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The Charter Oak is one of 81 trees named in the Texas A&M Forest Service Famous Trees of Texas registry, which recognizes trees that witnessed exciting periods and events in history. Over the years, the massive oak survived various threats including floods, tornados, and an attempt to cut it down in the 1950s by high school vandals. The prank was on them as they worked all night cutting down the wrong tree. The tree is on land now owned and cared for by Brazos Electric Co-op and can be seen from Charter Oak Drive.

On the county’s 150th anniversary in 2000, a crowd gathers near Belton’s Charter Oak to witness a young live oak being planted to represent the pioneers along with a plaque honoring those who created the county.

Photograph, White, Black, Tree

Bell County Charter Oak

Plant, Tree, Natural landscape, Sky

Charter Oak marker

Plant, Tree, Land lot, Grass

Charter Oak marker

Road surface, Tree, Tints and shades, Asphalt

The creation of Bell County was authorized in January 1850 and named for the newly-elected governor of Texas, Peter Hansborough Bell. Within three months, a special election was to be held to elect five commissioners to organize the county. The Honorable Isaac Standefer, Chief Justice of Milam County, ordered a special election, and a central location was chosen. The site of the special election was under a Texas Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) on the east bank of the Leon River, located about 50 yards east of the log cabin home of William F. Hill and about 200 yards south of the military crossing at the Leon River on the road from Austin to Fort Gates.

About thirty or forty men participated in the election, voting by oral ballot. Three men acted as election judges. Joseph Dennis, John Fulcher, Melville Wilkerson, Cornelius B. Roberts, and Josiah Hart were elected as “Special Commissioners” with specific functions and temporary tenure. Their first duties were to survey the county boundaries, locate and lay out the county seat, sell lots, and erect public buildings.

As time went on, all those who were present at the event passed on, and the surviving records did not indicate the exact location of the election. George W. Tyler, a Belton lawyer, politician, author, and historian, bemoaned the fact that the place so important to county history was lost. Inquiries among the pioneers’ descendants as well as newspaper and document searches failed to turn up any evidence pertaining to the event.

It was in 1916, quite by accident, that Tyler met Captain Samuel W. Bishop of Killeen at an “old timers” picnic at Miller Springs. At this time, he acquired information about the tree. He subsequently hired a photographer to capture two images of the tree. In November 1917, Bishop visited Judge Tyler in Belton and accompanied him to the tree shown in the photographs and identified it as the one under which the election was held. Captain Bishop provided a sworn statement to Judge Tyler detailing the events of the election at which he was personally present with his father but could not vote since he was a lad of eighteen. Bishop recalled the election being held in the spring of 1850, possibly in April.

“Charter Oak” (as Tyler named it) was located about a quarter of a mile from the corporate line of Belton, “where the line crossed the Belton and Temple pike (at the Tatum Hill), and from there to the high ground east of the river; a full view of it can be had by looking to the right or down the Leon River.” According to Tyler, the tree stood near a tenant house on Judge G. M. Felt’s farm.

Today a granite marker standing at the intersection of Charter Oak Dr. and Parkside Dr. memorializes the founding of Bell County: “Erected through the efforts of the Bell County Chapters, Daughters of the Republic of Texas to commemorate the organization of Bell County, May 1850, under live oak tree, 500 feet south of this spot.”

Temple Junior Chamber of Commerce. Bell County History. Fort Worth, Tex.: University Supply and Equipment Company, 1958.

Texas A&M Forest Service. Famous Trees of Texas, s.v. “Bell County Charter Oak."

Tyler, George W. The History of Bell County. San Antonio, Tex.: Naylor, 1936.

Watson, Jennifer. “Historic Oak Survives Weather, Vandals.” Harker Heights Herald, March 15, 2013. 

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Bell County Museum/Temple Daily Telegram, 6.6.2021

TFS Famous Trees of Texas

Photo by Denise Karimkhani, 6.11.2020

Photo by Denise Karimkhani, 6.11.2020