In 1854, the town of Comanche, Texas did not exist. Instead, this part of the state was referred to as Indian Territory by most people and as The North Leon River Country by state officials. It was in the year of 1854, that a Mr. Fleming invited his fifteen-year-old son, Mart (Martin V.)*, to travel with him from East Texas to Indian Territory in order to scope out the land. You see, the government was at that time offering acreage to those who would agree to settle here, and Mr. Fleming wanted to be sure of the type of land he would be receiving if he took the government up on its offer.
Having ridden across what was then considered prairie land and having decided that the land was indeed fertile, Mr. Fleming and young Mart began their journey back home. When night overtook them, father and son made camp in a small grove of live oak trees and were soon fast asleep.
Sometime in the night, Mart Fleming was awakened by what he thought was the sound of rolling thunder. By the time the boy realized that the sound he was hearing was actually screaming Comanche bearing down upon him, he only had time to dive behind the nearest oak as the Indians raced by. By the light of day, Mart realized that the very tree that had sheltered him had been riddled with arrows. He collected the arrows and took them home with him so that his friends would believe him when he told his wild tale.
Although Mart’s family eventually located to what today is Comanche County, Mart himself did not take up residence in the county until 1872. Eventually, he became something of a character and quite possibly the most beloved citizen in Comanche. And, as they always do, the years passed.
By 1912, Mart Fleming was an old man by the standards of the day, and the entire town referred to him as Uncle Mart. He owned a butcher shop in the building that today houses Goodson’s Insurance on the south side of the square and from there, he could look right out of his front door and gaze upon his old friend, the tree that had once saved his life. It was in this same year that officials decided that the town of Comanche needed a new look if it was to meet the modern standards of the day.
After much discussion, it was decided by a judge’s decree that all of the trees still standing inside the courthouse square were to be cut down in order to create more room. Well, when Mart heard this, he went running to the courthouse. He argued with the judge and with anyone else who would listen; however, although they loved Uncle Mart, they thought he was acting like an old man. After all, it was 1912, and everyone wanted Progress…you know, the kind with a capital P.
Finally, it was time. It is said that the workers wouldn’t even look at Uncle Mart’s tree until it was the last one standing. Then, as they turned toward the oak, Mart Fleming stepped out from behind it with his old buffalo gun over his arm.
“Going somewhere, boys?” Mart was heard to ask.
The men stopped, stunned that this gentle giant of the community was standing in front of them with a gun! The men tried to explain to the old man that they had no choice, that the judge had ordered them to carry out the deed.
“You ain’t fixin’ to touch this tree lessen you plan to move me first,” Uncle Mart said in a clear voice.
After trying to reason with their old friend, the men turned and ran to the courthouse, quickly telling the judge of their predicament. It didn’t take long for the judge to decide that the tree could stay, going so far as to officially name it the Fleming Oak, after Uncle Mart, of course.
Through the years this tree has been accused of being a hanging tree, playing a part in some of Comanche’s darkest history. There is, however, absolutely no evidence to support these claims, and today the Fleming Oak continues to stand tall and proud over the little courthouse known as Old Cora on the southwest corner of the courthouse square.
Be sure to look across the street to the south when you visit Uncle Mart’s tree. The building that is now Goodson’s Insurance once housed Mart’s butcher shop, making it easy for him to keep an eye on his tree.
*Martin V. Fleming was born August 27, 1838, near Granite Mountain, Georgia. He was still very young when the family left Georgia and headed for Texas. By his own admission, Mart cried the entire trip.