Pecan, Carya illinoinensis
There is a grand old Pecan tree in Limestone County, that sits on the outskirts of Groesbeck, Texas. It is enormous with a circumference of 225.8 inches or 18.82 feet, a height of 94 feet, and a crown spread of 130 feet by 97 feet for an average crown spread of 113.5 feet. It is listed as the seventh-largest known Pecan tree in the state of Texas according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. On July 17, 2021, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition visited the town of Groesbeck to inspect the tree, and at that time, determined the tree to be at least 250 years old.
The Fort Parker Pecan grows in the Blackland Prairie, once inhabited by passing bison herds and the American Indians who hunted them; and now in the middle of a pasture between the Fort Parker Memorial Cemetery (located about 150 to 200 yards to the south) and the Old Fort Parker Historic Park (located less than a mile to the northeast).
The Pecan tree’s age and location ensure it is a living witness to the first settlers as they moved into the area, particularly Sarah and Elder John Parker and their extended family. Between 1833 and 1835, the tree stood silently by as the Parker group cleared the land for farming and built cabins to live within. Since there was still a threat of attack by the American Indians, they also constructed Fort Parker and enclosed it behind a defensive palisade or stakewall for protection.
Luckily, the Pecan tree was spared when the Parker family cleared the land for fields and buildings. Since it would have already been a large tree, its shade was probably a welcome relief when they were working in the fields on warm sunny days.
On one such day, May 19, 1836, when most of the men were out working in the fields, a large party of several hundred American Indians attacked the fort, killing the five men meant to protect it. While the men fought, most of the women and children were able to escape through the small back gate that allowed for easy access to the spring (and the woods where they hid). In the end, the Indians kidnapped two women and three children. Two of the children were Cynthia Ann Parker and her brother, John Parker.
The Pecan tree must have witnessed the American Indians as they approached and departed the fort less than a mile from where the tree grew. And it certainly was a witness to the survivors of the Parker group as they laid to rest the five men who lost their lives trying to save the women and children. They were buried a stone’s throw away from the Pecan in what is now called the Fort Parker Memorial Park and Cemetery.
The young captive, Cynthia Ann Parker would eventually marry a Comanche war leader and have two sons and a daughter with him. One of the sons would grow up to be Quanah Parker, a Comanche warrior, and Chief of the Kwahadi band of the Comanche. He was the last significant Comanche chief to surrender himself and his people to United States authorities. After surrendering, Quanah tried to help his people as best he could. He is most known for being a leader and the main spokesman for his people during and after their difficult transition from freely roaming the southern plains to their new life on a reservation. It was a role he performed for 30 years.
Marion Lineberry, the president of the Texas Historic Tree Coalition presented the owners of the Fort Parker Pecan, Tammy and Ricky Rand, with a historic tree certificate and proclamation on Saturday, April 15, 2023.
During Ricky’s remarks, he acknowledged that his wife’s cousin, David Raines was the reason we were gathered. If he had not brought the significance of the tree to his attention, it would still be a very large tree appreciated only by the Rand family.
Ricky explained how David encouraged them to invite the Texas A&M Forest Service out to measure the tree. Because of David’s encouragement, the Forest Service came and measured the tree and determined it was the seventh-largest known Pecan tree in Texas. David, who is a certified arborist and expert tree climber also invited some of his climbing friends to climb the tree. At the time, he didn’t know the wife of Miguel Pastenas, Kirbie Houser-Pastenas was a trustee for TXHTC. David’s introduction of the tree to the Pastenas also led to its historic recognition we were celebrating on April 15, 2023.
After Ricky spoke, he then introduced the Honorable Richard Duncan. The Limestone County Judge is helping with efforts to revitalize the Old Fort Parker Historic Park and he spoke briefly about the improvements being made at the park. Afterward, he encouraged attendees to visit the site for a better understanding of the story behind the Pecan tree’s historical significance, as well as what life was like for the first settlers of Texas, especially for Cynthia Ann Parker and her pioneer family.
Greg Brown, the owner of Stone Carver Designs, designed the stone monument that was unveiled at the celebration. The historical events the tree witnessed, including the movement of the first settlers into the area and the burial of the members of the Parker Group who died May 19, 1836, protecting their families, were carefully carved into the beautiful flagstone. The Rands plan to have the monument displayed under the tree surrounded by a black wrought iron gate to protect it from the grazing cattle herds that occasionally visit the pasture.
The tree could not have better stewards to watch over it. The Rands have a deep appreciation for the tree and the many historical events it has witnessed. And, if I heard correctly when Ricky was speaking during the tree dedication, he said, “I have it on good authority, Cynthia Ann Parker played up in this Pecan tree. That’s my story…and I’m sticking to it!”
Though we will never know for certain, we can imagine… Since it was already a large tree when the settlers arrived, it is quite possible the children played in this tree and just as likely they sat underneath it for family picnics, enjoying the relief from the sun its shade would have provided.
The Texas Historic Tree Coalition thanks the Rands for sharing their Pecan tree with us and for allowing us to be a part of recognizing and celebrating its importance to the local community as well as to the great state of Texas.
Tammy and Ricky Rand are loving stewards of this majestic tree and will continue to provide it with the care a tree of this size and stature so notably deserves.