The “Exline Big Oak Tree” (Swamp Chestnut Oak) is located on the grounds of the Tommy and Exline (Watkins) Davis Estate, Dumas, Desha County. This historic oak tree dates back to the early days of this community (c. 1700s) in Dumas, Arkansas. Tommy and Exline Davis lived on this site where this landmark oak tree is located. It has seen many historic milestones in his estimated life of over 325 years, from pioneer life, slave trade and Civil War activities in association with the Arkansas Post, slavery abolishment (1863), Ku Klux Klan (1860s, 1920s), to Civil Rights changes to present day Dumas. It is reported that this landmark tree was a „hanging tree‟ by the Ku Klux Klan, the tree is a geographic marker for the area for determining land settlement, and now is a popular meeting location for community multi-racial celebrations.
This tree is named after the given slave name of the owner‟s wife, “Exline,” to which she later added the family maiden name of “Watkins”. It is a landmark and referred to in the community as the “Big Tree” or the “Exline Tree.” Because of its popularity in the community, it has been treasured due to its cultural and historical roots in the community. It is a symbol of slavery and its history to the region. It is reported that the Ku Klux Klan used this tree and its location to gather, and hang, whip and punish Negros. After slavery was abolished, African-Americans settled in the area and purchased property including the Davis family who purchased the site where this tree is located. Since that time, in the 1950s, the Davis family partnered with the Desha County Cooperative Extension Service to help protect the health of this old tree so that it would continue to thrive. The County provided annual inspections and developed a treatment program to preserve the life of this tree to continue as a landmark of historic fabric of the community. In recent years, the tree site has been used for political campaigns, picnics and musical events as well as a park for the neighborhood.
It is currently threatened due to Highway 54 expansion (planned in 2011) with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD). The expansion is planned to come within 45 feet of the historic tree (road stake line is 23 feet from the tree) and the tree‟s spread is 110 feet which indicates that its roots extend and probably double that spread distance. AHTD „could‟ expand to the other direction, however, there is a historic building in that direction and they have decided to move the expansion towards the tree which will threaten the historic tree (which can‟t be relocated) instead of towards the historic building (which can be relocated). This development will jeopardize the historic tree and the community and surrounding area is quite concerned. It is our understanding that a lawsuit is underway this summer in regards to this matter.
Location: Tommy and Exline (Watkins) Davis Estate, Dumas
Registration: February 7, 2011
Species: Swamp Chestnut Oak