La Bahia Pecan

Historical Period: Republic of Texas (1836-1845)
Historical Topic: Pecan-Our State Tree, Republic of Texas, Texas Independence
Species: Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
County: Washington
Public Access: Yes

Overlooking the historic ferry crossing where the Navasota and Brazos rivers meet in the small community of Washington, the La Bahia Pecan likely was germinated when a nut dropped from the saddlebags of a trader in the early 1800s.

As its name implies, the tree grew along La Bahia Road, a major trade route that originally served as an Indian trail through southern Texas and Louisiana. The route was known to Spanish explorers as early as 1690 when the Alonso De Leon expedition journeyed north from Mexico. In fact, DNA testing shows La Bahia Pecan is different from neighboring populations; it’s related to pecans from Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Anglo-Americans began to settle the area in earnest in the 1820s while under Empresarios like Stephen F. Austin. This pecan was just a young tree in March 1836, when a convention of Texans formally declared independence from Mexico and established the Republic of Texas. That same month, the fall of the Alamo and the Battle of Goliad instigated the Runaway Scrape, during which thousands of Texans used La Bahia Road to flee the advancing army of Santa Ana.

Texas temporarily lost upwards of 10 percent of its population during the Scrape, but settlers eventually returned along the old La Bahia Road. And as the tree grew, so did the town. Washington — the capital of Texas from 1842-1845 — reached its peak population in 1856. Steamboats plied the river from the south with scores of passengers and their goods disembarking, perhaps under the shelter of this very pecan.

When Washington town fathers refused the railroad, river transportation declined and new roads went elsewhere. The once prosperous river port declined and was virtually abandoned by 1900. Through the rise and fall, the La Bahia Pecan stood quietly by offering shade, harbor and even food. Since the mid-twentieth century she has offered the same to a new kind of traveler – tourists visiting Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site.

At the Washington-On-The-Brazos State Park entrance turn left and follow road to the river. Tree is on the left just after the sharp turn.