By: Hillary Delaney
The trees that Boone County’s first pioneers encountered were ancient, enormous in scope and abundant. They provided much-needed building lumber and heating fuel to increasing numbers of settlers in the area. As in much of the world, our area entered a period of de-foresting.
Though today we enjoy a healthy tree canopy, very few of the ancient examples remain. Most trees were put to practical use, but some also succumbed to various forms of blight, frost and wind damage. Today, magnificent examples of grand old trees can be found in protected areas such as: Dinsmore Woods, Middle Creek Park and Boone Cliffs Park.
Our contemporary awareness of nature conservation in the county is not a new concept. One ancient elm tree that had survived both man and Mother Nature was memorialized in the Boone County Recorder in 1905. At the time of the article, the tree providing inspiration had once stood in old Beaverlick. The writer describes its age as ancient, but indeterminate, as no one living “hath the remotest idea.”
This tree had reportedly once shaded the herds of buffalo making their way along the trace to the Big Bone salt lick. It also offered a cool meeting place for Boone County’s earliest settlers, who traded horses and discussed politics beneath the grand branches. According to the writer of the 1905 article, Confederate Brigadier General Kirby Smith and his forces took lunch under this formidable arbor, resting up for the battle to come as they pushed north in 1862.
Clearly it was a favorite spot amongst the citizens, as the article goes on to recount a variety of diversions: bottles of whiskey consumed at the tree, card playing, romance and students ducking out of class. In a nutshell, this tree was sacred. Little surprise that the close of the article bemoans its loss and even lays blame at the feet of one “William Gilpin”, in whose stove the tree met its final end.
If one looks past the emotional and romantic tone of the piece, it has an historical perspective that we modern folks can’t truly relate to. The writer was living at a time of modernization and change that none of us were witness to. Can you imagine having even second-hand accounts of the days of roaming herds of bison on Hathaway Road?
Thankfully, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to appreciate living old-growth trees right here in Boone County. Surely, as the weather begins to warm and leaves begin to grow, the shade of our trees will draw us to them for practical reasons as well as for their beauty. If you visit, imagine the stories those trees could tell.