Lone Tree was a solitary cottonwood standing on the north side of the Platte river about three miles southwest from where Central City now is. Its massive trunk, ten or twelve feet in circumference at the base, rose like a column fifty feet in the air and was crowned with spreading branches which in summer cast a grateful shade. It was a landmark which could be seen for twenty miles across the level Platte valley, and the early traveler, viewing it afar off, hastened to enjoy its protection and shade.
Lone Tree Monument.
(From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)
The Indians knew the tree and named it long before the white men came. The legend is that their chiefs held council within its shade. The first white traveler up the Platte must have noticed it. The overland trail on the north side of the Platte ran within a few yards of the tree. The great emigrant trains made a camping ground near it and hundreds of those who passed that way carved their names in its tough bark, climbing higher each year to find room for new names and initials, until its rugged trunk was covered to the height of thirty feet with these inscriptions. Lone Tree ranch was established in 1858 at a little distance from the tree. Later the post office there and the Union Pacific station three miles away each bore its name. In 1865 a great storm laid the old landmark low, its strength having been sapped by the hundreds of sharp knives which carved its bark. Part of its trunk was taken to Lone Tree station, now called Central City. Here it stood on the depot platform until it was nearly all carried away in fragments by tourists.
Thousands of travelers from the East and the West who crossed the plains in the early days keep the old tree in their memories, and the early pioneers in the Platte valley remember it as a rare old friend. Though the old tree decayed until even its stump is gone, it still remains in the minds and hearts of the people who were gladdened by it as it stood, solitary and majestic, by the long, hard, lonely trail in those far away days.
In the year 1911 the people of Merrick County, through their county board, voted the money to place a stone monument made in the likeness of a cottonwood stump in the place where the Lone Tree once stood. There it stands to-day in perpetual witness to the worth of a tree.