Seminole Days 2002 - Sharon Heist
By Sharon Heist
Deming, New Mexico
As you drive across Southwestern Texas towards Brackettville, the land is arid and stark, with little sign of moisture until you reach the Amistaad at Del Rio. It is hard to imagine anyone being able to wrest a living from the rocks and hardscrabble-much less build a viable community. But not all is as it seems. As you enter Brackettville, and go through the gate into Fort Clark there is a marked change.
Suddenly, there is green all around-trees and lawns and wonderful stone buildings. The clean, modern motel rooms are built in the old barracks buildings on one side of the quadrangle. Arriving about 10:30 at night, I am tired from a long drive and have just brought in my suitcase when there is a knock on the door. My friend Kato had come by to take me to the Camp-and although we keep in touch via email and phone, it is so good to see her again.
The Camp is one of the original buildings at the fort-now converted half into a house, and half left as originally built. Walking into the Camp is coming home into the arms of friends and family. It is owned by Izola Raspberry and her children, and during Seminole Days it overflows with people. There are no strangers here; this is the heart of what Seminole Days is all about.
We have come from all over-California, Arizona, Virginia, Missouri, New York, Mexico, New Mexico, Ohio, Alabama and more, to this tiny place to pay tribute to the memory of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts, their accomplishments and their history. While the celebration has its formal aspects-beginning with the parade and ending with the memorial service at the Scout cemetery; people are the most important part. From early in the morning until far into the night there is talking, sharing and laughter. It is like all the Indian celebrations I remember from my youth-where ever we gathered, there was shared work, shared knowledge and a wonderful time.
Walking in the door, I am enveloped in hugs and shrieks of welcome. I have not seen Izola since December and I am as delighted as she is. So many of us back together-I relay messages from those who can’t be there, hug everyone I’ve missed, and meet those I’ve been hearing about for so long. While doing the cutting and chopping for tomorrow’s stew, we share stories and updates. Others sit around the tv and watch videos of prior celebrations, interviews with elders and research productions. Old photographs are passed around, and Oh, the stories that are told. On the porch other groups are equally involved and always, there are people flowing from one group to another, getting something to eat or drink, or perhaps just stopping here and there to listen and enjoy.
As the night wears on, people drift away to sleep for a few hours before the morning parade. A group of Buffalo soldiers has come in from San Antonio to participate in the activities-George Taylor is there in buckskins, we have local royalty-and always there is candy to be thrown to the spectators. Even in late September, the sun is hot in the borderlands. The wool uniforms of the soldier reenactors must have been hot enough for those on horseback -those on foot got first hand knowledge of the discomfort of wool, leather, and boots made for riding rather than walking. I know more than one had visions of tanktops, shorts and an ice-cold (insert beverage of choice, lol) when they arrived at the Carver school.
On the school grounds, booths had been set up for the vendors. From Avon to tamales, fajitas and beer, to a newly published work about the scouts and a voting booth for Association elections, it was here.
The national anthem and prayer started off the program. There were speeches, awards and reminiscences of days at the Carver school. Paulina Del Moral of Torreon, Mexico gave a wonderful talk on her research among the Mascogos of Mexico, Miss Charles was honored for her years of dedication as a teacher–and then there was the barbecue, where your plate was piled high with ribs, brisket, chicken, beans, rice and potato salad.
Later in the afternoon, folks met at the old Post Theater for a history session. A panel spoke about the history of the Scouts and the floor was opened to a lively question and answer period. Many came away with a new appreciation for the history of the Scouts as well as their own personal history. Before leaving the building, plans had already begun to expand the program for next year with exhibits and more presentations.
Saturday night meant it was time to dance. From 9pm until 1am, people mingled, laughed and danced to everything from George Strait to Chubby Checker. A little flirting here and there, some teasing and a lot of fun. Afterwards it was off to bed for some-and back to the Camp for others, where again the conversation and companionship lasted till dawn.
A few gallons of coffee, and piles of tortillas, eggs and grits later, it was time to go to the Cemetery for the memorial service. Emceed by Bennie McRae, the service provided time for remembrance, reflection and honor. Family and friends had a chance to speak, and if there were any ancestors listening, I’m sure they were pleased.
One consistent thread ran through the comments of those who had traveled long distances to be there, the idea of Homecoming. Home-to where the roots ran deep and strong; home- where the daily stresses of work and responsibility were laid aside for a time; home-a place to learn more about who you were; home-to reinforce your pride in ancestors and family; home- where the love and sharing flowed, and home- where you wanted to return as soon as possible.
What starts there, carries over when you leave. I have already discussed plans with several friends for next year’s celebration. Projects are already beginning- to add to the historical documentation, provide revenue for work that needs to be done, and above all, to return next year.