The Incredible Story of Lake Charles' Sallier Oak, a 375-Year-Old Tree, Which Just Survived Hurricane Laura

The resilient live oak is said to date back to at least 1645.

Hurricane Laura
Photo: Clark Miller Photography

When Hurricane Laura made landfall last week in Lake Charles, Louisiana, as a category 4 hurricane, it unleashed destruction all around. But there was one thing it could not destroy: The Sallier Oak.

This fabled live oak tree, which grows its twisty branches on the grounds of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum in downtown Lake Charles, is said to date back to 1645 at the latest, making it at least 375-years-old. After Hurricane Laura wreaked havoc last week, locals feared the tree might have been damaged in the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since the last island hurricane of 1856. But just as the Sallier Oak has survived storms for centuries before—and even a lightning bolt—it endured Mother Nature's wrath this time, too.

Sallier Oak 2 (credit Kathryn Shea Duncan)
This "before" shot of The Sallier Oak was taken in November 2019. Kathryn Shea Duncan

"The Sallier Oak is much more than an old tree. There are literally thousands of majestic live oak trees throughout the South. But Sallier is special. When the oak was a sapling, the native Ishak camped on its sacred ground. The first European settler, Charles Sallier [the tree's namesake], sought refuge and then later romanced his beautiful Catherine under its branches. The Sallier Oak hosted Jean Lafitte's pirate band and Arsene Lebleu's cowboys when they traded doubloons [a Spanish gold coin] for beef," says Lake Charles historian Adley Cormier.

Indeed, this historic tree has bore witness to many a storm. "Some—like Audrey or Rita—are used to tell history, so potent are their power. 'She was born just after Rita,' we'll say, or 'They only had radio before Audrey.' But the Sallier Oak tells a history all its own," Cormier continues. "If you visit the tree, you can see the remains of harbor chains that were used to 'reconnect' two parts of the tree split by a lightning bolt during a 19th-century hurricane. The tree wears the chain, but slowly it is overgrowing it. The Sallier Oak remembers to survive and remembers to grow."

Taking care to survive and grow despite hardships —ah, what a fitting metaphor for the Lake Charles community of late, and for us all, really.

To help the region in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, consider making a donation to the United Way of Southwest Louisiana, which is collecting goods, food, clothing and money, and the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana, which is accepting monetary donations.

WATCH: Hurricane Laura Made Landfall as a Category 4 Storm Causing Major Damage: Here's How to Help

When the time is right, we're looking forward to beholding this incredible tree with our own eyes and palms in person. Until then, we'll continue to keep this community in our hearts and remember the moral of The Sallier Oak.

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