Founders’ Oak has storied past in New Braunfels

Posted By JANE W. MILLER / Friends for the Preservation of Historic Landa Park

On October 21, the New Braunfels Parks and Recreation Department will offer its annual Arbor Day tree giveaway. The event will be held in Landa Park from 9 a.m. to noon. Josh King, an urban forester with the City of New Braunfels, will give you more information about the tree giveaway in the October 14 issue of this column. Mark your calendar now for the tree giveaway — you won’t want to miss this special event!

In the meantime, I want to share some information about Comanche Marker Trees.

When I first heard the term, I did not understand it. Since my initial introduction, I’ve begun to recognize the role and importance of this identification system, which is nicely covered in “Comanche Marker Trees of Texas” by Steve Houser, Linda Pelon, and Jimmy W. Arterberry.

The arborist, anthropologist, and Comanche tribal officer merged their wisdom, research, and years of personal experience to create the book.

The preface to the book’s 2016 printing noted, “A genuine marker tree is a rare find — only six of those natural and cultural treasures have been officially documented in Texas and recognized by the Comanche Nation and the Texas Historic Tree Coalition.”

In a recent conversation with Houser, I learned that there are now 16 documented Comanche Marker Trees in Texas.

Essentially, Comanches bent tree limbs so that the limb would grow in a specific direction. Bent limbs indicated a low water crossing, a direction or trail, a sheltered meeting place, and more.

Arterberry, who is a Comanche Nation tribal historic preservation officer, wrote: “Our ancestors would mark a tree or use a tree that was naturally marked to identify resources such as food, medicine, water, a path, burial site, or meeting place.”

Often, but not always, the bent limbs were identified by scars that indicated manipulation by a force other than nature, e.g., manipulation by humans. Leather thongs or ties, and often Yucca rope, were all used to bend the limbs of seedlings.

The age of the tree is a critical factor in identification as a Comanche Marker Tree.

A distinct type of Comanche Marker Tree is the Comanche Council Oak.

As the name suggests, councils or meetings were often held beneath these trees because of the area’s significance and its proximity to fresh, clean water and shelter.

Comanches were in the New Braunfels area and throughout central and west Texas long before European settlers arrived.

Do you suppose they might have used any trees in this area? Can you think of any trees with uniquely bent limbs in Landa Park, for example?

Here’s a clue: it’s beloved, it’s more than 300 years old, and it is Landa Park’s only recognized historic tree.

Yes! Founders’ Oak will be recognized as a Comanche Council Oak during the Oct. 21 Arbor Day event. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m.

Founders’ Oak actually joined the Texas Forest Service’s “Famous Trees of Texas” in 2012.

Kelly Eby, a former urban forester for the city, initiated the documentation process necessary to have Founders’ Oak recognized by the Texas Forest Service.

I believe the October 21st ceremony will bring a brief return of Kelly Eby to New Braunfels Parks. By the way, Steve Houser, Kelly Eby, and Tim Barker have a fascinating discussion about Founders’ Oak and Comanche Marker Trees on the podcast Look for Episode 18.

Another likely guest on October 21 will be Heather Stockhorst Buchanan, who as a 10-year-old fifth grader at Carl Schurz Elementary in 1986, named the tree “Founders’ Oak.”

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board sponsored a “Name the Tree” Contest as part of the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration.

The contest was open to children 8 to 12 years old. Heather’s reward included a $25 check, a plaque, and a season swim pass for her family.

Founders’ Oak also played an interesting role in the 1946 New Braunfels Centennial Celebration, also held in Landa Park.

Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Arlene Krueger Seales’ book, “New Braunfels Historic Landa Park: Its Springs and Its People” records the attendance of Comanches who set up their teepees in the park.

The account was further elaborated upon in their August 5, 2023, Herald-Zeitung column: “The Comanche visitors took part in the parade in full regalia, with both men and women in fringed buckskin beautifully beaded and the chiefs in magnificently feathered war bonnets mounted on horses.

“The Comanches performed Native dancing and riding exhibitions. They demonstrated the Comanche ‘sign language’, weaving, creating arrowheads, and making arrows for everyone to see. Perhaps the most appealing activity was their storytelling.”

I’ll bet they told those stories underneath the shade of Founders’ Oak.

I hope that you will be able to attend the October 21st ceremony.

Comanche Marker Trees are of unique cultural significance because they have served as silent witnesses to our collective history.

I am delighted that Founders’ Oak will soon join the group.