It’s been said that every tree tells a story. If Texas’ trees could speak, what a story they would tell: love, honor, betrayal, justice, mystery and death.
First published in 1970 by the Texas Forest Service (now Texas A&M Forest Service), Famous Trees of Texas told the stories of 81 trees throughout the state, then living links to the state’s storied past.
The original edition, an outgrowth of the agency’s charge to protect and sustain Texas’ forests, trees and other natural resources, sought to connect people with trees through Texas history.
Famous Trees of Texas: Texas A&M Forest Service Centennial Edition by Gretchen Riley and Peter D. Smith (Texas A&M University Press, 2015) continues that objective by describing 101 trees —some from the original edition and others newly identified by the agency as people have recognized their age and value.
The large-format 9”x10” clothbound (hardcover) book features 186 color photos depicting the designated trees, which are accompanied by passages explaining each tree’s significance, age and the history surrounding it. Priced at $35, the book is available at tamupress.com or by calling 800-826-8911.
Famous Trees of Texas is also available through Amazon and through book retailers across the state.
Muster Oak/La Grange
The richness of Texas’ heritage is as vast and varied as the state itself. Likewise, the stories of trees featured in Famous Trees of Texas are reflective of that heritage.
The history of the Muster Oak of La Grange, for instance, is one of pride and loyalty, as it marks the spot from which Fayette County has sent its sons to battle during the Texas Revolution, the Indian Wars, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.
What remains of the tree is located across from the Fayette County Courthouse on the northwest corner of the intersection of Washington and Colorado streets.
Riley and Smith write that the tradition began in 1842, when Capt. Nicholas Mosby Dawson mobilized a small group of men from La Grange to come to the aid of Capt. Mathew Caldwell, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. In a skirmish now known as the Dawson Massacre, Mexican cavalry killed Dawson and 35 of his men while these Texans were on their way to join Caldwell at Salado Creek. Capt. Caldwell went on to defeat Mexican Army Brig. Gen. Adrian Woll.
Goose Island Oak
Another tree to bear witness to Texas history, and thought to be more than 1,100 years old, is the Goose Island Oak, also often referred to as The Big Tree.
The Big Tree, located on the north side of Goose Island State Park near Rockport, is 44 feet tall with an 89-foot crown spread; its trunk is 11 feet across and 35 feet in circumference.
This ancient tree has survived destructive hurricanes, deadly diseases and man. Legend has it that the Goose Island Oak was a meeting place for the Karankawa and Comanche tribes (and possibly the Lipans and Tonkawas) for hundreds of years and that it was used as a hanging tree by Anglo settlers.
The tree also bore witness to Spanish exploration in 1519 and French explorers in 1684.
Designated Texas State Champion Live Oak in 1966, the tree retained the title until 2003 and is still one of the largest of its kind in the United States. It was even featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
100 Years of Texas A&M Forest Service
In conjunction with the release of Famous Trees of Texas, the Texas A&M Forest Service is also launching a series of tree plantings to commemorate both the book and the agency’s 100-year anniversary.
The Texas A&M Forest Service will provide 100 trees to 100 cities and college campuses across the state that have Tree City USA or Tree Campus USA certifications. In addition, each county will receive one tree to be planted on county grounds. Meanwhile, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station has a new temporary exhibit titled History in the Making: Texas A&M Forest Service which brings to life the people, places and events that shaped the agency for the past 100 years. The exhibit will run through November 8.
Taking visitors back to the agency’s beginnings, the exhibit features a forest setting with the first six patrolmen on horseback. Visitors will also have the opportunity to learn about early fire detection and extinguishing methods and can follow the walls of the exhibit to see how TFS evolved throughout the century.
by Holli Koster
Publicity and Advertising Manager
Texas A&M University Press
Photos courtesy of Texas A&M University Press