Monday, December 14, 2015

Texas Trees - Some Famous and Some NOT

This is a list of Famous and NOT so Famous Trees that my wife and I have visited in Texas over the years. Most of the information used for this site is from the Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas. All photos on this website are copyrighted by me, unless otherwise noted, and may not be used without permission.

Several of the trees on this list were added by myself because I considered them noteworthy.


Trees with the Blue and Green icon are trees that are publicly accessible. The Green icons are trees that we have visited. The Yellow icons are trees that are alive, but are on private property. The Red icon is for trees that have died.

San Bernard Oak

This tree is solely recognized because of its size. No famous Texans are buried nearby, and no historic meetings took place under its branches. It's just a huge tree, but it is difficult to see the enormity of its size because it's within this oak forest.

The San Bernard Oak is registered by the Texas Forest Service as the Champion Live Oak — the largest Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) in Texas. This registration is based on the following measurements:
  • Circumference: 386 inches
  • Height: 67 feet
  • Crown: 100 feet
  • Age: 200-300 years

Goose Island Oak - The Big Tree

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) in 1969, and is one of the largest in the nation.
  • Circumference: 421-1/4 inches
  • Height: 44 feet
  • Crown: 89 feet
  • Age: 1,100 years

Columbus Oak

The Columbus Oak is the 2nd largest live oak tree in Texas.
  • Circumference: 329 inches
  • Height: 70 feet
  • Crown: 111 feet
  • Age: 500 years

Baptist Oak

Under the spreading branches of this giant live oak twelve early settlers of Goliad met on May 7, 1849, and organized the first Baptist church west of the Guadalupe River.

Two years before, the Reverend John Freeman Hillyer arrived from a pastorate in Galveston. He was a college-trained man from Georgia who had four academic degrees. In addition to being a preacher, he was also a physician and an educator. Hillyer's objective in coming to Goliad was to establish a college for women.

Under this learned man's leadership and with the support of the Baptists in Goliad, the doors of Hillyer Female College opened February 1, 1849. Three months later, Reverend Hillyer, acting as moderator, met under this live oak with eleven of his followers and organized the first Baptist church. The charter members were Hillyer; his wife, Mary; their two children, Ann and Hamilton; William H. and Philania Crow; Pryor and Mary Lea; George C. Brightman; Emeline Russell; and the Hillyers' Negro servants, Jacob and his wife, Eliza.

The Baptist Oak stands at 248 S. Chilton Avenue in Goliad.
Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Borden Oak

This giant oak is one of the few trees that survived both the storm and the grade raising.

At the time of the Great Storm, the tree was the property of Thomas Henry Borden, brother of Gail Borden, inventor of the process for condensing milk. According to his daughter, Mrs. S. M. Sias of Houston, he was determined to save this beautiful oak, so when the grade raising began, he had a dike constructed about it to keep the salty fill from poisoning the tree. He hauled fresh water from cisterns and wells and kept the salt washed out of the seepage that crept in about the roots. After the grade leveling was completed and the salt dissipated from the soil, the well around the tree trunk was gradually filled.

The base of the tree is about 5 feet below the present ground level.

The Borden Oak is located at 3503 Avenue K in Galveston.
Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Cart War Oak - Hanging Tree

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 officially ended Texas' war with Mexico; however, isolated outbreaks of bitter racism between Mexicans and Texans continued for years.

One notable example of this animosity erupted into open strife in the vicinity of Goliad in 1857. Texan teamsters who had been hauling freight from the port at Indianola to San Antonio and other interior towns became increasingly bitter toward competing Mexican cartmen. The latter charged much lower rates and were driving the Texans out of business.

The Texans began attacking the Mexican cartmen as they passed through Golaid with their loaded wagons. In a short series of attacks, about 75 Mexicans were murdered, their carts destroyed, and their freight stolen. Authorities at Goliad remained indifferent to the criminal acts. Mexican cartmen began using a new route, one which by-passed Goliad twelve to fifteen miles to the east. Deprived of their easy source of revenue and noting the apathy of local citizens, the “cart-cutters” began robbing them.

The entire disgraceful situation had been brought to the attention of the Legislature. But it was an outraged local citizenry and “Judge Lynch” that ended the careers of the “cart-cutters.” Those guilty of crimes were speedily brought to trial.

A giant live oak was the site of the court sessions. Its huge horizontal limbs served as a ready-made gallows for the swift conduct of capital sentences passed by those early courts. A number 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.

The tree is located on the north side of the Goliad County Courthouse, in Goliad.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Dueling Oak

On an open grassy spot near this giant live oak tree, located west of the Lavaca River, two brigadier-generals of the Texan Army faced one another in mortal combat. The date was February 5, 1837, and the time 7 o’clock in the morning.

The challenger was Felix Huston, a Kentuckian who had come from Mississippi to fight for the Texan cause. An ambitious man without military education or experience, he had hoped to win distinction on the field of battle but had arrived too late for the battle of San Jacinto.

The challenged, Albert Sidney Johnston, also a Kentuckian, was a well educated and experienced military officer of high reputation. He too had missed the involvement at San Jacinto, but shortly after his arrival in Texas, he had been appointed Adjutant-general of the Army with the rank of colonel by General Thomas Rusk.

After General Sam Houston had been elected president of the Republic, he nominated Colonel Johnston as senior Brigadier-general of the Army. General Huston, who had recently succeeded General Rusk, was reduced to the rank of junior Brigadier-general and relieved of command of the Army.

When Johnston arrived at Camp Independence, February 4, 1837, he had the general order of his appointment read to the troops. This act further enraged the already angered Huston, who that same day wrote and dispatched to Johnston a challenge to a duel.

Even before the night was ended the two combatants, their seconds, and some friends crossed the Lavaca River on horseback and rode a short distance to this spot on the edge of the prairie.

Since no dueling pistols were available, they used General Huston’s 12-inch-barreled horse pistols, which had hair triggers. Huston’s reputation as a marksman prompted Johnston’s second to suggest that the duelists fire from the hip to equalize their skills.

Johnston’s strategy was to wait until Huston was taking aim, then raise his gun quickly and fire. The report, he reasoned, would cause Huston’s trigger finger to contract and cause his gun to fire prematurely.

Huston’s ear was grazed by a ball and on the sixth volley, Johnston was felled when a ball passed through the orifices of his hip. It broke no bones but injured the sciatic nerve. When the attending physician judged the wound to be mortal, Huston approached his prostrate commander and expressed his regrets and his willingness to serve under him.

For several weeks, Johnston lay near death in nearby Texana but eventually returned to his command. Huston eventually left the Army and returned to the United States.

Please respect private property by viewing the tree from the road.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Hallettsville Hanging Tree

In the shade of this live oak, an Indian called “Pocket” was hanged in 1878 for murdering an Englishman named Leonard Hyde.

Lew B. Allen, an early cattleman from nearby Sweet Home, took a liking to an Indian boy he met while driving cattle through the Indian Territory. He persuaded the boy to return with him to his Lavaca County ranch, and there the boy grew into manhood and became known as Pocket.

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.

After getting a pistol at one place, he 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.”

Hyde, who was helping Peterson shuck corn, said he would go with Pocket and help kill the turkeys. Pocket got the shotgun, but told Hyde not to follow him. When Hyde persisted, Pocket shot him 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.

After an appeal, based on two technicalities—drawing the jurors’ names from a cigar box instead of a box with a sliding lid and improperly charging the jury—the original judgement was upheld. Pocket’s execution was set for Friday, September 12, 1879.

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, now a city recreation park.

The Hallettsville Hanging Tree is located in City Park, next to the clubhouse of the Hallettsville Golf Association.
Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Kirby Oak

Nothing ever happened beneath this tree that I'm aware of, and it's not famous. It's just a large tree located on the AOK Ranch just off State Hwy 190 near Lometa, TX.

This tree is located on private property, and is not accessible to the public.

Masonic Oak

This live oak tree, though affected by the ravages of nature, is revered by Texas Masons for the part it played in Texas' Masonic history.

Nine years after Stephen F. Austin was granted permission by the Mexican government to establish a colony in Texas, the rapid Americanization of the area and growing anti-Mexican sentiment for suppression of civil and religious liberties gave rise to the passage of a law on April 6, 1830, which forbade further immigration of Anglo-Americans into Texas.

The Texans began writhing under increased trade restrictions and close supervision of increased military garrisons. In March 1834, in an attempt to cool Texas tempers, the Coahuila Legislature passed an act which provided that no one was to be molested for expressing religious or political opinions if he kept the peace.

In the winter of 1834, Anson Jones, who was to become the first Grand Master of Texas Masonic lodges and later the third president of the Republic of Texas, met with five other Masons and took measures to establish a Lodge of their order in Texas.

The meeting was held under this live oak, back of the town of Brazoria, near the place known as General John Austin's, which had been selected as a family burial ground.

A petition was in due time forwarded to the Grand Lodge of Louisiana and dispensation granted for the formation of a Grand Lodge in Texas.

The Masonic Oak is located on the south side of Pleasant Street, in Brazoria, across from the main Masonic Oak Park & pavilion.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Mission Anaqua

This beautiful anaqua tree lays claim to fame partly because until 1976 it was the largest of its species on record in the United States. In addition, it played a small role in the early history of Texas.

After the defeated Mexican General Martin Prefecto de Cos and his troops withdrew from San Antonio early in December 1835, Dr. James Grant, a well-educated Scotchman who had an “axe to grind,” persuaded about 200 Texans and their commander, Francis W. Johnson, to embark on an attack against the rich Mexican settlement at Matamoros. Grant's large estate had been confiscated by the Mexican Government and he was obviously determined to recoup his loss.

The Council of the Provisional Government, then at odds with Governor Henry Smith and General Sam Houston, gave Johnson and Grant permission to proceed. The Council had previously appointed General James W. Fannin as their agent and gave him authority to accept the services of officers and men. Thus did the Council usurp General Houston's legal authority and divide the command of the Expedition.

Houston, hearing of the removal of his troops and of nearly all of the supplies from Bexar (San Antonio), hastened to Goliad to confront the expedition. He could persuade only about 30 men to return to Bexar.

On January 17, Houston went to Refugio and tried once again to stop the Expedition, which was illegally authorized and which he felt was doomed to failure. Near this giant anaqua tree, which stands at the site of the original Refugio Mission on the north bank of the Mission River, Houston spoke to Grant's men, camped along the river. He spoke of the futility of the project and begged them to at least wait until reinforcements from Alabama and Georgia arrived. Some agreed to wait. However, about 60 men took the three brass cannons and left for San Patricio with Johnson and Grant to await Fannin's arrival.

Fannin arrived in Refugio from Copano on February 1. Instead of joining Johnson and Grant, he went to reinforce Goliad. Later Fannin sent troops to San Patricio and reclaimed the three pieces of artillery from Grant and Johnson. Being divested of their horses, the two leaders divided their forces to find more mounts at ranches in the area. While they were divided, Johnson's party of about 35 men were overwhelmed in San Patricio February 27 by General Jose Urrea's troops. Several Texans were killed, 20 were taken prisoner, and Johnson and 5 or 6 others managed to escape. On March 2, Grant and all but six of his men were killed from ambush at Agua Dulce.

The Mission Anaqua was situated immediately behind Our Lady of Refuge Church on Roca Street in Refugio.
Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Muster Oak

This historic live oak in Fayette County has become a living shrine to the citizens of La Grange and the surrounding area.

Its spreading branches, though now reduced by the ravages of time, have served as a mustering point for men of the area who have gone forth to serve their country. It is also a monument to those who have given their lives in defense of their country.

Many parents, wives, and sweethearts have seen their loved ones depart from the shade of this tree to defend their rights in the War with Mexico, the War Between the States, the Spanish-American War, and the two World Wars.

This twisted tree is doubtless the oldest living witness to events which have occurred on this courthouse square since Fayette County was organized in 1837.

The first recruitment of citizen soldiers under the tree probably took place in 1842. An invasion of Texas by the Mexican General Adrian Woll prompted Colonel Matthew Caldwell of the Texas Army to assemble a small volunteer group to resist Woll at Salado Creek near San Antonio.

Captain Nicholas Mosby Dawson, a young captain from La Grange, recruited about 15 men under this tree before leaving to join Caldwell. Two days later, before he could join Caldwell, Dawson and 35 of his 53-man force, some of whom were from La Grange, were massacred by a troop of Mexican cavalry.

The Muster Oak is located across from the Fayette County Courthouse, on the northwest corner of the intersection of Washington and Colorado Streets, in La Grange.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Orozimbo Oak

This towering live oak once shaded the two-story plantation home of Dr. James A. F. Phelps, a member of Austin's “Old Three Hundred” Colony. No doubt the location of Dr. Phelps' home was influenced by this tree to provide more comfortable living for him and his family.

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.

Dr. Phelps came to Texas from Mississippi in 1822 and was a hospital surgeon in the Texas Army at San Jacinto. He died in 1847 and is believed to be buried in the family cemetery a short distance east of this historic tree.

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 live oak tree.

Santa Anna's treatment by the Phelpses 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, who arrived from Washington July 1, 1836, and Sam Houston, who visited there in October, before his elevation to the presidency of the Republic.

The Orozimbo Oak was destroyed in 1981 by fire set by campers in the area. The stone monument dedicated to Dr. Phelps, his plantation, and the tree is all that remains at the site off CR255. The Monument is located on private land, and is not accessible to the public.
Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

From the Brazoria County Historical Museum photo collection.

Sam Houston Oak - Runaway Scrape Oak

Also known as the Sam Houston Oak. At the foot of this giant live oak, General Sam Houston and a force of less than 400 Texans camped on the first night of their historic retreat from Gonzales, a retreat often referred to as the “Runaway Scrape.” The date was March 13, 1836.

It was a time when the life of the young Republic seemed to be ebbing rapidly. The Alamo had fallen a week before, and Col. William B. Travis and his gallant band of 187 men were dead. The divided forces under Johnson and Grant, which had set out to capture Matamoros, had been almost annihilated, a part at San Patricio, a part at Agua Dulce. Fannin had been ordered to abandon Goliad and retreat to Victoria.

At sunrise on March 14, 1836, Houston mounted his horse under the famous oak and told his men, some of whom were panic-stricken, that those who saw fit to stay behind must suffer the consequences. He and an army of about 374 men continued east to the Brazos and then south to engage Santa Anna in the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836—just 46 days after the fall of the Alamo.

The tree is 0.3 miles north of US 90A on County Road 361. Please respect private property and view from the road.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Stephen F. Austin Historic Death Site Oaks

Stephen F. Austin died in 1836 at the home of George B. McKinstry, a few miles north of Columbia (now West Columbia), then the capital of the Republic of Texas. He was buried in Gulf Prairie Cemetery at Peach Point (now Jones Creek). He was re-interred in 1910 on the "Hill of Heroes" in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. During the Texas Centennial Year of 1936, a stone monument was placed under a large live oak at the old McKinstry homestead where Austin had died. In subsequent years, the property was all but abandoned. In 1994, the property was purchased by Billy F. Price, a Houston businessman and long-time Brazoria County resident. Under Price's direction, the site was cleaned and a flagpole was erected. A Texas flag now flies continuously at the site, and the old live oak continues to stand guard over the monument. The site is open to the public. It is located on Oil Field Road, off State Highway 36 north of West Columbia.

Urrea Oak

Early in March 1836, Mexican General Urrea approached to within sight of Refugio Mission, set up headquarters near these live oak trees, and made preparations to take the town.

All but a few families of Irish colonists at Refugio had fled in advance of Urrea's army. Those who remained did so for lack of wagons. When word of the colonists' plight reached Goliad, Colonel James W. Fannin immediately dispatched Captain Amon B. King and about 30 men to bring the colonists to Goliad.

On the morning of March 11, King found the frightened colonists and moved them from their homes to the protecting walls of the Refugio Mission but not before they were discovered and fired upon by a small advance force of Urrea's cavalry. King sent a message to Goliad asking for reinforcements. Fannin immediately dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel William Ward and his Georgia Battalion. They reached the Mission that same afternoon.

Early on the 14th, King and Ward left the Mission with their men by different paths to hunt and kill the enemy. At daybreak Ward saw the Mexicans moving on the Mission with a four-pounder and turned back toward the Mission. About noon King and his men were within sight of the Mission but were pinned down by Urrea's cavalry. That night, under cover of darkness, King and his Texans crossed the river and marched all night, and at dawn found themselves only three miles from the Mission. When they were discovered by the Mexicans, their powder was still wet from fording the river and they were forced to surrender.

Urrea was angered to discover that the enemy had slipped out of the Mission during the night. When King and his men were brought before him, he ordered them executed. Thirty men were bound two-by-two and marched about a mile from the Mission, where they were shot, stripped of their clothes, and left in a heap.

A week later, Ward and 100 of his men surrendered to Urrea at Las Juntas, south of Victoria. 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 located in the middle of the US Highway 77 right-of-way, a mile southwest of Our Lady of Refuge Church in Refugio.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

Which Way Tree

On April 16, 1836, the Texas Army and refugees reached the Abraham Roberts homesite. At this location was the "Which Way Tree", which marked the spot where the road forked. The left fork led toward Nacogdoches and retreat further into the Redlands, perhaps even to the United States. The other fork led to Harrisburg (Houston) and battle. At this point, Sam Houston was under great pressure from Gov. David G. Burnet and others to stop retreating and engage the Mexican Army.

The Historical Marker at that site says "Still uncertain about Houston's chosen route, the Texas army paused upon reaching the crossroads. Soldiers in the army asked (Abraham) Roberts, who was standing on his gate, to show the way to Harrisburg. A great shout arose as Roberts pointed southeast. Houston took the Harrisburg Road and on April 21 his army defeated the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto. The decision to take the Harrisburg Road became famous as a turning point in the campaign for Texas independence."

This is probably not the "Which Way Tree", but it is located not far from the spot where the Texas Army turned and headed toward Harrisburg and Santa Anna's Army. In the 1966 book "Sam Houston's Texas" by Sue Flanagan, there are two photos of a tree reported to be the "Which Way Tree". She wrote that this tree is located in the New Kentuckty Park, but the tree pictured in the book does not look like the tree below. It is a gnarled tree with a damaged trunk and dead limbs.

The tree pictured below is located in New Kentucky Park near Rose Hill, TX.

Zachary Taylor Oak

On July 23, 1845 Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, commander of the U.S. Army of Occupation, left New Orleans on the steamer Alabama 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 immediately with his whole command 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, a few miles north of the pass into Aransas Bay near the mouth of the Nueces River. 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.

On July 29, Taylor attempted to take two companies of men with him to the mainland in the lighter Undine, but water in the Bay was low and the lighter ran aground after going but a few miles. There the General and his men stayed until sundown, August 1, when they were transferred to the Texas mainland in fishing boats that had gathered about the grounded lighter.

General Taylor and his men are believed to have camped beneath this massive live oak until his return to St. Joseph Island and his subsequent successful trip to Corpus Christi in September.

The Zachary Taylor Oak is located on the southeast corner of S. Pearl and E. Bay Streets, in Rockport.

Source: Texas A&M Forestry Service - Famous Trees of Texas

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