FAMOUS TREES OF TEXAS – THE REPUBLIC
Texas declared its independence on March 2, 1836, at Washington (on-the-Brazos). The Republic lasted almost a decade but was annexed in 1845 by the United States. The history of the Lone Star State can be found deep within the roots of the trees that witnessed countless battles.
These 11 trees played a role in the early history of Texas, leaving us with a glimpse into the struggles of those before us.
Deaf Smith Oak
High up in the Deaf Smith Oak, Erastus “Deaf” Smith spied on Mexican troops which camped on Cibolo Creek.
A few days earlier, on October 2, 1835, a small force of Mexican troops attempted to retrieve a cannon from the Texans at Gonzales but were put to fight in the first battle of the Texas Revolution. After hearing of this incident, Mexican Colonel Ugartachea, proceeded to Gonzales to recapture the fieldpiece and “erase the insult” to Mexican authority which the rebels had committed.
On October 10, Stephen F. Austin arrived at Gonzales and was elected commander-in-chief by the army. Deaf Smith was one of the first to enlist in Austin’s army of Texans. Being thoroughly familiar with every part of the country between San Antonio and Gonzales, he was a logical choice to scout the Mexican Army in advance.
The Deaf Smith Oak is located on private property, near the town of La Vernia. Click here to learn more information on the Deaf Smith Oak.
Ben Milam Cypress
According to legend, a Mexican sniper under the command of General Martin Prefecto de Cos shot Benjamin R. Milam from the Ben Milam Cypress, on the night of December 7, 1835.
Colonel Milam had escaped from imprisonment in Mexico early in October 1835 and joined General Edward Burleson’s volunteers as a private in their fight to oust General Cos from San Antonio. Milam called for volunteers to follow him to take on this town. About 300 responded and early the next morning an advance began which ended in victory 6 days later.
During the difficult house-to-house fighting, Milam entered the backyard between the Veramendi Palace and the river to confer with Francis W. Johnson. As he crossed the high-walled courtyard, he was shot in the head and instantly died.
The Ben Milam Cypress, which was used by a Mexican sniper to kill Texans as they came to the river for water, is one of the tallest of the old Veramendi Palace. The tree still stands today at the intersection of the San Antonio River the Riverwalk. Click here to read more about the Ben Milam Cypress.
Near the east bank of Salado Creek at a point midway between two of the most important early roads in Texas, stands an ancient live oak tree known as the Burnt Oak. Its branches may have felt the brush of Spanish leather and the sting of rifles during Texas’ struggle for independence.
Shortly after the first battle of the Texas Revolution ended at Gonzales on October 2, 1835, the newly formed Texas Army, under the command of Stephen F. Austin, left Gonzales and headed for San Antonio to drive Mexican troops out of Texas. Austin and his force of about 600 men camped on Salado Creek, a few miles east of San Antonio, to wait for reinforcements. The Texas camp is believed to have been somewhere near the Burnt Oak.
The Burnt Oak is located about 300 yards north of where East Southcross Boulevard crosses Salado Creek, in San Antonio. For more information on the Burnt Oak click here.
The Mission Anaqua lays claim to fame partly because until 1976 it was the largest of its kind on record in the country. It also played a small role in the early history of Texas.
In early December 1835, Dr. James Grant persuaded about 200 Texans to embark on an attack against the rich Mexican settlement at Matamoros, after his large estate had been confiscated. Sam Houston was not in agreement with the removal of his troops and supplies, so he rode to Goliad to confront the issue and persuaded only 30 men to return to Bexar.
On January 17, Houston went to Refugio and tried once again to stop the expedition. Near the Mission Anaqua, which stands at the site of the original Refugio Mission on the north bank of the Mission River, Houston spoke to Grant’s men, only some agreed to wait.
The Mission Anaqua was situated immediately behind Our Lady of Refuge Church in Refugio. Click here for more information on the history of the Mission Anaqua.
Early in March 1836 Mexican General Urrea approached within sight of Refugio Mission and set up headquarters near the Urrea Oaks to prepare to take the town.
Colonel James W. Fannin immediately dispatched Captain Amon B. King and about 30 men to bring the colonists of Urrea to Goliad. On the morning of March 11, King found the frightened colonists and moved them to the Refugio Mission while under attack by a small force of Urrea’s calvary. Fannin immediately sent Lieutenant-Colonel William Ward and his Georgie Battalion.
In the middle of the night, King and his Texans were able to sneak out and cross the river, however the next day they were discovered by the Mexicans and forced to surrender. King and his men were executed, and a week later Ward and his men surrendered to Urrea at Las Juntas. Except for the surgeons and hospital attendants, all were sent to Goliad and, with the captured Fannin and his men, were massacred on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836.
The Urrea Oaks are still standing today, a mile southwest of Our Lady of Refuge Church in Refugio. Read more about the Urrea Oaks here.
Sam Houston Oak
At the foot of the Sam Houston Oak, on March 13, 1836, General Sam Houston and a force of less than 400 Texans camped on the first night of their historic retreat from Gonzales.
It was a time when the life of the young Republic seemed to be declining rapidly. At sunrise on March 14, 1836, Houston mounted his horse under the Sam Houston Oak and told his men that those who saw fit to stay behind must suffer the consequences. He and his men continued east to the Brazos and then south to engage Santa Anna in the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1846. This was just 46 days after the fall of the Alamo.
The Sam Houston Oak is still standing tall today and can be seen off County Road 361. Click here to read more about the Sam Houston Oak.
The Orozimbo Oak once shaded the two-story plantation home of Dr. James A. F. Phelps, a member of Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” Colony.
It was at the Phelps’ home at Orozimbo, about ten miles northeast of West Columbia, that Santa Anna and members of his staff were held five months as prisoners after the Battle of San Jacinto. At Orozimbo, Santa Anna and his officers, although closely guarded by about 20 men, enjoyed their only peace while imprisoned. In their leisure hours they no doubt enjoyed the cool shade provided by the Orozimbo Oak.
Santa Anna’s treatment by the Phelps at Orozimbo must have been kind, for in 1843 when Phelps’ son, Orlando, was among the Texans captured on the Mier Expedition and later imprisoned at Salado, Santa Anna, learning who he was, arranged for his release and provided him money and safe conduct to Texas. Notable visitors to Orozimbo during Santa Anna’s stay included Stephen F. Austin, on July 1, 1836, and Sam Houston, in October of the same year.
A fire set by campers in 1981 destroyed the Orozimbo Oak and all that remains is a stone monument dedicated to Dr. Phelps, his plantation and the tree. Read more about the Orozimbo Oak here.
On January 14, 1839, when the city of Houston was the capitol of the Republic of Texas, an Act of the Texas Congress directed Sam Houston’s successor, President Mirabeau B. Lamar, to select the site for a new capitol at a point between the Trinidad and Colorado Rivers, above the San Antonio Road.
Lamar’s Capitol Commission chose Waterloo, situated on the east bank of the Colorado in Bastrop County. Judge Edwin Waller, a veteran of the War for Texan Independence, was appointed as agent for the Republic. His charge was to lay out the capital city, which was to be named in honor of Stephen F. Austin, set aside the most valuable lots for the capital and governmental buildings and sell no more than half of the remaining lots at public auction.
In the shade of the Auction Oaks, located near Durham’s Spring, Sheriff Charles King of Bastrop, acting as auctioneer, sold 301 city lots for a total of $182,585. The Auction Oaks are in downtown Austin at Republic Square. Click here for more information on the Auction Oaks.
Houston Campsite Oak
During his final term as President of the Texas Republic, one of Sam Houston’s major concerns was Indian relations. In 1843, a Grand Council of the Tribes, comprised of Native American chiefs, Texas President Sam Houston and several of his agents, arranged to meet at Grapevine Springs to negotiate terms of the first peace treaty between the Republic of Texas and Native Americans.
For weeks, Houston and his men camped while waiting for chiefs and commissioners to arrive. Between the campground and the springs, a large post oak, known as the Houston Campsite Oak, dominated the landscape.
The Houston Campsite Oak is the crown jewel of what is now Grapevine Springs Park. Its leafy canopy filters sunlight, twinkling hues of green and gold. The Houston Campsite Oak continues to reign over the landscape as modern Texans hold council beneath its canopy. For more information on the history of the Houston Campsite Oak click here.
Zachary Taylor Oak
On July 23, 1845, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, commander of the U.S. Army of Occupation, left New Orleans with eight companies of the Third Infantry. His orders were to proceed to Texas and wait there until the Texas Convention had accepted the annexation resolution of the U.S. Congress. He was then to proceed to the western border of Texas, take up a position on or near the Rio Grande and expel any Mexican force that attempted to cross into Texas.
On July 25, the Alabama dropped anchor off St. Joseph Island. By the following evening, three companies of troops had landed, and a small U.S. flag was flying from the top of a sandhill—the first ever raised by United States authority in Texas.
General Taylor and his men are believed to have camped beneath the Zachary Taylor Oak until his return to St. Joseph Island and his subsequent successful trip to Corpus Christi in September. The Zachary Taylor Oak is still standing today, in what is now known as Rockport. Click here for more information on the Zachary Taylor Oak.
Which Way Tree
During the Texas Revolution, after the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston and his army fled to the east to retreat from Santa Anna’s advancing troops and to regroup.
The road east from Washington-on-the-Brazos forked at the settlement of New Kentucky. One road led to the Trinity and the Sabine rivers, the other to Harrisburg (known as Houston today).
Houston and his men stopped there on April 16, 1836. Near the junction stood a large oak tree, known as the Which Way Tree, with limbs pointing in each direction. One branch pointed northeast to safety beyond the Trinity and Sabine rivers. The other branch pointed to Harrisburg and to war.
As his men took a midday rest beneath the Which Way Tree, Houston considered those roads and reviewed his options. As the story goes, Houston supposedly looked at the tree and found his answer. That road led the ragtag little army to victory at San Jacinto just five days later and the Republic of Texas was born.
The Which Way Tree stands there today in a small commemorative park, offering a rest spot for modern day picnickers. Read more on the Which Way Tree here.