NEAR FORT DAVIS, Texas (Covering Katy News) — In the late 1800s, the story goes, a group of cattle rustlers stole cattle, butchered it and sold the meat to soldiers at the U.S. Army fort here. In response, local ranchers called in the Texas Rangers to put a stop to the rustling. The Rangers caught the rustlers and served justice by hanging them from a tree in a small meadow.
Last month, on a camping trip here, a Boy Scout troop from Katy found and marked the tree, which had fallen over. The troop also identified a five-mile hiking trail, with key landmarks, for future visitors to enjoy.
The tree was part of a site that became known as Rustler’s Flat, which in turn is now part of the Buffalo Trails Scout Ranch.
Warren Fields, a Katy scoutmaster, said that the site included a watering hole and is marked on local topographical maps.
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After hearing the story about the hanging tree from Army veteran George Friday, the scouts worked with him to identify the site on a topographical map of the area.
The scouts then received permission from the camp director to repurpose some pallets and create two wooden signs to leave at the site. One sign marked the tree itself. The other sign identified Troop 73 as marking the tree. They used cattle brands to burn their message into the wood.
Fields said the scouts were relieved to be done with the climb and excited to see the tree.
“We made the hike on our fifth day there,” Fields said. “The hike in through the canyon was in the early morning and mostly shaded because of the occasional water from the wash. The trail was not well marked in places and we had a Tenderfoot scout, Donovan Kynard, identify much of the trail on the way in. He had spent a night down the trail on a wilderness survival course. After we reached the fork where the trail starts to go up to the flats, it was a steep 400-foot climb through scrub brush.”
Fields described coming out of the brush areas onto the flat as surreal.
“The climb up was so full of brush, steep and rocky — it seemed like we were never going to top out,” Fields said. “When we finally got to the meadow, it was really a nice flat spot. You could see where there is a depression that holds seasonal water. But surrounding the meadow, there were mountains on one side and canyon on the other. It’s just a bench on the side of the mountain about the size of four or five football fields.”
Fields said that everyone was “attracted instantly” to the tree.
“It had been described as big, old and the only one on its side next to the dried-up pond,” Fields said. “The scouts immediately wanted to climb all over it. As old as it is, it was plenty sturdy for the scouts.”
The trail has been designated as the Hanging Tree Loop. Both the tree and another landmark, called the Needle, have been designated on the trail.
A custom patch is being designed to commemorate the hike. Fields said the patch is awaiting scout licensing approval.
“The ranch has patches that commemorate the sunrise hike and the hike to the Needle,” Fields said. “We put some thought into designing our own patch. The scouts will get the first patches and the remainder will be donated back to the ranch to sell in their scout shop. We had the patch designed by the same company that makes the other patch for the ranch so they can order additional patches in the future. Camouflaged on the patch in the trunk of the tree is K-T 73, designating our troop.”
Fields said that aside from the historical significance of finding and identifying the tree, completing the hike also meets a scouting requirement. Each scout must make a five-mile hike.
“If you start at ranch headquarters, make the loop and return, it is almost exactly five miles,” Fields said. “As other scouts make the loop, they can buy the same patch.”
The ranch is about an hour’s drive north of Fort Davis, which in turn is 566 miles west of Katy, and 200 miles southeast of El Paso.
The troop is under consideration for the Boy Scouts’ Historic Trails Award for its work in identifying the tree and hiking trail. But being considered for the award wasn’t the best thing about the trip.
“It was really cool watching young men grow in the outdoors,” Fields said. “We did not hear much about cellphones at all until the way home. What a nice break.”
See photos below.