In terms of land surveys and navigation, a “witness tree” is a tree blazed in early days as a survey marker or to mark a trail route. This huge hackberry tree stands above the bank of Soldier Creek approximately 890 yards northwest of the Alex Southern Baptist Church.
As I was inspecting the area one day recently, I was startled to see these markings, very much in the shape of a face, staring back at me from 10 or so feet up the trunk of the tree. I consulted my maps and found two interesting facts about the location of what I have named the “Face Hackberry.”
First, the tree is rooted at the exact location of where the Fort Cobb Trail entered the treeline in 1871 and dropped down to cross Soldier Creek. Second, the tree is located almost exactly at the halfway point of the north boundary of Section 12 of the Alex Township (5 North, 6 West).
Thinking this was perhaps a “witness tree” blazed during either the 1871 or 1898 land surveys of the Alex Township, I was disappointed to find no reference in the survey field notes to indicate a hackberry was blazed in this area during either survey. However, the surveyors were notorious for misidentifying the trees they blazed. I guess it was more important for them to be able to read, write and calculate than it was for them to be experts in tree identification.
Hackberry trees can live to be 200 years old given the right circumstances. Even if this one is not a survey witness tree (and I am still not convinced it’s not), maybe it’s a witness tree marking the route of the old military trail.