Austin History Center

Austin (Tex.). Parks and Recreation Department. Treaty Oak Collection.

An Inventory of a Collection

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Austin (Tex.). Parks and Recreation Department.
Title: Austin (Tex.). Parks and Recreation Department. Treaty Oak Collection.
Inclusive Dates: 1989-1993
Bulk Dates: 1989
Abstract: Treaty Oak is a live oak located in a small city park on Baylor Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets in Austin, Texas. The tree was poisoned in 1989 and the effort to save the tree became a national news story. The collection documents the significant amount of attention given to the tree by children and adults, both locally and nationally, and contains hundreds of get well cards mailed and left at the base of the tree. Also included are compilation reels of the news stories about Treaty Oak and pieces of the tree.
Identification: AR.1993.019
Quantity: .4 linear feet (1 box) and 13 flat file drawers
Location: Archives stacks, Oversized Archives, Artifacts
Language: The records are in English.
Repository: Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, 810 Guadalupe, PO BOX 2287, Austin, TX 78768

Administrative History

The Treaty Oak of Austin is located in a small city park on Baylor Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. The live oak is believed to be more than 500 years old, and its branches span over 128 feet. It is the only survivor of a group of live oaks known as the Council Oaks. Though proof is lacking, it is said that Stephen F. Austin signed the first boundary agreement between the Indians and the settlers under these trees. According to legend, Indian women would drink a potion made from the leaves of the Treaty Oak during the full moon to ensure their men's zeal and safety in battle. In 1927 the Treaty Oak was admitted to the American Forestry Association Hall of Fame for Trees and declared the most perfect specimen of a North American tree. The land where the tree grows belonged to the W. H. Caldwell family from 1882 to 1937. Mrs. Caldwell offered the land for sale for $7,000 in 1926 because she could no longer afford the taxes. When efforts by patriotic groups to induce the state legislature to buy the land for a park failed, it was feared that the tree would be cut down by some future developer. The Austin City Council finally bought the land from T. J. Caldwell in 1937 for $1,000. In 1989 Paul Cullen poisoned the Treaty Oak with Velpar, which is specifically designed to kill hardwood trees. In spite of extensive efforts, only about one quarter of the tree was saved. Cullen was tried and convicted of felony criminal mischief and sentenced to nine years in prison.

SOURCE: John A. Haislet, "TREATY OAK," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed February 28, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Scope and Contents

The story of the act of deliberate vandalism against Treaty Oak thrust the City of Austin and the City Forester, John Giedraitis, into the national spotlight. As a result hundreds of get well cards were sent addressed to Giedraitis or directly to Treaty Oak. The majority of the collection consists of cards created by children and signatures gathered on poster board from people who visited Treaty Oak after the incident in 1989. In addition there are letters and get well cards sent by adults and civic organizations as well as a photograph of cans of chicken soup left at for the tree. Three videotape compilations of the various local and national news stories about Treaty Oak dating from 1989 to 1993 are also included, along with two wood slabs of the actual tree.


Restrictions on Access

Open to all users.

Restrictions on Use


Index Terms

This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Giedraitis, John.
Austin (Tex.). Parks and Recreation Department.
Austin (Tex.)
Treaty Oak (Austin, Tex.)

Related Material

Austin Files - Treaty Oak T9100

General Collection - A 345.07 ST United States. District Court (Texas.) State of Texas, Plaintiff, vs. Paul Stedman Cullen, Defendant: Transcript of Trial Proceedings in the District Court of Travis County, Texas, [docket no.] 101,826, Before the Honorable Bob Perkins, Judge. 1990.

Artifacts - A plaque with a piece of Treaty Oak (Box 045/002)and Stephen F. Austin chair replica made from Treaty Oak (Archivist's Office).

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Transferred from the City of Austin Park and Recreation Department.

Preferred Citation

Austin (Tex.). Parks and Recreation Department. Treaty Oak Collection (AR.1993.019). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.

Acquisition Information

Donor #: D)/1968/063

Donation Date: 1993

Processing Information

Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults in 2012.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Box Folder
1 1 Correspondence, 1989
2-4 Get well cards, 1989
Location FlatFile
Oversized Archives 02/006-02/018 Get well cards (oversized), circa 1989
Box Folder
1 6 Notes and business cards, circa 1989
7 Photo , 1989
News segments (video recordings), 1989-1993
Location TopShelf
Artifacts 000/020 and 000/021 Slabs of Treaty Oak, circa 1993