The once majestic Treaty Oak is located in a small city park in Austin, Texas close to the east bank of the Colorado River. Believed to be more than 500 years old, the Treaty Oak is the only survivor of a group of live oaks, referred to as the “Council Oaks”. Sacred to the Comanche and Tonkowa Indians, these trees saw peace and war parties initiated. Religious ceremonies were held in which the acorns of the tree were used to make a special tea. It was believed that the tea protected warriors in battle.
Legend has it that Stephen Austin signed the first treaty between the Anglos and the Indians, setting up boundaries between the two in the 1830s. At one point, the tree spanned 127 feet in diameter and was a witness to naps, picnics, feasts, proposals, marriages and more. It is believed that Sam Houston sat underneath the tree after he was expelled from the governor’s office at the start of the Civil War.
In 1927, the Treaty Oak was nominated into the American Forests’ Hall of Fame for Trees in Washington, D.C. It was considered the perfect specimen of a North American tree. It had been owned since the 1880s by the Caldwell family. In 1926 W.H. Caldwell’s widow offered the land for sale for $7,000. Finally, in 1937, the City of Austin purchased the land for $1,000 and installed a plaque honoring the tree’s place in Texas history.
In 1989, the Treaty Oak was poisoned by a troubled young man who wanted to hold onto his girlfriend. He thought that if he killed the spirit of the tree the girl would not seek out another man. The poison was a powerful hardwood herbicide called Velpar. Lab tests showed that there was enough herbicide used to kill 100 trees. When people learned that the Treaty Oak was ill, they sprang into action. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot wrote a blank check to fund efforts to save the tree.
The vandal was caught after DuPont, the makers of Velpar, issued a $10,000 reward to capture the poisoner. His name was Paul Cullen and he was sentenced to nine years in prison for his crime. Arborists feared the tree would die; but, with lots of loving care, it survived. Many limbs had to be pruned and the tree is not as big as it once was. However, it’s survived and in 1997 it began to yield acorns again. The acorns were collected and germinated. In 1999, the baby Treaty Oaks found homes in Texas and other states thus ensuring that the Treaty Oak will survive in the future.
Today, the Treaty Oak survives and is a symbol of strength and endurance. It’s estimated that about 1/3 of the original tree remains. What has survived is strong and may thrive for another 500 years. The Treaty Oak is on the east side of Baylor Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. There’s a marker erected in front of the tree.
Does your tree need some TLC? Contact Austin Tree Service today. We’ll be happy to come out and take a look.