The available evidence indicates that Billy Bowlegs was part of a ruling Seminole family and that his emergence as a primary leader of his people during the second Seminole War (1835-1842) was due in large part to his birth. But Bowlegs also earned his rank, and it was thanks to his skill in negotiation and delay tactics that his people were able to withstand for many years, efforts to force their removal from Florida to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Ultimately the pressure for removal became too great. After leading his people in the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), Bowlegs finally agreed to take them to the Indian Territory. Shortly after the Civil War broke out in 1861, he turned to protecting his new home from Confederate attempts to control it, and spent his last years serving as captain in the Union Army's First Indian Regiment.
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1996 National Portrait Gallery