Native American Heritage Month Collection Spotlight: James Ludwell Davis Sylestine and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas

Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, about 1970 to 1980. Color slides and transparencies,1991/077-110-8. Texas Tourist Development Agency Photographs and Audiovisual Materials. TSLAC. View in the TDA.

November is National Native American Heritage Month and the State Archives is spotlighting a collection that offers an in-depth profile of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians of Southeast Texas. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine (1925-1990) was the son of former Alabama-Coushatta Chief Bronson Cooper Sylestine (1879-1969) and compiled over the years research materials about the history of the combined tribes, as well as the contemporary conditions, traditions, and lifestyle of his people during the latter part of the twentieth century.


Table of contents, manuscript, undated. Alabama-Coushatta Indians, drafts. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.
Page one, manuscript, undated. Alabama-Coushatta Indians, drafts. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.

Sylestine wrote essays and historical pieces about the Alabama-Coushatta and was working toward writing a full history that he unfortunately never completed. His research notes and drafts are available in his papers. Sylestine’s records include publications, correspondence, minutes of tribal meetings, information related to federal and state oversight of the tribe, documents from the Indian Presbyterian Church, and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings. The finding aid describes the contents of folders contained in each of the three boxes that comprise the collection.

Sylestine interviewed members of the tribe and compiled their stories in a notebook. He also included a section on Indian medicines where he typed the various incantations used for treating wounds, crying babies, heart disease, and friendship. Recordings of stories and songs are part of his collection and have been digitized for research access.

Image: Pamphlet, Texas Indians: The Story of Indian Village and the Alabama Indians in Polk County, Texas on the Alabama-Coshatti Reservation by Anna Kilpatrick Fain, Livingston, Texas 1960. James Ludwell Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.


James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers [finding aid excerpts]

Biographical Sketch
James Ludwell Davis Sylestine was born on the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, near Livingston, Texas. He was an Alabama Indian, the son of former Chief Bronson Cooper Sylestine and Mossane Sylestine. He entered the military in 1943, served 31 months and fought in several Pacific engagements, including the battle for Luzon. After the war he attended college (Austin College in Sherman and the University of Texas at Austin) then entered the Austin Presbyterian Seminary. He withdrew from the seminary after several years and re-entered the military, where he spent more than 20 years before retiring. He died on January 29, 1990, at the age of 65 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Because James married a non-Indian (Mildred), he was not able to live on the reservation after his retirement (bylaws of the tribe state that if marrying a non-Indian you could not live on the reservation but were maintained on the off-reservation rolls). He maintained close contact with the tribes, serving as the secretary or chairman at some council meetings. He was also very active with the Indian Presbyterian Church, serving as an elder of the church. He periodically wrote articles concerning the tribes or reservation which were published in local newspapers, and he frequently wrote Congressmen or pertinent officials concerning legislation which would affect the tribes. He was a life-long student of the history of his people and spent a number of years compiling information to write a history on the Alabama-Coushatta, but he did not complete it before his death.


Folktales of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians by Howard Martin [1946]. James Ludwell Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.
“Constitution and By-laws of the Alabama and Coushatta Tribes of Texas,” August 19,1938. James Ludwell Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.

Scope and Contents of the Records
These records are the research files and writings of James Sylestine. They reflect historical and contemporary topics concerning the Alabama-Coushatta tribes and the reservation, including early interaction with white men, establishment of the reservation, tribal land claims, state and federal legislation affecting the tribes and/or reservation, state and federal trusteeship of the tribes, religion-including the work of early missionaries and establishment of the Indian Presbyterian Church, folklore, education on the reservation and in off-reservation schools, alcohol and health problems of the tribes, housing, tribal politics, military service of tribal members, oil and gas revenue, increasing the self-sufficiency of the tribes, and current issues facing other Indian tribes.

Minutes, tribal meeting, November 5, 1956. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.

These records consist of published and unpublished reports (some written by Sylestine, others by various authors), theses; correspondence, primarily between Sylestine and various state and federal officials and agencies; bylaws and charter of the Alabama-Coushatta tribes; minutes of Council meetings; articles, clippings, brochures and other printed materials; transcripts of historical documents; biographical sketches of several individuals (most are non-Indian and are connected to the Indian Presbyterian Church) maps and sketches of the reservation; transcripts of deeds; Attorney General opinions; church records; census rolls; copies of legislation; and reel-to-reel tapes of songs recorded in 1932 and stories told in 1962 by tribal members.

Report, “History and Present Way of Life of the Alabama and Coushatta Indians of Texas,” 1963. James Ludwell Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.

The last item in the collection is a compiled volume of documents and reports, containing transcripts of letters concerning the Alabama and/or Coushatta Indians; transcripts of early incidents on the reservation; reminiscences of tribal members; excerpts of the histories and lives of the Indians by Sylestine and others—including the condition and needs of the reservation, progress made, the 1936 elections, etc.; and minutes of the tribal and general council meetings.


Off-print, Senate Journal, February 25, 1936, cover. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.
Senate Resolution 204, tribute to Tic-Ca-Itche, Chief of the Alabama Indians after his passing in 1969. James Ludwell Davis Sylestine Papers. TSLAC.

Throughout his files he refers to the tribes by both the current tribal names—Alabama and Coushatta Indians—and by the more historic or “Indian” names—Albamo and Kossati Indians. These records date from the 1700s to 1989. Most files concern the period from 1900 to the mid 1980s.

Review the Detailed Description of the Records to learn more about the contents of the collection.


Researchers interested in access to the James Ludwell Sylestine Papers or other materials at the State Archives may contact the reference staff at ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455.

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Discoveries from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection at the Sam Houston Center

By Lisa Miesch, Archivist/Museum Curator, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center


Over a period of many years, Liberty, Texas resident and avocational archeologist Andrew James “Andy” Kyle (1915-2014) collected prehistoric artifacts from numerous sites in southeast Texas. He eventually amassed a collection of more than 30,000 prehistoric artifacts from 95 southeast Texas surface sites in nine counties, including Liberty, Polk, Jasper, Tyler, and Hardin Counties. In 1977, he donated his collection to the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center.

Surface collections such as Kyle’s make up much of the archeological record in Texas. Because of erosion and damage from modern construction activities, there is little information available from stratified or buried sites. While not as complete as that from stratified sites, data from surface sites can still be significant. This is especially the case with Kyle’s collection, as he painstakingly documented and recorded his discoveries by site. The sites represent an area between the Trinity and Sabine Rivers and are representative not only of southeast Texas archeology, but include Louisiana influences as well.

Points from the Andy Kyle Collection on display in the Sam Houston Center museum.

In 2017, as the Sam Houston Center was planning the renovation of its museum, the Center requested the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) to examine the Kyle collection and assist in identifying and selecting artifacts for a new exhibit on the prehistory of the Center’s ten-county region. During this process and during subsequent examination of the collection, HAS made numerous discoveries that have increased our knowledge of the earliest inhabitants of southeast Texas, and their investigation continues.

The majority of the artifacts consist of projectile points (stone tools used for arrows, spears, and darts and commonly known as “arrowheads”), but also included are cutting and scraping tools, drills, grinding stones, and pottery. A significant number of items were constructed from heat-treated petrified wood. They range from the Paleoindian (ca. 13,500-8,000 BP*) to the Late Prehistoric periods (ca. 1,400-500 BP).

One of the most significant discoveries from the collection was the presence of Paleoindian projectile points, including the bases of two broken Clovis points. These points are from the Wood Springs site, only 0.4 mile southeast of the Sam Houston Center. (Wood Springs is a minor tributary of the Trinity River). This site was likely a seasonal site for Clovis-era nomadic hunters following big game animals, as opposed to a permanent campsite. The site’s abundant water would have been attractive to humans and animals alike.

Clovis Point 1 (obverse)
Clovis Point 2 (obverse)

The points represent the first reported occurrence of the Clovis culture in Liberty County, documenting the earliest occupation of the area to at least 13,000 years ago. Seven additional artifacts of Clovis affinity from the Wood Springs site were also identified as well as two tooth fragments from a mastodon and a mammoth. Large mammals like mammoths and mastodons were hunted for food by the Clovis people. These animals went extinct about 10,000-11,000 years ago. The larger fragment is highly polished and may have served as a tool. All of these artifacts may be viewed in the museum’s prehistory exhibit.

Fragments of mastodon tooth.

[Images are taken from The Prehistory of Southeast Texas: Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.]

The Savoy site is another of the more prolific sites represented in the Kyle Collection. It is located about 2.6 miles southwest of the Moss Hill community in north-central Liberty County. Among the significant items from this site discovered in the collection by HAS members were 58 sherds from a large oval-shaped vessel, that Andy Kyle had bagged separately from all the other sherds he collected at that site. The sherds have sweeping curvilinear designs made by a bone or wood tool (“stamped”). Two large sections of the vessel were retrofitted by HAS members, which indicated a large oval-shaped bowl about 12 inches across.

Mabin Stamped var. Joe’s Bayou vessel

The sherds are from a “Mabin Stamped” vessel, an early ceramic type from the Woodland Period (2,000-1,400 BP). After extensive examination of the sherds’ decoration, the piece has been tentatively identified as “Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’s Bayou,” a rare variety of ceramics previously found at only five sites in eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi, adjacent to the Mississippi River. This marks the first known occurrence of this type outside the Lower Mississippi Valley as well as in the state of Texas. In each of the other cases, only a single sherd was found. Considering the number of sherds found and the likely size of the vessel, this piece in the Kyle collection represents the best-known example of this type of pottery. It is the only decorated piece of pottery in the entire Kyle collection. It was likely made in the Lower Mississippi Valley and traded or exchanged between various groups before ending up at the Savoy site. (This item is not currently on exhibit.)

Detail of stamping design on exterior of the vessel

[Images are taken from The Prehistory of Southeast Texas: Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.]

The Sam Houston Center’s museum is currently open by appointment only. Please call 936-336-8821 to reserve an appointment. For more information, please visit the Center’s web page at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/shc/index.html.

[*BP = “Before Present”] What do different date abbreviations mean? Crow Canyon Archaeological Center https://www.crowcanyon.org/

Sources:

Crook, Wilson W. III, ed., The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Houston Archeological Society, Report No. 29, 2017.

Crook, Wilson W. III et al., “A Rare Mabin Stamped, Var. Joe’s Bayou Vessel from the Savoy Site (41LB27), Liberty County, Texas,” The Journal 141: 53-61, Houston Archeological Society, 2019.

The Prehistory of Southeast Texas:  Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.

Research Topics at the State Archives: Subject Guide to Native American Resources

Unidentified American Indian women. Richard Niles Graham Collection, 1964/306-301. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The Texas State Archives maintains a wealth of material relating to the Native American peoples of Texas. The holdings, which range from the colonial era of Spanish rule during the eighteenth century through the years of the Republic and to the present day, depict the cultures and histories of those tribes which once resided, and in some instances still live, in Texas.

Rich collections such as the Nacogdoches Archives and the Texas Indian Papers provide narrative and statistical evidence concerning the encounters and varied relationships that colonists, settlers, and well-known historical figures had with the indigenous peoples of Texas. Other collections from the nineteenth century such as the Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers and the Andrew Jackson Houston Papers contain plentiful correspondence that details the differing perspectives of Mirabeau Lamar, Sam Houston, and other leaders concerning the status of Indians during and after the Republic.

Letter from Sam Houston to Captain of the Cherokee Rangers, September 23, 1836, authorizing him to recruit 25 Cherokees to range upon the Brazos, Page 1. Document 548, Andrew Jackson Houston collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Records produced by state agencies that provided economic and material aid to those tribes remaining in Texas following the nineteenth century are especially informative. The assistance provided by the State Board of Control and its successor, the Board for Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools, to help the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation gain economic sustenance and political control of their affairs from the early through the middle of the twentieth century is well documented, with correspondence and reports providing daily snapshots of the challenges and achievements stemming from this era.

Management of Native American reservations and other affairs in Texas during the later twentieth century can be found in the administrative, financial, and legal records of the Texas Indian Commission. The political emergence of the Tigua and Kickapoo Indians in Texas after decades of political neglect and administrative oversight, as well as the timely assistance provided to these tribes by the Commission, are just two of the compelling events recorded within the agency’s history.

Other collections in the State Archives provide records and materials that give glimpses into the cultures of the state’s tribes. One of the goals of the Texas Tourist Development Agency was to make various tourist attractions and facilities more widely known to the general population in and out of Texas; its visual records of Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua villages are instances of such an effort.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasstatearchives/35734347111/in/album-72157683441901183/
Tigua 0123, 1991/077-6, Audiovisual material, Texas Tourist Development Agency, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Another collection, the James L.D. Sylestine papers, contains considerable amounts of stories, legends, and songs from the Alabama and Coushatta tribes in both textual and audio form. Lastly, the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, a branch of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Liberty, Texas, has a large collection of arrowheads and spear-points from tribes that once lived in southeastern Texas; there are also collections of handcrafts and baskets made by the nearby Alabama-Coushatta tribe.

These collections and others with entries in this guide are just some of the larger and well-known holdings in the State Archives pertaining to Native American tribes in Texas. Additional collections are available at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), most available through this website, for those interested in accessing material not mentioned in this guide.

Artifacts at the Texas State Archives, pre-1900

Nacogdoches Archives, 1736-1838, bulk 1820-1836

The Indian Papers of Texas and the Southwest, 1825-1916, bulk 1838-1870

Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar papers, 1733-1859, bulk 1835-1841, 1857-1859

Andrew Jackson Houston papers, 1812-1941, bulk 1835-1859

Texas Secretary of State executive record books, 1835-1917

Texas Adjutant General’s Department biennial reports, 1870s-1880s

Captain John J. Dix papers, 1860-1928

Texas Department of Criminal Justice records, 1849-2004

James Ludwell Davis Sylestine papers, [17–]-1989, bulk 1900-1980s

Texas State Board of Control board members files, 1885-1890, 1917-1953, bulk 1920-1953

Texas State Board of Control building records and contracts, 1854, 1885, 1909-1949, 1967, undated, bulk 1920-1928

Texas Board for Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools records regarding Alabama-Coushatta Indians, 1938-1939, 1948-1965, bulk 1956-1964

Texas Indian Commission records, 1957-1989

Texas Department of Corrections photographs, about 1911-about 1985, undated, bulk about 1965-about 1980

Texas Secretary of State, Statutory Documents, deed files, 1848-1994, bulk 1928-1963

Texas Tourist Development Agency audiovisual material, about 1963-1987

Texas Historical Commission, Marketing Communications Division records, 1955-1998, 2002, undated

Texas Governor George W. Bush General Counsel’s legal opinions and advice, 1995-2000

Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center (SHRLRC) holdings related to Native Americans, about 10,000 BCE – 2000 CE, bulk about 10,000 BCE – 1800 CE

A “Subject Guide to Native American Holdings at the Texas State Archives, about 1700-2004” is available in full online at: https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/90021/tsl-90021.html#series1. For more information about the holdings at the State Archives and conducting research in our collections, contact the Reference Desk at ref@tsl.texas.gov or 512-463-5455.