Treaty Oak (Austin, Texas)

Treaty Oak (Austin, Texas)

The Treaty Oak, a once-majestic Southern live oak in Austin, Texas, is the last surviving member of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 trees that served as a sacred meeting place for Comanche and Tonkawa Tribes. Forestry experts estimate the Treaty Oak to be about 500 years old and, before its vandalism in 1989, the tree's branches had a spread of 127 feet. The tree is located in Treaty Oak Park, on Baylor Street between 5th and 6th Streets.

History and legends


A Native American legend holds that the Council Oaks were a location for the launching of war and peace parties. Legends also hold that women of the Tejas Tribe would drink a tea made from honey and the acorns of the oaks to ensure the safety of warriors in battle ref num|parks_and_registration|2.

According to popular local folklore and the inscription on the plaque at the tree's base, in the 1830s, Stephen F. Austin, the leader of the Austin Colony, met local Native Americans in the grove to negotiate and sign Texas' first boundary treaty after two children and a local judge had been killed in raids. No historical documentation exists to support this event actually taking place. Folklore also holds that Sam Houston rested beneath the Treaty Oak after his expulsion from the Governor's office at the start of Texas' involvement in the American Civil War ref num|steinhardt|1.


The Council Oaks fell victim to neglect and Austin's development. By 1927, only one of the original 14 trees remained. The American Forestry Association proclaimed the tree as the most perfect specimen of a North American tree, and inducted the Treaty Oak into its Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.

Since the 1880s, the tree had been privately owned by the Caldwell family in Austin. Because she could no longer afford to pay property taxes on the land, in 1926 the widow of W. H. Caldwell offered the land for sale for $7,000. While local historical groups urged the Texas Legislature to buy the land, no funds were appropriated. In 1937, the City of Austin purchased the land for $1,000 and installed a plaque honoring the tree's role in Texas history.

Poisoning and recovery

In 1989, in an act of deliberate vandalism, the tree was poisoned with the powerful hardwood-herbicide, Velpar. Lab tests showed the quantity of herbicide used would have been sufficient to kill 100 trees.ref|steinhardt The incident sparked community outrage, national news reports, and a torrent of home-made "Get Well" cards from children that were displayed on the fence around the park. Texas industrialist and former Reform Party candidate for U.S. President, Ross Perot wrote a 'blank check' to fund efforts to save the tree.ref|parks_and_recreation DuPont, the herbicide manufacturer, established a $10,000 reward to capture the poisoner. The vandal, Paul Cullen, was apprehended after reportedly bragging about poisoning the tree as a means of casting a spell.ref|news_8_austin Cullen was convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to serve nine years in prison.

The intensive efforts to save the Treaty Oak included the replacement of soil around its roots and the installation of a system to mist the tree with spring water. Although arborists expected the tree to die, the Treaty Oak survived. However, almost two-thirds of the tree died and more than half of its crown had to be pruned.


In 1997, the Treaty Oak produced its first crop of acorns since the vandalism. City workers gathered and germinated the acorns, distributing the seedlings throughout Texas and other states.ref|1000 Today the tree is a thriving, but lopsided reminder of its once-grand form. Many Texans see the Treaty Oak today as a symbol of strength and endurance.


#cite web
author=Mary A. Steinhardt
title=The Story of Treaty Oak

#cite web
title=Treaty Oak History
work=Austin Parks and Recreation
publisher=City of Austin

#cite news
title=Writing Austin's Lives: Saving Treaty Oak
publisher=News 8 Austin
date=November 16, 2004

#cite web
title=A Thousand Trees for Texas

External links

*Handbook of Texas|id=TT/tpt1|name=Treaty Oak
* [ Treaty Oak] from
* [ The Treaty Oak in Austin, Texas]

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