TAMPA, Fla. – Ruby Tiger Osceola, matriarch of the Seminole Tribe’s Tampa reservation, passed away in 2002 at the age of 106, but her memory will never die.
On Oct. 23 her large family, members of the Seminole Tribal Council, and other VIP guests experienced a moving, private, ceremonial unveiling of a bronze statue commissioned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida to the woman who dedicated her life to her people and Seminole culture. Noted sculptors, Bradley Cooley and Bradley Cooley Jr., who are best known for their statue of Chief Osceola and Renegade at Florida State University, also attended the unveiling. The statue will remain permanently on display near the South entrance inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Osceola was born in the Everglades in 1896 because her grandparents were two of the famous “Unconquered” Seminoles – about 200 people who escaped persecution and relocation by eluding soldiers for decades while all others were killed or captured and relocated to the American West.
Eventually she settled in Bradenton, but when the remains of early Florida Seminoles were found on a construction site in Tampa in 1980, the door opened for a new Seminole reservation. Then-Chief James Billie asked her if she would establish it with her 17 family members off Orient Road, where they built a high stakes bingo hall that grew into the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
“Mrs. Ruby Tiger Osceola was a pioneer and a visionary leader who strove to preserve tribal culture and protect her people. We are honored to dedicate this statue to her remarkable memory, and I am extremely proud that it will be displayed here,” said John Fontana, president of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. As the manager who opened the bingo hall that preceded the casino and hotel, Fontana knew Osceola and said he remembers her gentle, warm smile.
The beautiful statue has her dressed in traditional garb, pointing the way for her people with one hand, the other resting on the back of a Florida panther as it stands beside her, with her six daughters, Suzie Osceola, Nancy Frank, Peggy Cubis, Maggie Garcia, Linda O’Henry, and Annie Henry in a forest background.
For the past 25 years, the Cooley’s and their team have devoted their artistic abilities to recreating sculptures of the Seminole and Miccosukee people and their legends. Their life-sized statues can be viewed in public parks, on government grounds, college campuses, in museums and corporations across the state of Florida.