Chief Oscola Clayton Sylestine, the principal chief of the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Tribe of Texas, succumbed to illness and passed away Thursday, Jan. 31. He will lie in state at the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, 17 miles east of Livingston, when all arrangements have been completed. He was 80 years old.
He was elected in 1992 and installed in a colorful traditional ceremony as the lifetime chief on Jan. 1, 1993. He was a third-generation descendant of Alabama Sub-Chief Colabe. He is survived by his wife, Ethelyn, two sons and two daughters, and numerous grandchildren.
He served the tribe in leadership for most of his adult life as an elected member of the Tribal Council serving as its chairman before becoming chief. He was also very active as an elder in the Indian Presbyterian Church. After a 17-year career with Champion International Paper, he retired in 1998.
His love for the culture of the tribe was evident as he gathered river cane from the river bottoms, splitting the cane and applying the intricate basket weaving methods passed down for generations. He passed on his skills by conducting basket-weaving classes in his later years.
He was a great warrior on the basketball court and softball diamond. He excelled in basketball while attending Big Sandy School. During the height of independent fast pitch softball leagues in East Texas, he was affectionately known as “Smiley.” The mention of his name as the pitcher brought uneasiness to opponents who had to challenge his rising fastball. He was a premier fast pitch softball pitcher of his generation.
In speaking on behalf of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, Tribal Council Chairman Kyle Williams said, “This truly is a sad occasion and day, not only for our tribe but for all tribal nations, the citizens of both the state of Texas and this great nation. Chief Oscola actively represented the tribe at numerous cultural and social events while promoting a better understanding of the tribe’s rich history and heritage.”