Throughout history, trees have been icons of past events that have shaped Texas. While some are gone, some of these trees still stand tall and give us a glimpse into the history of our state.
By the time Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 into what we now call Texas, numerous indigenous tribes had called this area home. These early groups set the example for future residents, developing and refining the reputation of Texas tenacity.
These are the trees that tell that story …
Goose Island Oak
On the Texas Gulf Coast, protected from man but not from the elements of nature, is one of the largest live oak trees in Texas – the Goose Island Oak. In the 1960s, it was recognized by American Forests as the largest live oak in the United States.
In 1966 the Goose Island Oak measured 421-1/4 inches in circumference, was 44 feet tall and had a crown spread of 89 feet, with an estimated age of 1,100 years old.
The mammoth live oak is sometimes referred to as the “Bishop’s Tree,” because a Catholic bishop’s home or chapel stood nearby the abandoned townsite of Lamar.
The tree now is simply known as the “Big Tree” and is located at Goose Island State Park near Rockport. Click here for more information on the Goose Island Oak.
In a small city park in Austin, near the east bank of the Colorado River, stands a stately live oak tree known as the Treaty Oak. For centuries, its spreading branches have observed indigenous war councils and dances, religious ceremonies, important conferences and the signings of pacts and treaties.
The tree is the only survivor of a group of live oaks known as the “Council Oaks,” under which Stephen F. Austin signed the first boundary-line agreement – an imaginary line running north and south through the heart of the group of oaks dividing the territory. In 1937, the tree was in danger of being removed by its owner, so the City of Austin purchased the site and dedicated it as a city park.
The Treaty Oak is believed to be more than 500 years old. Click here to learn more about the Treaty Oak.
Indian Marker Tree
The Indian Marker tree, a live oak along the Hamilton Creek in Burnet, has an unusual shape that is a living memorial to the Comanche Indians. The Comanches spent their summers on the high plains of the Panhandle and their winters in Mexico. As they passed through Central Texas each fall, one of their favorite camping spots was along Hamilton Creek, which flows through the town of Burnet.
According to accounts of early settlers, the Indians would come in the night and set up their teepees along the creek. After a stay, they would pack up and leave just as they had come. The Indians liked Hamilton Creek, not only for its flow of clear, sweet water, but also for the bountiful native pecan trees that lined its banks.
Along the trail, a sapling-size tree was bent to the ground and tied down to serve as a marker. As it grew, it maintained the horizontal position. Such is the position of the live oak on Hamilton Creek – a living monument of the presence of these early residents.
Under the historic Kissing Oak, which stands on the west bank of the San Marcos River, Senator Sam Houston made one of his more than 60 campaign addresses in a race against Hardin R. Runnels.
Houston was welcomed with open arms during his gala visit on July 24, 1857. Several young ladies in the community pooled their talents and made a Texas flag for the senator prior to his speech. When he had finished his address, Houston went into the crowd to shake hands with his listeners. When he reached the ladies who had given him the flag, he kissed them with appreciation.
After this incident, the tree under which Houston had given his speech became known as the Kissing Oak. The Kissing Oak is still standing today and can be visited on the edge of the parking lot for the River Lodge office of Texas State University.
Near the corner of Gonzales and Travis streets in the city of Seguin stand several large live oak trees, known as the Ranger Oaks. These oak trees provided shelter to some of the forerunners of today’s famed Texas Rangers, dating back to 1828.
The live oak, walnut and pecan trees were landmarks to early settlers and a lodging area to these roving defenders of the frontier as they patrolled the area between Gonzales and San Antonio de Bexar. John Coffee “Jack” Hays, a resident of Seguin and one of Texas’ most well-known Ranger commanders, also camped out in the shade of these trees.
Bailey’s Oak watches over the unmarked grave of James Briton “Brit” Bailey (1779-1833). Bailey moved to Brazoria from Tennessee in the fall of 1832 and began building a home. Shortly after, Brit Bailey died and was buried in the grove near the home per his request.
According to his family, his ghost moved across the prairie at night in the form of a fireball searching for a jug of whiskey. The legend of Bailey’s light persists, and there are those still living in the area who have reported seeing it on multiple occasions.
All evidence of Bailey’s homesite has long since disappeared except for Bailey’s Oak. For more information on Bailey’s Oak, click here.
Freedmen’s Bois d’Arc
In the shade of the Freedmen’s Bois d’Arc, which grew in front of the plantation home of John B. Sweeny Jr., masters and slaves from 14 plantations in western Brazoria County assembled in 1865.
The meeting was called by the local agent of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands for the Purpose of freeing the slaves and informing them of their rights and responsibilities as free men. Each former slave was given an opportunity to continue working for his former master; however, he could also leave and find work elsewhere as long as he did not abandon his wife and children.
The last surviving Freedmen’s Bois d’Arc died in 2011. Its trunk serves as a monument to this memorable and historic event.
Indian Mound Oak
The towering southern red oak tree, known as the Indian Mound Oak, guarded the last of four prehistoric Indian mounds near the center of Nacogdoches, Texas. Deep in the mists of unrecorded history, an unknown Indian tribe constructed this mound with sticks and stones, animal bones and clam shells.
Some of the larger mounds took several years to build; however, this one is only about six feet tall and probably required much less time.
The Indian Mound Oak was removed due to poor health in the 1980s and has been replaced with a smaller water oak. Click here for more information on the Indian Mound Oak.
Houston Campaign Oak
In 1849, Texas’ first president, Sam Houston, was busy campaigning for a second term in the U.S. Senate and on June 24, under the Houston Campaign Oak, proclaimed his platform to the citizens of Harrison County.
Houston delivered another speech under the shade of the Houston Campaign Oak on June 12, 1857. In the following weeks, Houston conducted a whirlwind campaign, in which he traveled to nearly 50 Texas towns.
The Houston Campaign Oak was in Marshall; however, it is no longer living. For more information on the history of the Houston Campaign Oak, click here.
The Hubbard Ginkgo, an immense Ginko biloba, stands on the lawn of the city hall in Tyler. The tree was brought from Japan by Ambassador Richard Bennett Hubbard and planted in 1889.
The Hubbard Ginkgo is a living fossil as the only living member of the Ginkgoaceae family of plants, which otherwise became extinct in early geological times. The tree is about 80 feet tall and appears to be in good health, other than a large scar on one side caused by a stroke of lightning years ago.
Hubbard brought two of these seedling trees to Texas in 1889. He planted one on the lawn of the governor’s mansion in Austin and gave the other to his friend Colonel John H. Brown, who planted his seedling in his front yard. The Brown property was later acquired by the City of Tyler as the location for its city hall. This tree still stands today near the southeast corner of the city hall.
Peach Point Oaks
Stephen F. Austin’s love for trees and plants is manifested in letters he wrote to his beloved sister Emily and her husband, James Franklin Perry, after they moved to Texas in 1831. It was Austin’s fondest dream to establish his sister near him in Texas.
Peach Point, a beautiful spot between the San Bernard and Brazos rivers, was his choice of a homesite for them and it was there that the Perrys built their home. In his letters, Austin urged Perry to “save the live oaks round the yard and the pecan trees.” This same love of trees is evidenced by the actions of Austin’s nephew, Stephen Samuel Perry, who as master of Peach Point planted a live oak tree on the front lawn when each of his children was born.
Although the great storms of 1900 and 1909 destroyed all but the northernmost portion of the “big house” that Austin had designed, two of Stephen Perry’s oaks, the Peach Point Oaks, stand as memorials of his love for his children and of his love for the trees and beauty of historic Peach Point.
In 1915, Richard F. Burges brought a live oak sapling, later known as the Burges Oak, from California and planted it in his El Paso yard against the common wisdom of the day that oak trees could not survive the harsh desert climate.
That same year, Burges introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to create a state agency to govern and nurture the forests of Texas. With the support of forestry advocates, the bill to create the Texas Forest Service was passed and signed into law.
With the same commitment he had to all his causes, Burges nurtured the Burges Oak to maturity. El Paso residents followed suit and soon trees were thriving throughout the city. The Burges Oak remains a testament to the tenacity of live oaks and early residents of Texas. The tree stands today in the front yard of the Burges House, home of the El Paso County Historical Society.
The Washington Elm, which once stood on the state capitol grounds in Austin, was planted in 1932 to commemorate the 200th birthday of George Washington.
In Cambridge Massachusetts, on July 3, 1775, under the grandparent of this tree, Washington first took command of the American Army. It was also where the original Stars and Stripes were presented to his troops.
Sadly, the Washington Elm was removed in 2000 due to storm damage and advanced decay. There is now a marker there that reads: “Washington first took command of the American Army under the grandparent of the elm at Cambridge, Mass., July 3, 1775. Raised and given by Maryland DAR, marked by Texas DAR. This tree is planted as part of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of George Washington, 1732-1932.”