First Christian Memorial Honors Oak Tree

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – During the annual membership meeting of First Christian Memorial, Inc. (aka the Little White Church) held on Sunday, Sept. 17 in Grapeland, a ceremony was held to honor an oak tree and dedicate a marker signifying the tree’s importance.

“As part of First Christian Memorial, we also pay homage to history. That is very important to us. We want to preserve, honor and promote events of the past and one particular tree in East Texas commemorates such an event. That is what we are dedicating today,” First Christian Memorial Church, Inc. Board President Tammy Hassell-Anderson said as the program got underway.

“This tree is a descendant of the Treaty Oak in Austin. I am speaking of the tree that is in the point on the south side of the church,” she said.

Members of the First Christian Memorial, Inc. dedicated a plaque to a southern live oak tree outside of the Little White Church. The tree is a descendant of the Treaty Oak in Austin. Photo by Will Johnson / Messenger.

Hassell-Anderson said the story of the tree begins in Austin where a grove of 14 trees served as a sacred meeting place for Comanche and Tonkawa Indian tribes. It is believed Stephen F. Austin signed the first boundary agreement with the Indian tribes under these trees.

“Sam Houston is also believed to have stretched out under the shade of the oaks to consider his next move after he was removed from the governor’s office in 1860. This location eventually came to be known as the ‘Council of Oaks,’” she said.

“As the city of Austin grew,” Hassell-Anderson continued, “the oaks perished until only one was left. It was finally bought and protected by the city of Austin in 1937.

The tree’s fame grew over the years and came to be known as the “Treaty Oak” and spread over 127 feet.

“It was declared as a perfect tree by the American Forestry Service and is believed to be over 500 years old,” she added.

According to the Texas A&M Forestry Service, “Long before the white man came, Tejas, Apache, and Comanche Indians regarded the tree with superstitious reverence. One of the many legends associated with this tree speaks of Indian maidens who brewed a “love tea” of its tender leaves. If they drank the tea while gazing at a full moon, their lovers would be true forever. If they performed the ritual while the tribe was at war, their warriors would return home safely.”

The board president said that unfortunately the tree was vandalized in 1989 with enough poison to kill dozens of trees.

“In a twisted take on the old Indian legend, the tree was poisoned by a troubled young man intent on killing the tree’s spirit in order to keep a woman from another man. When the tree began to fade, local experts sprang into action—with the help of financiers like Ross Perot—and saved the tree, although about two-thirds of its limbs were removed. The remaining portion is healthy and growing again; the vandal was sentenced to ten years in prison,” the A&M Forestry Service stated.

Hassell-Anderson said tremendous efforts were put forth to save the tree. Dirt was dug up and replaced around the roots of the tree, saline solution was injected into soil, canopies were placed over the tree to help prevent it from receiving too much sun and water jets were installed to help prevent heat stress.

“Also – only in Austin – a psychic was asked to come and install energy into the tree. The psychic came and announced the tree had a name. The psychic said the tree’s name was Alexandria and she had once lived in Egypt,” she said.

Only about 35 percent of the tree lived, Hassell-Anderson said “… and by 1997, the first crop of acorns since the poisoning was harvested. The tree we are dedicating today came from one of those acorns. This is more than just about this tree. It connects Indian lore, Texas legend, historical societies and just a widespread effort to do good.”

Before she concluded, Hassell-Anderson expressed her appreciation to the Grapeland Economic Development Corporation for a $1,500 donation and to the Golden Sandies for a $500 donation to the First Christian Memorial, Inc. organization.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.