The Making of Dueling Oak 4, an Old Oak Tree on a Red Dirt Road
I had photographed at the old oak tree on the red dirt road in the early spring. I originally scouted the Dueling Oak because I had heard about it and wanted to see if it had potential as a photo subject. While an impressive southern live oak tree, time has taken several of its large, sprawling limbs, which has unfortunately reduced the tree’s canopy. Despite its condition, I decided to try to compose a shot that didn’t rely heavily on the oak’s canopy.
I found the best composition was to trek down Old Magnolia Road a bit and then shoot back towards the Dueling Oak. This allowed me to not only show off the sheer size of the tree but to also convey its position in the middle of the road. Old Magnolia Road’s tree canopy framed the Dueling Oak and covered its missing limbs.
Now in the late spring, I returned to the Dueling Oak to see how the landscape had changed. This time, the canopy over Old Magnolia Road leading to the Dueling Oak was a more uniform green. It was more of a solid verdant color that no longer had yellows in it and the leaf cover was fuller.
The Dueling Oak itself looked the same, though it seemed to be more hidden by the full branches of other trees. The red dirt road still led straight to that old oak tree.
The Dueling Oak on Old Magnolia Road
The old oak tree is the Dueling Oak. It is a large southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) situated towards the north end of Old Magnolia Road on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida in Leon County. More accurately, the Dueling Oak sits smack dab in the middle of Old Magnolia Road. Traffic must divert around the stately old oak in the middle of the unpaved canopy road or endure an accident. A low brick wall around the tree solidifies its presence, as though it were necessary.
The Dueling Oak’s name harkens back to code duello, of a time gone by when disagreements were resolved, and honor defended, swiftly – and permanently – by a duel to the death.
Who knows what violence this old oak tree has seen in its lifetime; one can only assume that it earned its name. Though, in my brief research online, I was able to find no proof of specific duels occurring at this spot, under the Dueling Oak’s outreached limbs, in the middle of a red dirt road.
The Read-Alston Duel
One-on-one combat in the form of duels most certainly did occur in the Tallahassee area in the past. Perhaps one of the more infamous battles was the Read-Alston duel that took place on December 12, 1839.
Leigh Read and Augustus Alston were political opponents in Tallahassee and decided to settle their differences with a duel. Alston was expected to be the victor of the fight. Alas, fate had other plans. Alston apparently shot wildly in the pivotal moment and was subsequently killed by Read.
Despite the legitimacy of the outcome, as it pertains to code duello, Read was murdered in the streets of Tallahassee by Alston’s brother in an act of revenge less than two years later. Read more about this fascinating piece of Tallahassee history in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 68, Number 4 from 1989.
While it may be possible that the Read-Alston duel occurred at the Dueling Oak (the Alston plantation was nearby), reports suggest that it actually occurred in Mannington on the Georgia state line (in the vicinity of the modern day Iamonia community), and that it wasn’t the only duel to occur in Mannington.
As dueling had been outlawed in Florida by that point, the legalities and jurisdiction were easier to circumvent along the disputed border between the states. While previously more condoned than condemned, the Read-Alston duel and its aftermath quelled the toleration for dueling in Leon County, and in Florida overall.
Old Magnolia Road, a Red Dirt Road – Partially
The Dueling Oak is situated on Old Magnolia Road, a Tallahassee canopy road flanked by plantations. Old Magnolia Road is a lightly-traveled road that runs north-south on the west side of Lake Miccosukee (to the east of Tallahassee proper) and connects Mahan Drive/Highway 90 on the south end to T S Green Road/Highway 142 on the north end.
Parts of Old Magnolia Road are paved and parts remain an unpaved, red dirt road. The unpaved sections of the road are etched down into the Red Hills clay, leaving, in some places, high banks of exposed clay, roots, and foliage.
Old Magnolia Road was a route for plantations in the area to transport their cotton to market and may have originally been a Native American footpath, as many old roads in the area once were.
Miccosukee, Florida – Former Capital of the State of Muskogee
The Dueling Oak is not far from Miccosukee, Florida. Miccosukee is a historical community that was once a major center of the Miccosukee tribe of Native Americans (part of the Seminole nation). At one time, it was the capital of the short-lived State of Muskogee.