Silent Witness - Halfway Oak Tree

Trees have been used as landmarks, meeting places and for protection from harsh weather. They have provided wood for homes and church's and provided cooling shade in the hot summer. In times of war they have been used as mustering places, scouting nests, and sniper's perches. In times of peace, churches and courts have been held under their limbs and sometimes, those same limbs were used to provide frontier justice. Over 500 years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue and Europeans first came to America, some of the saplings from then are still alive, silent witnesses to history. If only they could speak.

The Halfway Oak Tree next to Hwy 183
One of these trees, an gnarled, old live oak, lives on the windswept plains 13 miles south of Breckenridge, Texas. For miles around there's no other tree so it's hard to miss. The tree got its name from its location: halfway between Breckenridge and Cisco. In the 1800's it served as a halfway rest stop on the original Fort Griffin to Stephenville stage coach passage. Noted on maps as early as 1858, it provided travelers a refuge for centuries.

in 1867, Fort Griffin was one of the frontier forts built to defend settlers against Indians and outlaws. The town of Fort Griffin, named for the fort but called "The Flat" by everyone, was established nearby. This lawless frontier outpost attracted many infamous characters of western lore such as Mollie McCabe and John Wesley Hardin. Lawlessness was so bad that the Flat was eventually placed under martial law and soldiers ran the outlaws and troublemakers out of town. As the bad guys rode south, they no doubt stopped under the old oak tree just long enough to rest their horses for a few minutes. In 1877, Wyatt Earp came through The Flat hot on the trail of a fleeing criminal. Doc Holiday was coming to help his friend apprehend the scofflaw and Wyatt left word for Doc that he would wait for him at the Halfway Oak. The next day, Doc caught up with Wyatt at his camp beside the tree.
In the oil boom of the 1920s, thousands of prospectors rushed into Breckenridge. Photographs from that time show almost nothing but wooden oil derricks stretching to the distant horizon. The oil boom brought railroads and the tracks for one line were laid less than 200 feet west of the tree. The tracks are long gone now, but the Half-Way Oak still stands.

Over the many years of its life, the tough old tree has suffered through drought, ice storms, misguided pruning, an accidental poisoning and several car crashes, one of them fatal. (It must be rather embarrassing for there to be only one tree for miles around and somehow you crashed your car into it.) In the 1970s the tree was scheduled to be removed for the widening of Highway 183, but the citizens of Breckenridge banded together, refusing to allow the tree to be cut. Instead of living history being destroyed, the road was routed around it and a few picnic tables and a nice highway pull-off were added, allowing the Half-Way Oak to continue to provide a welcome respite for travelers.