Master Gardener Iris Seale of La Vernia has been instrumental in preserving a part of Texas history, contributing a sapling grown from an acorn of the historic Deaf Smith Oak near La Vernia to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.
The sapling is part of the “Hall of Texas Heroes,” part of the center’s growing “Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum,” which features an oak collection of all 50 species of oak trees native to Texas. The “Hall of Texas Heroes” brings the past of the Lone Star State alive “... through the propagation of historically significant trees.” The Deaf Smith Oak sapling joins the Treaty Oak and other trees which have played a role in the state’s history.
Iris and her husband, Skipper, lived near the Deaf Smith Oak’s location for a number of years. Knowing the tree’s role in Texas history and being an avid gardener, Iris gathered acorns from one of the tree’s offspring and has been propagating the saplings. Some of these were sold as a fund-raiser for the La Vernia Historical Association. A sapling was planted at the La Vernia Heritage Museum, and another at the La Vernia Primary School campus, where Iris and other volunteers teach the students about plants in the campus garden. That tree has grown to more than 8 feet tall. You can see it in the Wildflower Median at the front of the school. Iris has a sapling growing at her home, too, along with a sapling from the Treaty Oak, the last surviving tree in a grove of oaks known as the Council Oaks, a sacred gathering place of the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes in Austin. Stephen F. Austin is purported to have negotiated a treaty under this tree in the 1830s. The Treaty Oak is estimated to be more than 500 years old.
It was a good thing, too, as the tree was all but lost in October 2014 in the wake of the prolonged drought. The Scull family told the La Vernia News about the tree’s collapse (see “La Vernia loses historic tree,” Oct. 22, 2014).
That news prompted Phillip Schulze, the arboretum site manager at the Austin wildflower center, to share with visitors that the Deaf Smith Oak was lost to the mists of memory.
Iris heard this, and knew she had the means to change this perception.
She delivered a live oak sapling she’d grown from the oak’s acorns to Phillip. It now proudly forms part of arboretum’s collection that bears living witness to the state’s history.
She also provided a certificate of authenticity, which states, in part, that the tree “... was grown from acorns gathered by my hand from the daughter of the Deaf Smith Oak... .”
Philip and the arboretum staff are careful to preserve not only the history, but the trees entrusted to their care.
“Everything is done organically,” Iris said. “The soil is adjusted to the needs of each kind of tree,” to give each the best growing conditions and chance at a long, strong life.
Down, but not dead
The Deaf Smith Oak, located just outside La Vernia, is named for Erastus “Deaf” Smith, a hero of the Texas Revolution.
Smith, a scout for the Texians, reportedly climbed the tree that overlooked the Cibolo Creek in 1835 to spy on Mexican troops camped there in the wake of the battle of Gonzales, the historic “first shot in the battle for Texas liberty. This information and other contributions by Smith aided in Texas’ success in its bid for freedom.
He later served as a Texas Ranger, captaining a company of Rangers that fought in Laredo.
Despite the reports in 2014 that the famed Deaf Smith Oak had succumbed to the drought, Iris Seale visited it and has verified that it is still alive, though it no longer towers into the sky as a viewpoint over the Cibolo Creek.