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Death of a Giant
For years the sign has stood along U.S. Highway 70 east of Broken Bow. It announces your arrival to the site of the State's Largest Tree, a giant baldcypress which has stood on the banks of Mountain Fork river since the birth of Christ. Locals and tourists alike trek up the gravel lane leading to the home of Lewis Stiles, whose family has served as steward of the tree since 1910. Visitors gladly pay a small admission fee just to walk around and marvel at its enormous trunk, measuring 33 feet in circumference. Many children have played at its knees and taken these memories into their adult lives. This massive conifer was indeed the undisputed kind of Giant Trees in Oklahoma. Then in a flash of nature's fury on May 12, 1982 the tree was struck by lightning. No doubt over the course of 2,000 years, it had been struck before. But, this time was different. This time nature showed no mercy. Its crown was completely blown apart and it fell to the earth in the thunderous explosion. The trunk ignited and flames consumed a large part of its bole. By the next morning, the tree was literally a shell of its former self. Lewis Stiles was heartbroken as he surveyed the damage. From the reamins of the limbs on the ground he was able to salvage more than 1000 board feet of lumber. A limb too large for the local sawmill was drug to rest in front of his house and remains there still. Although the tree is no long alive, its remnants towering some 90 feet, are still viewed in awe by visitors. How sad that something which had lived so long would succumb in a flash of time. Often things people admire and revere most in nature are casualties of nature itself. Such was the fate of Oklahoma's largest tree.
- John Burwell