Half-Way Oak

Historical Period: Frontier Texas (1865-1900)
Historical Topic: Frontier Settlements, Law & Order, Saved From the Axe
Species: Texas Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis)
County: Stephens
Public Access: Yes

Thirteen miles south of Breckenridge, a gnarled, old live oak stands sentry on the windswept plains. The only visible tree for miles, the tree’s name tells its location: roughly halfway between Breckenridge to the north and Cisco to the south, as well as a halfway rest stop on the original Fort Griffin to Stephenville stage coach passage. Having provided travelers a refuge for centuries, its location is noted on maps as early as 1858 and may well have sheltered Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp.

Fort Griffin, established in 1867, was one of a string of frontier forts built to defend settlers against hostile Indians and outlaws. A town, named for the fort but commonly called the Flat, quickly grew up nearby. This lawless frontier outpost attracted many infamous characters of the day, such as Mollie McCabe and John Wesley Hardin. Lawman Wyatt Earp reportedly met John “Doc” Holliday there while on the trail of an outlaw in 1877. At one point, lawlessness was so extreme that the Flat was placed under martial law and its troublemakers run out of town, perhaps fleeing south and stopping just long enough to rest their horses under the shade of the Half-Way Oak.

During the oil boom of the 1920s, thousands of prospectors poured into Breckenridge. Early photographs of the area show little but wooden oil derricks on the horizon. The oil boom brought railroads and the tracks for one line were laid less than 200 feet west of the tree. Today the tracks are long gone, as is the oil boom, but the venerable Half-Way Oak still stands.

The tree has suffered its share of trials: drought, ice storms, misguided pruning, accidental poisoning and car crashes. In the 1970s the tree was scheduled to be removed for the widening of US Highway 183, but the citizens of Breckenridge banded together in a modern version of frontier spirit, refusing to allow the tree to be cut. Instead, a few picnic tables and nice highway pull-off were added, allowing the Half-Way Oak to continue to provide a lovely respite for travelers.

The Half-Way Oak is located 13 miles south of Breckenridge in the median of US Highway 183.