Taylor County Oak Tree Deemed Historic
LAWN — What's the big deal with this tree?
'The thing that makes it historical is not the size of it,' said June Knight.
It is pretty huge, though. With a trunk measuring 21 feet around and a canopy that spreads over 80 feet from drip-line to drip-line, a live oak this size deserves its own name and it has one — the Bouldin Live Oak.
'The big thing is how much history it's seen,' she continued. 'Because it's 300-500 years old.'
Located on the edge of a wheat field just north of Lawn on FM 614, the tree sits about a quarter-mile to the east of that road's intersection with U.S. Highway 84. Aside from the old barn beside it, there's not a man-made object in sight.
That is, until you see the graveyard.
As graveyards go, it's pretty small. In fact, there appears to be only two people buried there, Hammond Bouldin and his wife Eliza. Their markers sit in a small square of decorative iron fencing shaded by smaller oaks and pecan trees, about 100 yards from the Bouldin Live Oak.
Pete Knight, June's husband, recalled that gravesite after reading a 2014 article in the Reporter-News about a new program from the Texas Historical Tree Coalition. The aim of the County Historic Tree Initiative is to designate one tree in each of the Lone Star State's 254 counties.
Pete used to visit that part of Taylor County with his best friend, Sid Saverance. The property is owned by the Cowden family and J.W. 'Dub' Vinson leases it for wheat and cattle. Saverance manages those operations for him and even though Pete wasn't a cowboy, he found all of it fascinating.
'He would go out there and watch them vaccinate the cattle, or load them up to sale. Anything he could do,' June said, and then laughed. 'He even went out there once for a controlled burn. He put down a chair, sat out there and watched them burn.'
June admitted with a chuckle that sometimes she was the wet blanket of the family. After Pete told her about the size of the tree, she didn't believe it until he took her out there to see for herself. It's massive size made her a believer.
'This kind of tree, it's called an Escarpment Oak,' she said. 'They grow in clusters, it looks like three or four trees all grown into one. It's not a freak of nature, that's the kind of tree it is.'
In fact, this tree and the Half-Way Oak on U.S. 183 south of Breckenridge are both the same species, Quercus Fusiformis. The Half-Way Oak was the subject of the May 1, 2011, Big Country Journal when it was recognized as a Famous Tree of Texas by the Texas A&M Forest Service. Estimated to be at least 200 years old, the tree shows up on early maps of the area as a point of reference and rest stop.
The Bouldin Live Oak doesn't show up on any maps. Rather, it's the colorful history surrounding the man buried nearby that elevates the tree to its new stature.
Taking on something like this wasn't anything new to Pete. He had the gas can to prove it.
'I remember he was fussing because when you have to mix your gas with your motor boat oil, they had five-gallon cans and the mixture was supposed to be six gallons to a can of oil,' June recalled.
Pete wrote to the company he bought gas cans from, explaining his dilemma.
'He says to them, 'Why would you not make a six-gallon can?' June recalled. '
A little while later, Pete received an answer in the mail.
'We get this letter back from them to release his claim to a patent,' June said, laughing. 'He called them and said, 'I don't want to patent it, I just want a six-gallon can!' And that's what he got out of it.'
But while Pete started the application for the tree, his wife took it over when his health began to fail him. She began her research at the Abilene Public Library, searching microfiche records and through a fascinating book by Juanita Zachry called 'The Settling of a Frontier: a History of Rural Taylor County.'
Born Feb. 24, 1825, Hammond Bouldin served as a lieutenant during the Civil War as a physician with Terry's Texas Rangers, notable for their horsemanship and charges into infantry, despite the casualties. Some of that history is detailed in Stephen Chicoine's book, 'The Confederates of Chappell Hill, Texas: Prosperity, Civil War and Decline'.
Hammond's first wife, Martha, died in 1851. Six years later, he'd set his sights on the wealthy daughter of William Browning, known as 'Colonel Browning' around the state, though nobody was quite sure where his title originated.
Browning didn't want his daughter marrying some poor country doctor. So Bouldin rode up to his love's window at midnight one January evening in 1857, got her to slip out, and they eloped to a nearby minister's home.
Bouldin arrived in Taylor County to buy his property in 1889. He rode out to it with two land agents from Abilene; they on a buckboard and he on horseback.
Satisfied with the tract, Bouldin — who never trusted banks — took out his money belt from under his shirt and paid the agents $4,970. The men were afraid to take it, however, fearful that Bouldin would follow them back to rob them on the trail.
Those fears were unfounded, though. Bouldin farmed and ranched until his death April 10, 1905. Eliza, the girl he'd eloped with, had died three years earlier. According to Southern custom, they were buried in the garden of their home.
'He was a soldier and a surgeon … his love and loyalty to the past and the Old South was kept enshrined in a mist of reverent afflictions,' June said, reading from Bouldin's obituary. 'He was a confederate soldier to the last. '
At 11 a.m. May 14, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition will dedicate a marker laid into the earth beside the Bouldin Live Oak and the public is invited to attend. Pete died Dec. 24, 2015, but not before learning the tree's application had been approved.
'Oh, he was so happy. He was a guy who thought he mattered,' June said. 'He always believed he could make changes to make the world better.'
IF YOU GO: The tree is on private property and therefore not paved or equipped with paths. There is no parking lot, visitors can expect about a 150-yard walk to the tree from FM 614 and should bring mosquito repellent.