Caldwell Treaty Oak

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Caldwell Treaty Oak

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The Treaty Oak is possibly the oldest living thing in Austin. It has a lot of history and is a symbol of strength and endurance.
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What everyone knows

Most people know that the Treaty Oak is a very old tree located in downtown Austin that was unfortunately, purposely poisoned.

What they don't tell you

The tree is also known as Caldwell Treaty Oak, because in the 1880s the tree was privately owned by the Caldwell family in Austin. In 1926 the widow of W.H. Caldwell offered the land for sale for $7,000, because she could no longer afford to pay property taxes on the land. In 1937, the City of Austin purchased the land for $1,000 and installed a plaque honoring the tree's role in Texas history. It is also said that Sam Houston contemplated his future under the shade of the oak tree after he was ousted as the governor of Texas.

Do it like a local

Go visit this majestic tree and stand in its presence. Imagine what Austin looked like five centuries ago as this tree stood amongst thirteen other mighty oaks in what is known as the Council Oaks. Read the plaque that honors the tree and cherish the story of its past.

For the History Buffs

The state of Texas is known to have some amazing trees, however there is one particular Southern live oak tree in the state’s capital city that stands as a testament to its history and survivorship. Roughly one block north of the Amtrak station in the West End section of the city is a majestic tree arborists surmise to be between 500-600 years old. Treaty Oak is the only surviving member of a grove of trees known as the Council Oaks. The original inhabitants of the area regarded it as a Tree-God. It was a temple of worship for the Comanches and Tonkawa. In the shade of the oak's wide spreading branches, the Native Americans would meet to perform war dances, smoke the peace pipe, and celebrate feasts and religious ceremonies. Furthermore, according to popular legends and folklore, the women of the Tejas tribe would make a tea made from the leaves, acorns, and honey from the oaks to ensure the safety of the men warriors in battle. The tea was also brewed as part of a superstitious belief promoting fidelity in unions among members of the tribe. Also, as inscribed on the plaque at the base of the Treaty Oak, Texas pioneer and the capital’s namesake Stephen F. Austin met local Native Americans in the 1930’s at this very grove of oaks to negotiate and sign Texas' first boundary treaty. The treaty was needed after Indians carried off and killed a small boy and girl found wandering by nearby Shoal Creek. Also, in 1841 the first county judge was killed when he went past the grove in search of stray cattle. On March 2, 1989, a group of people gathering around Treaty Oak to celebrate Texas Independence Day noticed something odd. Austin’s city forester John Giedraitis discovered a yellow ring of dead grass around the tree and new leaves appeared to be dying out. At first it was assumed that a city worker had been negligent and applied too much chemical to the tree, but a chemical analysis showed that a deadly herbicide known as Velpar had been poured around the tree and was enough poison to kill 100 trees! The incident sparked community outrage, and sparked national news reports. Children from all over the country made "Get Well" cards that were displayed around the tree, and Texas billionaire and business magnate, Ross Perot, wrote a blank check to fund efforts to save the tree. DuPont, the herbicide manufacturer, issued a $10,000 reward to capture the poisoner. The intensive efforts to save the Treaty Oak included Arborists and botanists from around the country. Together they worked to save the tree by installing a canopy over it and a sprinkler system to keep it cool in the summer. These efforts included applications of sugar to the root zone and replacement of soil around its roots. In addition, psychics came to perform a "transference of energy" on the Treaty Oak on Aug. 14, 1989. The group, led by Sharon Capehart, traveled from Dallas and Waco to "release negative energy from the tree into the universe" in an effort to help it recover from its poisoning. Paul Stedman Cullen told a friend he poisoned the tree to "cast a spell" to kill his unrequited love for a counselor he met at a methadone clinic. The friend went to the police and was given a secret recording device to wear, which captured his confession. Cullen was tried and convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to nine years in prison. He maintained his innocence throughout the trial and his imprisonment, and served only three years. He even joked that he would open a nightclub, "The Velpar Spot," after his release from prison. However, Cullen would not outlive the Treaty Oak and died in El Centro, Calif., in 2001 at the age of 57. Although most arbor experts predicted that it would not survive, defying all odds the Treaty Oak did survive. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the tree did not recover from the incident, some limbs were removed and made into products for fundraising. Incredibly, in 1997 the tree began to produce acorns and saplings were sold and planted across the city as a reminder of the once majestic oak that stood as a testament to history and survivorship. One of the best-known saplings is planted on the plaza of the grounds at Austin City Hall and stands as a witness to the phrase, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”.
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