Dakota Datebook

Oak Trees

Monday, January 20, 2014


John Keats once said of oak trees:

Those green-robed senators of mighty woods, Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars, Dream, and so dream all night without a stir.

The oak, great and old, stands longer than the lives of men, contented to its lot in life. It is a tree often referred to in poetry as a symbol of importance, weight, and time, but also life and death.

It was on this day in 1938 that the Walcott Reporter printed a story about a particularly interesting oak tree. Surveyors in 1870 had used the oak as a landmark when measuring land near the Sheyenne River south of Kindred. The oak was not an unlikely choice for a landmark on the North Dakota prairies, where it was most likely the only tree for miles.

The tree grew on the corner of the E. T. Lee estate. It states in records in the Wahpeton courthouse that the tree was blazed with “T 136 N, R 50 W” in a slice about one-and-a-half feet wide and one-and-a-half feet long. However, the noble tree objected to man’s impingement upon its form and quickly healed over the blazed section.

The tree remained on the lot inconspicuously until it was cut down in the fall of 1937 to make way for electrification wires. The oak’s wood was brought to the Lee’s property, destined for the stove. When splitting the logs, Tallef Lee noticed that one block neatly came apart, with raised letters on one half, and indented letters on the other. Tallef was intrigued by this discovery and brought the pieces of oak to the Tribune Office where its significance could be investigated.

The tree had grown about 6 to 8 inches over the blazed section, where sixty rings can be counted on the outer growth. The late E. T. Lee remembered the tree’s importance as a landmark. However, once when asked to find it, he had searched in vain for the inscribed tree. The Walcott Reporter concluded that the tree’s history “demonstrated what nature will do to heal the wounds made by man.”

Humorist Jack Handey also said of trees, “If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”

Dakota Datebook written by Maria Witham


Walcott Reporter January 20, 1938


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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