Skip to main content

Arvada Hackberry Tree Collection, 1936-1937

 Collection — Small Collection Box: 6, Envelope: 4
Identifier: Series-231

Scope and Contents

This collection contains documents and photographs gathered and assembled from various sources by the Archives regarding the tree on Hackberry Hill that was ultimately cut down due to the straightening of Wadsworth Blvd. north of Arvada in 1937. There are letters written to the Board of County Commissioners by citizens protesting destruction of the tree as well as resolutions and other correspondence by the Peace Pipe Chapter of the DAR; the Colorado State Forestry Association; the Woman's Club of Arvada; and the Denver Chapter of the DAR. There is an article entitled "The Lone Hackberry" by A.V. "Rips" Mayfield that was published in the Arvada Enterprise newspaper about the tree; a letter from the USDA about the feasibility of moving the stump after the tree was cut down; and 14 black and white photos of the stump taken from all sides by Louis G. Davis, the County Extension Agent.


  • Event: 1936-1937


Conditions Governing Access

Archives collection material is non-circulating, requires staff retrieval and is available for use by appointment in the reading room.

Biographical / Historical

The Legend of the Hackberry Tree by Ethel Dark

For many years, an old hackberry tree stood on a hill a mile north of Arvada, Colorado. As early as 1859, the pioneers of Jefferson County remember it, particularly since the only other trees in this region were willows, cottonwoods and the evergreens in the mountains.

Many theories have been advanced as to how the tree happened to be growing alone on this rocky, barren hill. Some say that the tree was planted by early government surveyors to be used as a point of bearing, but this can hardly be true, since it was growing a long time before the land was surveyed. Others suggest that wild birds from the Missouri River Valley, where a few hackberry trees grew, may have been responsible. However, it seems highly improbable that birds could carry a seed for such a long distance.

The indians had a fascinating legend that explained the hackberry tree. Long ago, their folk tale stated, a great chief slain in battle was buried on the bluff. He was dressed in all his robes of office, with his favorite ornaments and weapons beside him, and around his neck was his buckskin medicine bag, containing those things which made up an Indian's personal charm against evil or bad luck. In that bag were hackberry seeds which were perhaps souvenirs of some war or hunting journey or a gift from some medicine man. One of these seeds took root within the breast of the chief, sending its shoots to the sun and its roots to the water far below.

Another Indian legen relates that White Thunder, a great medicine man among the Sioux Indians, planted lone hackberry trees on high hills in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. He said that these trees were altars to the Great Spirit and that no one must destroy them.

In 1936, when government surveyors planned a new road over Hackberry Hill where the old hackberry tree stood, they reported that it would have to be cut down. Hundreds of people protested the destruction of the old landmark, so finally the officials agreed to transplant the tree. It was only about fourteen inches in diameter at the base of the trunk and stood about 16 feet high at the peak of ist branches. The tree had grown in such a manner as to provide on the trunk a seat where the weary traveler might stop and rest. All arrangements had been made to transplant the tree; a big trench had been dug around it, leaving a large mass of soil clinging to the roots. But on the day before the moving of the tree, it was mysteriously cut down. Did vandals maliciously destroy one of Colorado's treasures, or did the Great Indian Father bring revenge upon the white man for building a road which would destroy an Indian altar?

Hackberry hill, the long, high ridge north of Arvada, was reportedly once an indian shrine where the Sioux held ceremonial dances, according to early pioneers. When the first pioneers arrived, there was only one tree to be seen for miles around: the hackberry tree on top of the ridge. The mystery surrounding the Hackberry tree has been discussed in accounts dating back as far as 1859. The tree is not native to Colorado. At the time the tree sprouted and grew, the nearest hackberry tree was on the Missouri River, 600 miles away.

Legend has it that many years before the white man, a great Indian chief was killed in battle. His warriors carried him to the highest hill and buried him with all his possessions. In a leather sack, which he wore around his neck, was a dried hackberry seed from which sprouted and grew the gnarled and knotted hackberry tree found on the ridge.

The original road used to wind around the east side of the hill. In 1936, the County decided all roads should be straight, no matter the obstacles. County officials announced they would build the road over the top of the hill and cut down the hackberry tree, which was squarely in the way. The people protested, and asked if the county would curve the road to avoid the tree. Other residents suggested moving the tree to the capitol grounds to preserve it as a historical monument. However, one dark night, the tree was cut down by an unknown scoundrel and construction began on the road the very next day.

Years later, a man from Arvada claimed he had cut down the hackberry tree because he was "tired of all the wrangling over the darned old tree."

From "Hackberry Hill, an Indian Shrine" by Laura Spitler, published in the Tri-City Journal, Oct. 8, 1975.


0.10 Cubic Feet (One small collection envelope)

Language of Materials