post

Gateway Marker Tree, Dallas, Texas

Gateway Indian Marker Tree. Photo by Doug Taylor

History of the Gateway Park

Indian Marker Tree

 

The official proclamation from the Comanche Nation regarding the Gateway Park Indian Marker Tree (1997) was of historic significance in a number of ways.  First, it established that the Comanche Nation once inhabited the Great Trinity Forest area.  It was surprising to many historians to find a tree fitting the description of a Comanche Marker Tree (in Gateway Park) so far east as the Trinity River; knowledgeable Comanche individuals were not surprised.  They had not forgotten about the importance of “Pih-heet Pah-e-hoona” (the Comanche name for the Trinity River; it translates as “Three Rivers”).   Professor Linda Pelon notes “While conducting thesis research on the Penatuhkah Comanches, a powerful Texas band at the zenith of Comanche power in the Nineteenth Century, I began to hear about Comanche Marker Trees/Turning Trees from Comanche elders and other Comanche informants.  In 1995, after seeing a photograph of one of these trees featured in Famous Trees of Texas (Texas Forest Service 1984:177), I realized that a pecan tree fitting this description survived in Gateway Park.  Because so little work has been published on the Comanche presence on the Trinity River, and because my research was focused on a West Central Texas band, I was surprised to find a tree of this description so far to the east.”

The area in the vicinity of the tree was explored from a Comanche perspective and was found to contain a treasure trove of resources important to the lifestyle of these nomadic people.  In fact, the site fits a template for a preferred Comanche campsite.  Archeological surveys previously conducted by the Dallas Archeological Society (DAS) documented extensive use of this area for camping by Native People.  One DAS officer commented that the area was “so saturated with sites as to be considered one big campsite.”

Secondly, it was the first Comanche Indian Marker Tree in Texas ever to be officially recognized.  The proclamation was signed (April 7, 1997 by Chairman Wallace Coffey) recognizing the Gateway Park Marker Tree as “a living monument to our historic presence in the great state of Texas” and noting “the importance of this tree to Native American cultural heritage.”

Comanche poet and educator Juanita Pahdopony was sent as an ambassador from the Comanche Nation to read this proclamation at the dedication ceremony for the tree on April 26, 1997.  She was quoted in a report in the Dallas Morning News (April 27, 1997): “This represents a continuation of our culture.  We are one with nature.  This tree has a lot of stories to tell.  It is too bad that we have not been here to hear them.”  Within a few months of the dedication event, Chairman Coffey visited the site and completed traditional blessing ceremonies for the area from the scenic overlook on the escarpment ridge above the Keeton Golf Course.

Third, after almost 150 years of exile and disconnection from their Texas homelands, sacred places, and heritage sites the Comanche Nation has finally reconnected with the “Pih-heet Pah-e-hoona.”  The preservation of these natural features and heritage sites, and the tranquil natural setting in which they exist, is of great concern to the Comanche Nation and to many Texans who also value the diversity of heritages and histories of Texas.

At the time, the Gateway Indian Marker Tree was determined to be over 150 years old.   There was an extensive amount of decay in the trunk in the location of the upright bend.  Numerous old cut wounds were found on the trunk with a great deal of decay.  Ironically, a year after being recognized, a Memorial Day storm broke off the top portion of the tree just above the ground level.  The largest solid section of the tree was 13.5” inches in diameter and several thin tree cookies (thin sections) were preserved.  An experienced consulting arborist with a prominent tree care expert firm dated the section back to 1892.  He also observed a very slow growth rate in examining the sample.  Further evaluation determined that the tree was quite likely to be over 200 years old.

Consulting arborists watched the tree for a few months in hopes that it would be healthy enough to generate new sprouts off the trunk.  When the tree failed to regenerate, small Pecan trees were planted near the base of the tree and an effort was made to try to graft the young trees into the trunk.  Numerous plant pathologists were consulted during the process and assisted the operation on the site.  The operation failed but some comfort was gained by knowing an effort was made to revive the tree.

Nuts were gathered from the tree in 1997, after the dedication ceremony, and shipped to the Historic Tree Nursery in Jacksonville, Florida, for propagation.  But it was not to be.  Some seedlings had been sold but the remaining seedlings were washed away by Hurricane Frances in the fall of 2004.

1997 Comanche Proclamation for the Gateway Indian Marker Tree

 

Comanche Medicine Man. Photo from Dedication Ceremony.

Gateway Marker Tree before it was damaged by a storm.

This photo courtesy of Linda Pelon.