in 1906 he even produced an oil painting depicting an Indian attack-its whereabouts are not currently known. He said once that painting was the principal reason he stayed interested in school. He explored different artistic styles for approximately two years at the Kansas City Art Institute, and later received a chance to exhibit his art there. The William L. Elkins scholarship allowed Ulreich to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He also won two traveling scholarships that sent him to Europe, where he exhibited some of his work. He also went back to America to exhibit in Chicago. After serving in the military during World War I, Ulreich completed other projects requiring decoration and embellishment. In New York, he painted and gave art lessons. He died in 1966. His works during the Works Progress Administration have lasted the longest; he is well known for an 8-panel series of murals titled “The History of Florida.” One of these murals is, Osceola in Conference with Hernandez, located in The Bankruptcy Court Building, the former original Post Office in Tallahassee, Florida. It is part of a larger set of murals that depict Ulreich’s idea of different events in Florida history. The subject depicted in the mural, the Seminole warrior and leader, Osceola, is thought to have been born in 1804 likely in Tallahassee, in a Maskoki-Creek region. Osceola was both Creek and English, as many in Tallahassee were of combined Indian, English, Scottish, or African descent. Osceola identified very strongly with Indian culture. He was prepared to become a warrior by a powerful practitioner of medicine named Abeca, and became proficient at making medicines that would protect him in war. His name grew famous when he chose not to pay recognition to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a mechanism meant to displace Indians from their tribal lands to pave the way for Euro-American expansion. Although some chiefs from the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations followed the terms of the treaty, Osceola refused to do so. He resisted the seizure of his Florida homeland, and in 1835, during the Second Seminole War with the US Army, he killed a government agent named Wiley Thompson. After the killings, Osceola was hunted until October 1837.

In mural scene, Osceola in Conference with Hernandez, Ulreich portrays what appears to be a friendly visit on October 24, 1837 under a white flag of truce (not a calumet pipe as is depicted floating the sky) by Osceola, Maskoki-Creek warrior in his pursuit of a peace negotiation with Brig. General Joseph Hernandez of the U.S. Army. His tribal council as seen in the left background had agreed to the overture. A group of soldiers stand ready in the far right background, giving the viewer a feel for the authority asserted by Hernandez, and a hint at the imminence of a planned ambush. Their uniforms are colored in vivid blue, in contrast to the monochromatic grey used to color the Indians behind Osceola in the far left. The result of this attempt for peace near St. Augustine, and the ambush of Osceola, other head men, and about eighty warriors, was a forced walk to their imprisonment at Fort Marion in St. Augustine. Within 2 months, Osceola, then ill, was shipped to Fort Moultrie, S.C. where he died a natural death. Osceola was then decapitated by his attending army doctor, who possibly kept the head to study or as war booty. The present location of his head is unknown.[1] Another feature of the mural that should be noted is the presence of a calumet pipe suspended in the left of the mural’s background. Ulreich was probably trying to imply through this feature that the meeting he depicted was one of temporary peace, since calumet pipes were used as a token of peace. However, the white flag of truce that was far more likely present at Osceola’s arrest is not rendered here in the mural.

By Kathryn Dantzlerward

1. Osceola's Legacy by Patricia Riles Wickman University of Alabama Press, Aug 28, 2006.

Florida Memory, Division of Library and Information Services, accessed November 15, 2013.

Kimberlee Ried, National Archives’ Kansas City facility, accessed November 15, 2013.

Anita Price Davis, accessed November 15, 2013.

Patricia Riles Wickman, accessed November 15, 2013.

U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, accessed November 15, 2013.

Owen Edwards, accessed November 15, 2013.

Office of the State Archeologist at the University of Iowa, accessed November 15, 2013.

Indians at the Post Office