The war of
sycamore and pecan trees
The story of the sycamore trees has been told and retold to countless generations of Wharton County residents, becoming a local folk legend.
Originally, Monterey Square was home to Chinaberry trees that were planted during the 1850’s.Not much is known about those early trees. However, sometime after the current courthouse was built, sycamore trees were planted and they grew as sycamores do.
All was well until February of 1922, when the county agricultural extension agent, J.O. Graham, decided to promote the native pecans as a potential cash crop by planting a pecan tree between each of the sycamores on the courthouse lawn. As the new trees grew, it became clear there wasn’t room for both species.
As always, opinions run hot, and people began to take sides on the matter, some for keeping the sycamores and others wanting pecans.
By 1924, it was decided to cut the sycamores down, but once the cutting began, ladies from the Garden Club became quite alarmed and halted the work.
Again people started taking sides on the matter until finally it was decided that several of the old trees would be cut; however, a number of sycamores would be left standing.
Only what is supposed to happen isn’t always so. While County Judge Davis was out of town, thinking the matter was solved, a group of men descended on the square under the cover of darkness and cut all of the sycamore trees down.
Moreover, these unknown men were apparently very practiced at woodcraft, because none of the falling trees injured a single young pecan tree or even the hitching posts. Annie Lee Williams, author of The History of Wharton County 1846-1961, wrote:
“News of the cutting reached the state newspapers and one drummer who came here Wednesday said he didn’t come earlier because he had heard in Houston that the city is on the verge of warfare and there might be a battle.”
There wasn’t a battle,
but people were quite upset. An anonymous poet vented his frustration in
a pome printed in the Wharton Spectator:
“When your pulse thumps hard
And your head feels queer
And your thoughts rise up
Like the froth on beer;
When your heart gets weak,
And you know darn well
The whole world’s wrong---
You’ve been looking over
the courthouse yard.”
The War of the Sycamores and the Pecans is but another example of how passions run high in Wharton County.Today the pecans have grown to become the Courthouse Guard of the late 20th century.
Outsiders who visit Wharton County might think things have always been the way they appear, but locals know, whether you’ve been walking around the courthouse lawn or taken a tour of the Alamo lately, battles lost are often the things legends are made of…. “REMEMBER THE SYCAMORES!”