Treaty Oak

Historical Period: Colonial Texas (1821-1835)
Historical Topic: Folklore & Legends, Saved From the Axe
Species: Texas Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis)
County: Travis
Public Access: Yes

In a small city park in Austin, near the east bank of the Colorado River, stands a stately live oak tree known as the Treaty Oak. For centuries, its spreading branches have observed Indian war councils and dances, religious ceremonies, important conferences, and the signings of pacts and treaties.

The tree is the only survivor of a group of live oaks known as the “Council Oaks,” under which Stephen F. Austin, the “father” of Texas, is reputed to have signed the first boundry-line [sic] agreement between the Indians and the whites. An imaginary line running north and south through the heart of this group of oaks divided the territory and remained inviolate for years.

Long before the white man came, Tejas, Apache, and Comanche Indians regarded the tree with supersitious 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.

Believed to be more than 500 years old, the tree was nominated in 1927 to American Forests' Hall of Fame for Trees, in Washington, D.C., where it was pronounced the most perfect specimen of a North American tree.

In 1937, the tree was in danger of being removed by its owner. Through the efforts of interested persons, it was purchased by the City of Austin and its site dedicated as a city park. One of the first contributors to a fund to save this tree was a group of Campfire Girls in Port Arthur, Texas.

In 1989, the Treaty Oak was again threatened, this time by vandalism. 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 Treaty Oak is on the east side of Baylor Avenue, between Fifth and Sixth Streets. A marker is erected in front of the tree.