History

The Time an Occultist Poisoned the 600-year-old Texas Treaty Oak

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Although over a quarter of a century has gone by, the bitter memory of the Treaty Oak’s poisoning still lingers in the minds of many Texans. Few recall, however, the dark motives of the man convicted of the crime.

The Treaty Oak is the lone surviving member of the Council Oaks, a grove where folklore holds that Stephen F. Austin met with Comanche and Tonkawa tribes to negotiate the first boundary treaty of Texas. The 600-year-old live oak is a beloved Austin landmark. Before the poisoning, its branches spread some 130-feet wide.

The Time an Occultist Poisoned the 600-year-old Texas Treaty Oak

Photo: Facebook/Cecilia Minden

John Giedraitis, at that time the arborist for the City of Austin, discovered dead grass under the tree in spring, 1989. After heavy rains caused the poison to penetrate the oak, leaves yellowed and sailed to the ground.  Something was terribly wrong. Soon the malevolent cause of the tree’s illness was discovered, a revelation that shocked the Lone Star State.

Texans from far and wide arrived to pay their respects to the dying tree. Around its thick trunk, they left notes and gifts, as well as prayers for the tree’s recovery. The experts were unanimous: none of them believed there was any hope for the Treaty Oak. Billionaire Ross Perot sent Austin a blank check. The city would spend $250,000 in an attempt to save the tree, using radical, desperate methods.

Police ultimately arrested Paul Stedman Cullen, an ex-feed store employee and the son of a U.S. Air Force colonel. During the trial, which made national news, prosecutors claimed Cullen’s motives were threefold and truly bizarre. He had spread Velpar herbicide around the oak in the shape of a moon, enacting a witchcraft ritual designed to kill the tree, which symbolized Cullen’s love for his methadone counselor. Additionally, the act served as revenge against the state for forcing Cullen to plant trees while he was imprisoned for committing a previous crime.

The Time an Occultist Poisoned the 600-year-old Texas Treaty Oak
Photo: Facebook/Barbara Garner Mortan

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