Historic Council Oak
The French explorer Robert Rene Cavalier Sieur de La Salle landed on the banks of the St. Joseph River, in December 1679, at what is now Riverview Cemetery. Two years later, in 1681, in the area today known as Highland Cemetery, under the shade of a great oak tree, La Salle held a council with Indian leaders, which led to the Miami Treaties. The oak tree, Council Oak, stood in Highland Cemetery for years, until disease and an unfortunate lightening strike resulted in its removal in 1992.
The summer of 1991 was not a very good year for me. May of that year I suffered an injury, on the job, that kept me flat on my back with a partially herniated disk in my lower back. I was off work for three months and in extreme pain a good portion of that period. The good news is, I fully recovered and am fine and dandy. That summer, for several weeks, I wondered whether I would be able to walk again.
Part of my rehabilitation involved exercising, especially walking. Limited to short distances at first, towards the middle of August I was walking several miles a day. On more than one occasion my wife would walk with me. Sometimes our daugter would also join in, so we tried to varry our walking destinations. One day my wife wanted to walk north and we ended up at Riverview Cemetery. Many people might consider this odd, even others would consider it morbid, but my wife and I like to explore such places. During our walk we located the spot where LaSalle landed on the banks of the St. Joseph River. The monument helped. The decision was made to make a stop in Highland Cemetery, to see Council Oak and try and locate Knute Rockne's final resting place. Back then Council Oak was not hard to locate. The huge oak tree could be seen as soon as one entered. The closer we got, the bigger the tree grew. The massive weight of the lowest tree limbs had resulted in cracks in the trunk. Many of these huge lower limbs had to be secured and held off the ground with cables and wires. Where the trunk had decayed, attempts were made to fill the void with concrete. Parts of the tree were decaying but overall it was still a most impressive sight. Knute Rockne's grave, on the other hand, was very plain and understated. I had expected more of a shrine. The cigar and baseball cap that some Notre Dame football fan had left were nice touches.
Over the next day or two, violent thunderstorms came rumbling through South Bend. These were very bad storms with lots of wind and lightening. Now common sense would say to seek shelter during such weather, but after surviving four tornados over my lifetime, I spend several hours on our front porch watching the storms roll in. Heavy lightening accompanied the storm and it appeared that the worst of the weather was striking north of our house. The next day we heard the news...Council Oak had been struck by the lightening and split in several pieces. We were shocked and saddened. My wife made the comment, "that figures. We visit Council Oak and it gets leveled by lightening. They can't arrest us for that can they?" Futile attempts were made to try and save the tree, but, in the end it was cut up and hauled away. Only a section of the trunk remains today. To this day, it has become a running joke between my wife and I, that we killed Council Oak.
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