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Famous Trees of Texas – Crime and Punishment

Hanging trees, iconic symbols of the Wild West, abound across the state. Some were used repeatedly, others just once. Their stories are always tragic. Such trees, unwilling participants in justice were sturdy enough to support the weight of a man and all too handy for quickly carrying out frontier justice.

These 10 trees were well-known for their role in the frontier justice system, with some still standing today.

Cart War Oak

In 1857, Texan teamsters had been hauling freight from the port at Indianola to San Antonio and other interior towns. They quickly began to despise the competing Mexican cartmen for stealing business due to lower prices. The Texans began attacking the Mexican cartmen as they passed through Goliad with their loaded wagons. After a short series of attacks, Mexican cartmen began using a new route.

Deprived of their easy source of revenue, local citizens, the “cart-cutters,” began robbing them. Once the word spread of such events, Judge Lynch took matters into his own hands and brought the “cart-cutters” to trial.

The Cart War Oak was the site of the court sessions. Its huge horizontal limbs served as ready-made gallows for the swift conduct of capital sentences passed by those early courts. Several of the cart-cutting outlaws alternately cursed and prayed as they left this world at the end of the hangman’s knotted rope.

Its use as a “hanging tree” now over, the Cart War Oak continues to provide residents and visitors a spot of shade in which to rest and reminisce with friends, in Goliad. Read more about the Cart War Oak here.

Cart War Oak

Bandera Hanging Tree

The tombstone reads: “Remember, friends, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you soon will be; prepare for death and follow me.” Above this inscription are the names of eight Williamson County men who lie beneath it in a common grave. They were victims of a brutal and senseless murder by members of a detachment of Confederate cavalry.

In mid-July 1863 a group of eight men and a boy paused in Bandera on their journey from Williamson County to Mexico to avoid conscription into the Confederate ranks. The Williamson County group was overtaken and promised a fair trial if they returned peaceably, so they surrendered.

Late in the afternoon of July 25, they made camp under a large live oak southwest of Bandera. A suggestion to hang the “traitors” was generally approved and soon put into action. One at a time, the men were pulled up by the neck and left to slowly strangle to death on the Bandera Hanging Tree. One pleaded that he be shot rather than hung, and the murderers obliged to shoot him instead.

The Bandera Hanging Tree is located on the Hanging Tree Ranch south of Bandera. Read more about the famous tree here.

Bandera Hanging Tree

Page’s Tree

This towering post oak, now known as Page’s Tree, was in its prime when it was selected, more than a century ago, to serve the cause of frontier justice for the early settlers of Red River County.

Page’s Tree’s first recorded service came in 1837 when a man named Page and his son were hung from one of its sturdy limbs. When Captain Charles Burkham and Levi Davis, settlers from the Avery area, failed to return from a search for some runaway slaves, their friends set out to find them. On questioning a man riding Burkham’s mule, they learned that he had bought it from Page. When the group took Page, his son, a son-in-law and a Mexican hand into custody, the Mexican confessed that Burkham and Davis had been murdered. During their trial by the vigilance committee in Clarksville, Page’s son told the “whole” story and all four men were hung.

Page’s Tree was used many times as an instrument of final judgment and as a threat to others. W. E. Bowers, a noted historian, brought to light this tree’s historic contributions to justice on the Texas frontier. Page’s Tree can be found in the old Clarksville Cemetary, in Clarksville. Read more about Page’s Tree here.

Page's Tree

Columbus Court Oak

It was under the generous branches of this majestic live oak, now known as the Columbus Court Oak, that the first term of the Colorado County District Court, under the Republic of Texas, was convened in April 1837 by the Honorable Robert McAlpin Williamson.

The first recorded case tried under this venerable tree occurred on May 17, 1839, and affords an example of early frontier justice. Before the Honorable District Judge James W. Robinson appeared William Bibbs. The charge was grand larceny. After hearing the indictment, Bibbs “plead guilty, and threw himself upon the mercy of the court.” Judge Robinson decreed that “the prisoner should receive on this day 39 lashes on his bare back, branded on the right hand with the letter “T” and pay the cost of suit or be kept in custody until he did pay the said cost.

The Columbus Court Oak’s stump can be found in the middle of the street next to the Colorado County Courthouse. Read more about the famous tree here.

Columbus Court Oak

Whipping Oak

On the north edge of Central Park in Seguin, across from the Guadalupe County courthouse, stands a group of live oak trees. At least one of the oaks was used by early courts in the administration of punishment by the lash and is now referred to as the Whipping Oak.

Runaway slaves, thieves and wife-beaters were among those who received such punishment. On the side of one oak a 3-inch iron ring, still usable, is embedded in the tree about five feet from the ground. It was to this ring that the prisoners were tied for punishment. The precise way they were secured is not known, but the number of lashes was always prescribed by the court.

One court in 1846 assessed the following sentence: “… as many licks as a certain settler had given his wife.” Sometimes the sheriff wielded the whip and sometimes the court hired someone at so much a lash. The tree is mute evidence of early pioneer justice.

The Whipping Oak still stands today, close to the Guadalupe County courthouse. Click here for more information on the Whipping Oak.

Whipping Oak

Kyle Hanging Tree

Sometime in the late 1840s, long before the town of Kyle came into existence, some cowboys from the Kyle Ranch were rounding up stray cows, when they discovered a man hanging from a limb of a live oak, about a quarter mile from Colonel Claiborne Kyle’s home.

Not knowing the man’s identity or why he had been hanged, they cut the body down and buried it beside this tree in an unmarked grave. In 1849, Willie Parks, an orphan boy whom Kyles had befriended, was also buried near the tree that is now known as the Kyle Hanging Tree.

Later Colonel Kyle donated, as a community cemetery, the 15-acre plot of ground in which lie these graves. This cemetery also contains the remains of some of the earliest settlers of Hays County, including Colonel John Bunton, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence; Major Edward Burleson, a veteran of the Mexican War; and Colonel Kyle’s son, Captain Ferguson Kyle, for whom the town of Kyle was named.

The Hanging Tree is in the Kyle City Cemetery. A marker “Kyle Hanging Tree” has been installed at the base of the tree beside the headstone of Wm. Melton. Learn more about the famous tree here.

Kyle Hanging Tree

Pioneer Oak

The magnificent Pioneer Oak is a sister to the oak under which District Judge O. M. Roberts convened the first session of the Third Judicial Court, on October 2, 1850.

At the close of the first day of that historic session, Judge Roberts had the following statement entered in the records: “This court is being held under the shade of an oak tree near the center of the public square in Athens, which public authorities are requested to preserve as a memorial to the habits of the early Texans.”

In 1886, the courthouse was destroyed by a fire, which also killed the historic oak. Citizens in Athens fashioned from one of the limbs a walking stick with a golden head and presented it to Judge Roberts, who by that time was Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. When Roberts became governor of Texas, he presented the cane to the Texas Archives, where it is today.

The 117th anniversary of that first district court session was commemorated on October 2, 1967, when District Court Judge Wayne Lawrence convened his court under the Pioneer Oak to dedicate a historic marker designating this tree as the “Pioneer Oak” and thus perpetuated Judge Roberts’ “memorial to the early Texans.”

The age of this giant was estimated at 320 years in 1997 upon its death and removal following road expansion. Read more about the Pioneer Oak here.

Pioneer Oak

Tombstone Oak

The Tombstone Oak was the tombstone for John King Fisher, one of the most feared bad men of Southwest Texas, for 75 years before his burial site was moved.

On April 7, 1876, Fisher and nine of his associates were arrested by Texas Ranger Captain L. H. McNelly and taken to Eagle Pass to stand trial. On the trip, Captain McNelly gave the young desperado a talk which apparently caused him to change his evil ways.

Around 1883, a reformed Fisher moved his family to Uvalde and assumed the duties of deputy sheriff and tax collector.

When the city of Uvalde put a street through its cemetery, graves on the east side of North Park Street were moved to a new section, designated Pioneer Cemetery. King Fisher’s grave was located after one of Uvalde’s senior citizens remembered marking an old oak tree at the time of Fisher’s burial. He was then moved to Pioneer cemetery where an iron fence and marker identify the new grave of this remarkable young Texan who died with his law boots on.

Click here to read more about the Tombstone Oak.

Tombstone Oak

Hallettsville Hanging Tree

In the shade of the Hallettsville Hanging Tree, an Indian called “Pocket” was hung in 1878 for murdering an Englishman named Leonard Hyde.

On February 14, 1878, while under the influence of “firewater,” Pocket went on a rampage in Hallettsville, hollering and racing his horse through town. At the home of Frank Edwards, a former slave, Pocket proceeded to terrorize the Edwards women. Finally, Edwards knocked him down. Pocket got up and left but threatened to return and kill Edwards.

Pocket galloped to the L. D. Peterson ranch, about five miles west of town, where he asked to borrow a shotgun to “kill some turkeys he had seen near the road.” When a man helping Mr. Peterson shuck corn, Leonard Hyde, insisted on helping Pocket with the turkeys, Pocket shot Hyde in the head with the pistol, killing him instantly.

Pocket was arrested later and returned to Hallettsville to stand trial. A jury found him guilty and condemned him to death by hanging. An account of the hanging which appeared in the Galveston News stated that a crowd of several thousand men and women witnessed the event at the Shooting Match Grounds, on September 12, 1879.

The Hallettsville Hanging Tree is in what is now City Park in Hallettsville. Click here to read more.

Hallettsville Hanging Tree

Center Hanging Oak

Every Texas county has had its acts of violence, including the once popular “necktie parties,” and Shelby County is no exception. The county’s last two hangings of record occurred in the 1920s and both were accomplished from the same limb of a giant southern red oak tree, known as the Center Hanging Oak, on the courthouse square in Center.

Both victims were teenage Black youth who were accused of murder. In April 1920, Lige Daniels, age about 18, reportedly beat a woman, landing him in jail. When the sheriff left town, a mob broke Daniels out of jail and drug him to the big oak. As superstition would have it, the limb from which Daniels was hung later died. The second hanging, in 1928, brought death to 18-year-old Eolis “Buddy” Evans. Evans presumably hit John T. Wheeler, a Center resident, on the head with a piece of lumber, and Wheeler died. After escaping several times, Evans was eventually caught by the mob and hanged from the same branch Daniels was hung from.

The dead limb was collected later by a Center craftsman, who made gavels of the wood, some of which are still in use. The tree itself died in 1990 and was removed. Read more about the Center Hanging Oak here.


Center Hanging Oak


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