Stories Trees Tell

By Wes Ferguson
Kyle, TX (June 29, 2011)- Every old tree tells a story. To see one in Kyle, travel down Sledge Street, a couple of blocks south of Center, and take a look at the giant live oak that grows there. Auctioneers stood in this tree’s shade on Oct. 14, 1880 and sold town lots for a grid of new businesses and residences that laid the foundation for the new city of Kyle. Well more than a century later, that tree is still known as the Kyle Auction Oak.

Stories and photos of the tree in Kyle – as well as 20 other historic trees from around the state of Texas – are on display this summer at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center in Austin. The free exhibit is titled “Living Witness: Historic Trees of Texas” and runs through Sept. 5. “It’s a natural story and a human story all mixed together,” said Kyle Schlafer, a program supervisor at the visitors center. “The trees themselves, and some of these photographs of these trees, are really amazing. But there are also really interesting human stories relating to these trees.”
Austin-based photographer Ralph Yznaga has spent the past four years traveling the state and documenting the historic trees with vintage cameras. He grew up in Texas but said he didn’t become interested in the state’s trees until he moved away for several years, then moved back. “I was struck by the unique character of the trees here,” he said. Many of Texas’ trees are beautiful, he added, but “it was less about the beauty than the fact that they’re survivors.”
The mammoth Goose Island Oak on the Texas Gulf Coast, for example, is believed to be at least 1,000 years old. The first tree that Yznaga photographed was in Kyle – the Kyle Hanging Tree. So the story goes, cowhands found a man hanging from a live oak in the late 1840s. They cut him down and buried him at the base of the oak. Over the years other people were buried nearby, creating what is now Kyle Cemetery on Old Post Road. “Texas has such a rich and evocative history,” Yznaga said. “These trees witnessed that history, and they’re still with us.” A book of Yznaga’s work, also titled “Living Witness: Historic Trees of Texas,” will be published by Texas A&M University Press in spring 2012. Both the Kyle Auction Oak and Kyle Hanging Tree will be included in the book.
Another live oak tree featured in the visitors center exhibit marks the spot in San Marcos where Sam Houston gave one of his more than 60 speeches during the gubernatorial campaign of 1857. When he had finished his speech, Houston shook hands with the crowd and kissed each of the ladies who had presented him with a handmade Texas flag. Houston lost the election, but the tree – near the River House on the banks of the San Marcos River – is still standing. It is called the Kissing Oak.
Related Resources:
Hays Free Press- Stories Trees Tell