Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Good and evil - the tale of two trees 

 by Julie Carter

In the lawlessness of the Western territories of the 1800s, the hanging tree was a symbol of wrong deeds and frontier justice. Murder and horse thieving topped the justifications for a noose around the neck.

Most Western towns all seemed to have an ominous tree somewhere on the outskirts that gained legendary notoriety for the wrongs that were righted at the end of rope.

Whether by law or by vigilante, the woeful lure of that crude punishment has been written into verse and lore. In 1959, Marty Robbins sang the theme song for the movie by the same name, The Hanging Tree."

"And I seem to hear the night wind cry, ... Hang your faded dreams on the hangin' tree!"

In a field of no particular distinction, stand an ancient elm tree and an equally aged oak tree. Both are annually plowed and planted around and given a reverence equal to their legends. 

Local history documents that the elm was a hanging tree and for that "honor" it has never been removed. While not currently in use as such, locals who remain of a conservative rural mindset feel that one never knows when the need might again arise.

There is also the matter of endeavoring to not disturb the ghosts said to inhabit the near proximity of the elm. The belief is that those spirits have never been able to go home after their earthly crime and subsequent dramatic end of life. 

Harvesting the peanut crop before the following crop of coastal hay is now always done in daylight hours.

Prior to that timetable plan, work was frequently done in the cool of the night. That changed after a considerable number of hired men unexpectedly quit and refused to return to the area. 

They all left hurriedly wearing the same shade of pale on their faces and muttering that things were "just not right." The words bruja (witch) and fantasma (ghost) were chattered in fear as some workers headed back toward the border.

The neighboring oak tree has a different history. A regal specimen, it stands out among its kin in an area full of oak trees.

A decade or so ago, the family that owns the land where this oak stands decided the difficulty in plowing around it had become an unnecessary nuisance. The old oak had to go.

One of the brothers was sent to the field with a large dozer to push the tree down in preparation for a chain saw and hauling event. 

This man was an experienced equipment operator and all indications were that the job would go quickly.

He pushed and pushed with the dozer, but the only visible results were that the bark was just slightly scuffed. He went back to the house and explained his dilemma.

Being part of the rural Bible Belt of the area, they naturally determined their next step would be to call on their preacher and seek some guidance from a higher power. 

The preacher was old, even for that line of work, but had a good memory of area history.

He knew well the story of that particular oak tree. He said the oak, which has a small pool beside it, had at one time been the baptismal spot for the small congregation of the first settlers to the area. 

That use ended only after the church was built and other facilities became available. 

He told the farmers that the oak and the surrounding ground had been consecrated by the old congregation. The tree and the ground was sacred and that was why the oak could not be pushed, even with very large equipment.

Today the oak remains standing in the middle of the field, unmolested.

The landowner, nearing 90, says that when he sells the home place, he will include a caveat in the title saying that the old oak is not to be disturbed. 

For the elm tree he has no similar plans or concerns. "The elm and it's ghosts will take care of themselves," he said.

Julie can be reached for comment or at her website

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