For the love of a tree

JOYCE MILLER
The tree is believed to be an Indian Marker tree. It's location and characteristic shape indicates the tree was a marker for an Osage Indian grave.

It's a stately old tree that has graced the landscape along the highway near Decaturville for years without drawing any attention until recently. The trunk and limbs tower over 50' tall and to those who pass without paying much attention, it just looks like a wonderful old tree. But it's not. 

The tree is believed to be an Indian Marker tree. It's location and characteristic shape indicates the tree was a marker for an Osage Indian grave. Some speculate the tree has been there for 200 or so years. 

Not long ago, Diane Oz and her neighbors noticed trees along their road, including Oz's property where the old tree sits, were being marked with pink tags by the power company. The trees were on the power company's right-of-way and were scheduled to be removed. 

According to the power company, Sho-Me Power Electric Coop, based in Marshfield,  the line that runs along the property with the marker tree is a critical source of power and serves several thousand consumers in the Camdenton area. Even though it may seem that trees far from the line would not cause a problem, coop officials said each year customers experience interruptions to service caused by trees at the edge of the right-of-way. 

"Making sure the right-of-way is free of obstruction helps keep the system safe and reliable for both consumers and employees. Our right-of-way extends 75 ft from the center line and the marker tree is at 73 ft, thus it was flagged for removal," according to Tim Lewis, manager of the coop's member services and communications."

Lewis said Sho-Me Power, along with other rural electric cooperatives, work hard to adhere to any local, state, and federal regulations concerning the operation of an electrical power system while at the same time preserving safety, reliability and the quality of life of the member/owners they serve. Continued maintenance of the right-of-way is a crucial part of providing safe and reliable conditions.

 Oz  purchased the  property in 2016. Her brother and sister-in-law had purchased the house in 2009 to remodel and resale. They have lived in the area for several years. When she moved in, she was intrigued by the tree but wasn't familiar with the historical significance. 

"I had heard stories about the tree when I moved in from people that had been in the area for many years, for it certainly is an interesting tree. It wasn't until the electric company tagged it for removal that more of the tree's legacy has come out. The majority of my neighbors have been here for 30-plus years and have been helpful getting me in contact with the right people to obtain more information about the tree," she said. 

Fearing she would have little sway over a power company, she and a neighbor enlisted the help of a gentleman named Don Wells from Mountain Stewards, an organization that tracks and maintains a data base of Indian Marker trees. 

In the database, Oz said the tree is listed as a sacred Indian marker. After sending Wells photos of the tree, he confirmed that in his years of experience, he felt certain the tree had been used as a marker for a grave.  

Wells reached out to Sho-Me Power raising concerns that a tree sacred to Native Americans was about to be destroyed. He, too, was worried the tree would be destroyed and along with it, a piece of Osage Indian history would be lost. 

The response wasn't quite what Oz, her neighbors or Wells expected. They were concerned the coop was going to make an arbitrary decision and move forward with knocking it down with the rest of marked trees on the right-of-way. 

That turned out to not be the case. 

After the department manager in charge of vegetation control was made aware of the owner’s concern regarding the tree, he made a site visit to investigate. 

After consulting with staff from both the operations and compliance departments, it was determined that the marker tree poses little risk to the line based on its distance from the line along with the direction of lean of the tree.

Lewis said the coop made the decision to leave the tree as it has been for hundreds of years. 

 "We are pleased that the owner of the property, friends, and neighbors all came together to let us know the significance of the tree. We’re also glad it was deemed a low risk to the line and it could be preserved. Not all vegetation clearance programs have a positive turn like this," Lewis said. 

As for Oz and her neighbors, they are thrilled the coop took the time to listen and take into consideration their concerns to protect the tree.