The third weekend in September is a special weekend in the tiny town of Brackettville, Texas. Once a year, the descendants of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts gather there to celebrate their ancestors and their unique heritage. They come from all corners of the States, from Mexico, from Europe, the Bahamas and anywhere where the Black Seminole diaspora led them. They are the proud descendants of a people whose history is both unusual and at the same time representative of what it is to be an American, born of the melting pot that this country truly is.
Descendants of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts come in all colors and creeds, they speak many variations of English and Spanish, they live in many different cultures, but they have a deep and strong bond with each other and with their ancestors, which is why they return Brackettville to celebrate in the tiny schoolhouse where many of them went to school, and to visit with the elders, both living and dead, in the Cemetery and on the dance floor!
Seminole Days in Brackettville began this year on Friday September 19th with two new additions to the celebration, both of which were spectacular!
Scout descendant Thomi Lee Perryman organized a series of history lectures which Included presentations by the Mayor of Brackettville, Andres Rodriguez; Russell Nowell of the Fort Clark Historical Society; John Griffin, Florida Seminole Re-enactor and historian; Daniel Romero, Chief and Richard Gonzalez Vice Chief of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas; and Doug Sivad, Historian, Actor, Lecturer on the history of the Black Seminoles. The lectures presented a fascinating array of perspectives on the history of the Scouts and it was the first time that Scout descendants got to meet members of the Lipan Band with whom their ancestors were so strongly engaged as friends and foes.
It was a time of healing and sharing and the information presented was during the day was deeply moving and hugely appreciated by the large audience of Scout descendants and visitors. It was particularly moving that the participation of the Lipan Apache Band was due to the invitation from Thomi Lee Perryman, who is the descendant of Teresita, the daughter of Lipan Chief Costelitos who was captured by the Scouts during a raid and imprisoned at Fort Clark. She eventually was released and married one of the Scouts and became a guide for the troops herself. And to add to the complexity, recent research indicates that she was probably Mexican in origin, that she and her brother were stolen from their family by Costelitos during a raid and adopted by him, becoming his children in all ways but birth. And now her descendant has made possible the sharing of history by both Lipan and Scout descendants! The lectures were a wonderful addition to the Seminole Days celebration.
The second new event on Friday was a trip up Seminole Canyon to visit the remote site where the Scouts used to camp and water their horses. Scout descendant Cynthia Ventura Atchico arranged for any scout descendants capable of the hike to be led by the rangers into this beautiful spot, rich with the memories of the ancestors, sacred to the Lipan and other native peoples who used it for centuries before the Scouts came. The canyon walls are home to pictographs of astonishing beauty, and wildflowers and still water and overarching rocks that are ancestors themselves. Like Thomi Lee, Cynthia embodies the cultural and racial mixes that make up scout descendants. She descends from both Lieutenant John Lapham Bullis, the white officer who led the scouts, and the Fraustos, Scouts with Black and Mexican heritage.
Saturday in Brackettville began with a moving unveiling of a new plaque marking the Perryman family site that was part of the larger camp where the Scouts lived on the military reservation of Fort Clark. It was followed by the parade, which each year goes down the main streets of Brackettville and ends at the Carver School grounds (extra space) where the community then gathers for a speaker program, barbecue prepared by the Goodloe family, booths, bingo and ongoing festivities. As it has been for many years, the parade was organized by Augusta “Gigi” Pines, the current President of the Seminole Negro Indian Scout Cemetery Association. It was a colorful and spectacular parade led by descendant and previous Association president Clarence Ward on his motorcycle. In addition to the Scout descendants who participated there were numerous re enactors on horses and in carts. The Lipan Apache Band of Texas walked the route, joined by Mescaleros and the fire department and many other colorful floats. Each year the parade seems to get better and better, thanks to Ms. Pines!
Ms. Pines and the Association board of directors, including Vice-President Rafaela Brown and treasurer Mary Vasquez-Gamble, also organized an excellent program at the school grounds. It included speakers such as the Mayor of Brackettville and Scout descendants including Billie Jean Frierson, Leroy Young, Thomi Lee Perryman, and elder and honorary chief William “Dub” Warrior who has been past President of the Association and keeper of the history for many years. Lipan Vice Chief Richard Gonzalez gave a moving speech encouraging the young women of the group to understand their importance as the ones who create the future, and he gave a special ceremonial necklace and blessing to the youngest teenage female descendant. After the program there was barbecue and bingo and the celebration went on until late in the evening on the school grounds with booths with displays and with all sorts of foods and souvenirs to purchase.
Saturday night there was also a semi formal banquet held on Fort Clark in the officers club, to honor “Chief” William Warrior and his wife Ethel for their many years of service to the community. Many awards were presented at the banquet, and speakers included Richard Gonzalez, John Griffin, Doug Sivad, Veronica Warrior, Mayor Rodriguez, and Retired Texas Ranger and Scout Descendant Leroy Young, who is the first Black Ranger in Texas and has written a fascinating book about his groundbreaking experiences. Mr. Warrior spoke of his many years of gathering the history and the importance that the younger descendants take up being the guardians of the past, as it is such a necessary part of the future.
It was a heartwarming evening in a beautiful setting. The banquet was organized by Thomi Lee Perryman, with the help of Lovenia Raspberry, and emceed wonderfully by Billie Jean Frierson, who kept things moving so everyone could get up and dance when the program was done!
On Sunday morning the community comes together at the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts Cemetery to honor the ancestors. The graveyard is carefully tended and flowers are placed on recent and ancient graves. Many members of the community still choose to be buried here, and there are many fresh graves as time claims the elder members of the group. Part of the ceremony is the reading of the names of those who have gone during the course of the year. This year was particularly sad because a younger and beloved member of the community, Billy Joe Pierce, passed away at the beginning of the month. In addition to prayers, there was a beautiful call and response walk into the cemetery led by the Perryman family choir, who all seem to have been blessed with exquisite voices!
As the sun rose to its full noon strength, the descendants of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts bowed their heads in a final prayer for their ancestors, their loved ones, and a safe trip home. Hugs were exchanged and families loaded into their cars to begin the voyages toward their homes, both far away and near, knowing they will gather again next year to celebrate their connections to each other and to their rich and complex past.
Seminole Days are celebrated on the third weekend of every September in Brackettville Texas. Visitors are welcome!