May 15, 2007

Mighty Treaty Oak Gavel In House Committee

The mighty Treaty Oak is a Texas landmark not far removed from our Texas Capitol. It is here that I begin a small story of how this famous tree and the criminal act of one man caused a gavel made from the wood of this famous tree, to open the proceedings today of the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

The Treaty Oak in the City of Austin has a long and colorful history:

"A Native American legend holds that the Council Oaks were a location for the launching of war and peace parties. Legends also hold that women of the Tejas Tribe would drink a tea made from honey and the acorns of the oaks to ensure the safety of warriors in battle.

According to popular local folklore and the inscription on the plaque at the tree's base, in the 1830s, Stephen F. Austin, the leader of the Austin Colony, met local Native Americans in the grove to negotiate and sign Texas' first boundary treaty after two children and a local judge had been killed in raids. No historical documentation exists to support this event actually taking place. Folklore also holds that Sam Houston rested beneath the Treaty Oak after his expulsion from the Governor's office at the start of Texas' involvement in the American Civil War."

Okay, we know the oak has a great history. Now what about the criminal act that brought about a series of events that brought the oak gavel to be formed from the historical tree. In 1989, in an act of deliberate vandalism, an individual by the name of Paul Cullen, was apprehended after bragging about poisoning the tree. The tree was poisoned with the powerful hardwood-herbicide, Velpar. Lab tests showed the quantity of herbicide used would have been sufficient to kill 100 trees. Cullen was convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to serve nine years in prison.

Although arborists expected the tree to die, the Treaty Oak survived as the result of intensive efforts to save the tree. Although it survives, almost two-thirds of the tree died and more than half of its crown had to be pruned. As is the long historical custom, when a historical tree falls they are sometimes transformed into gavel-formed relics.

Because of the history and the symbolism contained in the wood of this mighty tree, I purchased a gavel created from one of the branches of the "Treaty Oak" and used the new gavel to open tonight's hearing in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. It somehow seems fitting that this gavel which was formed in response to a criminal act committed against it now assists in controlling the very criminal activity that brought violence to this beautiful and living monument.

Today Texans have long seen the Treaty Oak as a symbol of strength and endurance. Perhaps, tonight we might add jurisprudence.

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