Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

September 7, 2012

The ‘family tree’

TAHLEQUAH — Special preference is often given to items of historical significance, such homes, buildings, furniture, and art. In fact, entire registries are created to recognize them.

Area resident Michael Christie hopes the same consideration will be given to the state record chinkapin oak tree growing on his family’s land when the rural road by his home is widened.

The Christie family was recently told by an unnamed Cherokee Nation road crew employee that the tree would be removed when the road was widened. But on Wednesday, a Cherokee Nation spokeswoman said crews had never planned to cut down the tree.

The Christies hope the tribe will keep its word.

The tree stands 79 feet tall, and it takes five or six men to reach around its breadth.

Located off State Highway 100 and Rocky Mountain Road, it is on the Cherokee side of the Cherokee/Adair County line on the old Richard Christie land allotment. Today, the parcel is remembered as the Daniel Christie homestead.

Daniel’s daughter, Lucy Christie, 86, lives on the land where she grew up. History matters to the Christie clan, so as the family discussed how to save their tree, Michael, Lucy’s cousin, became the one to spread the word. They consider the tree  part of the family, having shared and shaded family events for generations.

Michael, 53, is 6 feet tall, and is dwarfed by the giant tree.

“If I see something is wrong, I’ll stand up and say something,” he said. “I’m defending this old tree because it’s part of state history, family history and is irreplaceable.”

Michael’s father told him his ancestors farmed the land during the day, but spent their nights in the hills, where they thought they’d be safe.

The tree was measured in 2012 by Dale Lenz, of the Oklahoma Forestry Services. It turned out to be 6- to 6-1/2 feet in diameter, Christie said.

“I told him it took five or six people to hold hands around it, depending on how long their arms are,” he said.

Lucy said Lenz asked if he could measure the behemoth, thinking it probably would set a record – if not for height, then circumference.

“The forestry guy came by and asked me if he could measure it,” said Lucy. “The picture he took is at the Northeastern State University in a state book of records.”

Lenz confirmed he measured the tree in 2010, and to his knowledge, it’s the biggest chinkapin in Oklahoma.

It’s a good-sized tree, a nice specimen, he said. “It would be nice to keep the tree.”

Lucy recalls sitting on the porch of her father’s cabin while her aunt Aggie played the fiddle while sitting in the old rocking chair. Now, Lucy lives in a mobile home beside the homestead.

“The falling acorns sound like hail hitting the roof of the trailer,” Lucy said. “The acorns look like a chinkapin, with little separate parts inside. You can eat those.”

Michael has found snake skins on the branches when he’s climbed the tree.

“Up on one branch, there’s a cavity that I think [the snakes] used for nesting, but I never saw snakes up there,” said Michael. “The dog uses the tree for a dog house, getting down under the roots in a hole. The squirrels use this tree for a highway to get to the next tree. Blue jays, woodpeckers and wild canaries like it up there.”

Mistletoe has started growing in the boughs, and mushrooms come up under and around the hollow roots.

“People gather the mushrooms. Aunt Lizzie Caldwell used to gather [mushrooms] under the giant oaks at the Methodist Home. In her 80s, Aunt Lizzie is the sole elder in my family, besides Lucy,” said Michael.

Orchards used to grow all around the mammoth tree, he said.

“See that wild plum? It’s the last of the trees,” Michael said. “People thought this place was called Hungry Mountain because you’d be hungry here. But really, you came here if you were hungry because you’d never leave hungry, my dad, Charlie ‘Cooney’ Christie, said.”

Michael hopes that bringing attention to this literal “family tree” will ensure it is spared during the widening of the road that curves by their property.


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