The Case of the Curious Tree

You never know what funny little tidbits might pop up in your research, but I never expected to find one related to a tree.

Zimry Haun
Zimry Haun

My 3rd great-grandfather was Zimiriah “Zimry” Haun.  Born in Jackson, Missouri in 1822 to Peter Haun and Jane “Jinny” Moody, he married Elizabeth Whistman (a great-grandniece of Daniel Boone) in 1845.  He was 23 years old and she was 21.  They had two children in Missouri in 1848 and 1849 before moving to the city of Santa Clara, California in about 1851 and finally to a large farm outside of Gilroy, California in 1860.

The town of Gilroy, where my grandmother was born in 1926, is now known as the garlic capital of the world and holds large garlic festivals every year.  As a kid I remember the town always smelling of spaghetti.

A few years ago, while browsing through the California Digital Newspaper Collection, I came across an article published in the Pacific Rural Press on September 6, 1873.  Zimry had been living on his farm for 13 years and was almost 51 years old.  All of his ten children had been born, seven of whom were still living.  The eldest two, the sons born in Missouri, were working hard on their own to establish themselves and eventually start their own families.  His eldest daughter, Henrietta, had recently married James Angel, a respected rancher and one time Sheriff of Gilroy who witnessed the remains of the Donner Party when he was a child, and who chased after the Californio bandido Tiburcio Vasquez as young law man.  With their older children starting to establish themselves, by this point in their lives Zimry and Elizabeth had their four youngest with them.  Ben age 17, Jane age 13, Thomas age 11, and Serelda age 4.

Haun Tree
The sketch in the Pacific Rural Press, the “Live Oak Tree” – Aug 23, 1873.

A curiosity had been noticed at the Haun farm and a Mr. Dent of the Live Oak School House wrote the following letter in to the Pacific Rural Press:

Though not much accustomed to drawing, I have attempted to sketch a curiosity existing in my immediate vicinity.

It is a “Live-Oak Tree.”  A live oak tree; that is, an oak tree alive; though the entire top was cut off, and the “stub” was deeply girdled with an axe in September or October, 1870; nearly three years ago.  I send you my sketch herewith, and I also send you by mail of same date, a green twig and half grown acorns, and a dry chip, each and all taken from the same tree.

The top is now over fifteen feet high and about ten feet across, and is a mass of limbs and green foliage, apparently as fresh and vigorous as any tree near it.

Mr. Zimry Haun, on whose farm the tree stands, assured me that he did the work with full intent to kill the tree.  The top of the tree was cut up for firewood, and the stub (about ten feet high) was deeply girdled before he left the ground.

Now, the chips taken from the girdling are, as you see “black as your hat and dry as a bone.”  The bark has peeled from the lower part, several inches, as shown in the drawing.  The gap in the bark is at least one foot, and in some places much more than that.

The gash is from 1 1/2 to 4 inches deep, and the chips left in the bottom of the gash are, as you see, about four inches long.

I present this question to our Botanists.  How does the Live-Oak tree grow?  Is it endogenous or exogenous?  Please illustrate and explain in your valuable PRESS and send one copy to “Live Oak School,” near Gilroy, for the benefit of the class in Botany.

The body of the tree is over two feet in diameter, and growing larger above the girdling; below, the stump is dead and worm-eaten.

  • A.S. Dent.  Live Oak School House, Aug 23d, 1873

The Pacific Rural Press went on to say a little about the evergreen Oak of California and explained that, while the girdling was very deep in most places, that the 1.5 inches in one spot must have been enough for the tree to continue to thrive.

Haun Farm
A map showing the location of the “Z. Haun” property west of Gilroy, CA.

The property where the Haun Farm once stood is now shared by a vineyard, a few homes and a botanical nursery.  While I’m sure the tree has long since finally died off, I can’t help but wonder if the stump might still be there.





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