This five-hundred year old live oak is the lone survivor of twelve trees once standing at what is now the corner of Fifth and Sixth Avenue in downtown Austin. The former grove—called the “Council Oaks”—once hosted various native tribes who struck their treaties and forged their bonds of peace in their shade. Once voted the “most perfect specimen of an oak tree in the United States,” this remaining tree was poisoned in 1989 by a man who had reportedly been jilted by a lover. The tree has since been saved and repaired by Austinites, but is no longer the perfect specimen of old.
A hollow several yards up the tree’s trunk has been walled in with bricks, giving the tree the mark of urbanity. The wall of bricks in the tree is a reminder that this oak has witnessed the history of a great American city, as well as native American times. All the stories seem sealed in the tree’s heart.
Concrete Treaty Oak
A concrete replica of the Austin Treaty Oak stands in the main atrium of the Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel in Dallas, surrounded by hotel room balconies and the smell of chlorinated pools. The vaulted glass and steel atrium of the hotel with its small-scale Alamo and replicated San Antonio River Walk lined with thousands of plastic flowers is a bawdy display of Texas largess and pride. Yet the concrete oak is impressive in its likeness and detail.
Oddly, the living Treaty Oak in Austin is so shrouded within the cone of its own hanging limbs and foliage, that you must enter the shady atrium of its own natural making to see the trunk and its little brick wall. Once inside the cool canopy, you see upward through the leaves to the glass high-rises and construction cranes of downtown Austin. The two trees—one real, one concrete—live in a similarly artificial world.