Tree-planting honors WSU pioneer

The legacy of one of Washington state’s and WSU’s earliest pioneers came full circle Tuesday when a tree directly related to the one he originally owned was planted at WSU’s arboretum in honor of Earth Day.

The butternut tree, which was brought to the state by pioneer George Washington Bush more than 100 years ago, holds a lot of significance to the university.

“It’s got a lot of educational value to it,” said Rod Sayler, chair of the WSU Arboretum Committee. “It’s a part of what this is all about, we want to respect the past and look to the future. This is a great way to tie those together.”

Stan Wills from the War of 1812 Society donated the tree. Wills, an American history buff, owns a flag museum in Spokane.

Wills said he and other associates had graphing and DNA tests done on the tree as well as other crops originally brought by G.W. Bush.

The butternut tree is an endangered tree native to southeast Canada and is a species of “special concern” in Washington state, said Ron Mittelhammer, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Resource Sciences. 

Donning a frontiersman outfit and .50-caliber Pennsylvania rifle, Wills told some of the Bush family history to the crowd.

Originally intending to settle in Oregon Country with his family in 1844, G.W. Bush was told by the sheriff by the town he reached that he could stay after he received 30 lashings. He was part black.  

They travelled north and eventually established a settlement with five other families in what is now Tumwater, Wash.

Wills said G.W. Bush’s eldest son, William Owen Bush, became nationally and eventually internationally renowned for his crops grown in Washington state.

Eventually W.O. Bush became a state legislator and wrote the bill that established the institution Washington State College, which is now known as Washington State University.

“I think it’s fitting, this tree is traced to George Washington Bush,” Wills said.

Wills, Mittelhammer and Sailor christened the small young tree with soil and then invited the audience to do so as well.

“You are all welcome to be a part of this moment,” Mittelhammer said.

After the tree was planted, Wills and two other members from his society dressed in frontiersmen outfits performed a rifle salute with a drumbeat background.

“George Washington Bush was a mulatto (part black and white) and was persecuted his whole life because of it, and he came here to escape that,” Wills said. “His legacy is Washington State University.”