On May 31, 2018, without the permission or approval of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association (SISCA), custodians of the Seminole Indians Scouts Cemetery, or the Conoly family, who own the property on which the cemetery lies, members of the proposed Absentee Seminole Tribe of Texas (ASTT), began construction at the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery. This letter is to inform members of SISCA about why the association opposes this construction and to bring you up-to-date on our efforts to stop it. This is a summary of the conflict between the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association (SISCA) and the organization known as the Absentee Seminole Tribe of Texas (ASTT).
SISCA is a nonprofit that has been the custodian of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery and its associated properties, and of the history and heritage of the Scouts since 1967. The ASTT is a recently formed group that is seeking application for recognition by the federal government as the tribal association of the Seminole Indians of Texas.
This dispute came about because the elected “chief” of the ASTT, Mr. Lee Young, has begun to make alterations to the historic landmark known as the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery, without the approval of neither the SISCA board or of its members, who represent the greater community of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts descendants, nor of the Conoly family, who are the legal owners of the cemetery property.
In September 2016, Mr. Young publicly announced his plans to renovate the fence line and entrance of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery during a banquet without first informing SISCA about it. He also began fundraising for this project that night without SISCA’s approval, input, or permission.
Mr. Young and the ASTT filed a lawsuit against SISCA in September of 2017, claiming breach of contract, neglect of the cemetery, and defamation of character. In his petition to the court, Mr. Young demanded control of all real properties belonging to SISCA, including the historic museum and school building, which are the property of the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association.
After learning about the lawsuit, SISCA engaged an attorney and complied with all legal demands, despite the fact that there was no truth to the assertion that SISCA neglects the cemetery and other properties, as members of SISCA have been performing regular upkeep of the cemetery and our various properties since 1967. There was no breach of contract because Mr. Young began fundraising before there was any agreement by SISCA that he could do so, and once there was an agreement, it was only to let him continue fundraising while he prepared an acceptable plan that included preservation of the historic portions of the cemetery entrance. Mr. Young and the ASTT did not fulfill their side of that agreement, so it was not possible to continue.
In December 2017, Mr. Young and the ASTT proposed that they would drop the lawsuit if SISCA complied with a number of demands, including allowing Mr. Young to complete his renovation project and allowing him and the ASTT to take over the cleaning and maintenance of the cemetery. SISCA’s officers and board members could not agree to these demands, so on the advice of our attorney, we did not respond to Mr. Young’s proposal, preferring to wait for a judge to settle the issue.
Fortunately, on Monday, June 4, 2018, Mr. Stan Conoly, one of the brothers who owns the land on which the cemetery is built, was able to negotiate a cessation of the activities at the cemetery just in time to preserve the original sign and gate before they were more seriously damaged. The Conoly family has now sent a letter to SISCA and to the ASTT in which they state that SISCA is the custodian of the cemetery and that any alterations to the cemetery should be agreed upon by the entire community.
SISCA is the only organization that represents the entire community of descendants of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts. Mr. Young's proposed Absentee Seminole Tribe of Texas only represents those descendants who are able and willing to send their family’s paperwork to him.
Historically SISCA members have been vetted through oral history and the fact that, as a democratic, informal, local organization, everyone knows everyone, so it is easy for SISCA to figure out if someone is a descendant without extensive paperwork. SISCA has been figuring out who should be buried in the cemetery since 1967 through oral history, and members come from every family of descendants, some of whom are unable to produce paperwork, for a variety of reasons, among them because some of their ancestors were born in Mexico, and most notably because Texas did not institute statewide registration of births until 1903. SISCA is the only organization that represents the voice of all Scouts descendants in decisions about the cemetery in which their ancestors are buried.
Mr. Young’s proposed plans to alter the cemetery would change the nature of the cemetery, and it is essential that the entire community be given a voice as to what changes may be made.
It is important to note that on April 4, 2017, Mr. Young began a GoFundMe campaign “to renovate the historic Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery entrance”. As of June 13, 2018, the campaign is still active, and his goal is currently listed at $12,000. According to the site at the time of this letter, he has received $4,485, which is 37.4% of his goal. When asked why he decided to begin his project at this time, he stated that he had reached his goal. In reaching said goal, Mr. Young has stated publicly that he has raised $5,000, but nowhere near the $12,000 listed on his GoFundMe page. On his GoFundMe page, Mr. Young shared an initial sketch that showed, not just the entrance being renovated, but the entire fence line being completely changed. Because he hasn’t raised the $12,000, it seems that he is not even doing the project he initially set out to do. It would appear that, because he did not reach his goal, but because he seems to have set a self-imposed deadline, he has scaled back his initial plans, going from changing the fence line and the entrance to just focusing on the entrance. On June 4, 2018, when we asked Mr. Young to provide a drawing or blueprint of his plans, he was unable to provide them. This concerned us.
 https://www.gofundme.com/seminole-indian-scouts-cemetery, accessed June 12, 2018
 Rubén Cantú, “‘Civil War’ rattles Brackettville’s historic cemetery,” Del Rio News Herald, June 6, 2018.
 https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/How_to_Find_Texas_Birth_Records, accessed June 12, 2018
The cemetery honors the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, but it also is a record of more recent history, of all the SISCA members and officers who have worked so hard to stand up and honor their ancestors in a time when it was not common for people of African American and Indian heritage to have symbols of pride. SISCA also celebrates the joint history of all of Brackettville in its multiracial uniqueness, and it represents the support that the white and Hispanic communities have given to the descendants of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts in honoring their joint heritage as well. The original entrance is a visual symbol of the heritage of cooperation and pride during the Civil Rights movement, when such moments were rare. If the entrance is modernized, rather than just renovated and renewed, it will no longer represent the multilayered past of our community and the pride of the ancestors who created the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association. It will lose its uniqueness.
Members of SISCA have been taking care of their ancestors since 1967, cleaning and maintaining the cemetery. As is well known, SISCA is a small nonprofit, barely funded by the tiny dues that are raised, and an informal community group, of which only a small number of local members are available to do most of the work. While most SISCA members live far from their historic roots, they help support the small group of members who regularly volunteer to help maintain the several properties. Despite that, with some funding from members, SISCA has recently developed a strong online presence and a very comprehensive museum on the historical school grounds. Efforts are underway to identify necessary projects, such as identifying unmarked graves, improving landscaping, and organizing and preserving photographs and relics that record our history.
Because SISCA has been the custodian of the cemetery for as long as nearly anyone living can remember, it is often taken for granted. However, it cannot be taken for granted that the little democratically-elected, hard-working group that is SISCA will always be able to provide their services to the community, if the community does not stand up and participate and make their voices heard. It is time to preserve the intentions of Miss Charles and all the SISCA members who have worked so hard to keep their history available and visible for all descendants, in a way that allows everyone a voice.
On Friday, June 8, 2018, SISCA was informed by Mr. Young via email that ASTT had unconditionally dropped their lawsuit against SISCA. This, however, does not mean this situation is resolved. The gates are currently dismantled, and rocks have been cemented around the outside of the steel gate framework.
On June 13, Mr. Young finally presented his proposal for approval to the SISCA board. Before he sent this most recent proposal, we asked that his proposal maintain the historic nature of the entrance to the cemetery in accordance to the frontier heritage of the Seminole Scouts rather than replacing it with a modern-looking design.
While we appreciate Mr. Young’s desire to renovate the entrance to the cemetery, his proposal continues to show his unwillingness to accept our concerns about his changes. Thus, this current proposal is, yet again, unacceptable for a number of reasons.
When the original gate was designed, SISCA made sure that it included a pedestrian entrance that would allow the cemetery to be accessible to all descendants. If the larger gates were ever locked to prevent the entrance of cars, the pedestrian gate was large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. As it stands now, Mr. Young has eliminated this feature, thus rendering the cemetery inaccessible to those in wheelchairs and no longer allowing the possibility of closing the gate to prevent the entrance of cars, while
still allowing pedestrians to enter.
His plans include solid gates that restrict the view of the cemetery. One of the Texas Historical Commission’s recommendations for cemetery fences and entrances is to keep as much of the fence and entrance as see-through as possible. This is recommended because it deters vandals. We expressed this concern to Mr. Young on several occasions.
He plans to remove one of the three vertical pipes at the entrance and use it to hold up his new sign, thereby eliminating the pedestrian entrance and the original structure. He also plans to paint the pipes black.
Of course, our biggest issue is with the elimination of our historic sign. Mr. Young’s proposal includes a sign of his own design that spells out “Seminole Indian Scouts” on the top line and places the word “Cemetery” on the second line, along with “est in 1872”. In the proposal that includes the original sign, it can be found hanging from the top left of the new sign, secured by only two chains. Simply hanging from two chains leaves it vulnerable to being cut down and makes its attachment to the new signage appear as an afterthought. It is also repetitive to have two signs stating the same thing, and the addition of the new sign substantially changes the design of the cemetery entrance. SISCA has not yet been provided with photos or design plans of the proposed new sign, so we do not know what it looks like or what materials it is made of. All these issues are ones that must be addressed and discussed by the board and community in the coming days, so that decisions can be made.
We want to discuss this more fully and allow all of you to voice your questions and concerns. We will be having a meeting very soon. Even if you don’t live in the Brackettville area, you will be able to join via teleconference. We will announce the date and time on our Facebook and through email.
We want to be as transparent about these events as possible because what happens at the Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery affects us all.