Native Village 
Youth and Education News
May, 2013

Trees Bent By American Indians Being Identified and Preserved
Condensed by Native Village
Thanks to Kerry Steiner, American Indian Center of Indiana

A typical burr oak (left), A single trunk trail marker tree A double trunk trail marker tree

These images from the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society also feature the group’s founder Dennis Downes.

"If they could talk, the stories they could tell," says arborist, Steve Houser about Indian marker trees.  He says they  "were like an early road map” for American Indians.

Indian marker trees, or trail trees, were like road signs that marked trails or landmarks such as creek crossings.  Native people would bend and anchor young saplings into shape to mark the way.

Houser is now on a mission: to protect these historic trees and save their stories.  A group he helped create, the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition, has already identified four marker trees. Dozens more have been reported across Texas.

Other groups are also protecting and maintaining the trees.

Mountain Stewards, a nonprofit based in Georgia, has a database of
marker trees in 39 states. Their process in verifying marker trees include age (at least 150 to 200 years old) and marks that show where the tree was tied down.

Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society posts photos of Indian marker trees on their website. Their founder, Dennis Downes, wrote the book Native American Trail Marker Trees. It documents the history of the trees through Downes’s travels of North America.


"They are living archeology," Rick Wilson, Chief ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado.

Park Ranger Jeff Wolin said the Utes bent ponderosa pines to mark a trail to Pikes  Peak—tava or sun in the Ute language—a sacred area about 8 miles away.

"It's something that you want to hug and say, 'Hey, there was a time in your life when you were special to us and now you are still special and look how beautiful you are,'” said Wallace Coffey, former Comanche Nation chairman.
Coffey said the marker trees that the Dallas Coalition found probably helped Comanche warriors find water or shelter during battles with the U.S. military.

"A lot of people don't recognize what they are, and they're a really important part of the history of this country," said Earl Otchingwanigan, Ojibwe, a retired professor from Bemidji State University. Earl found a trail marker shaped like an “N” near his Michigan home.
"When I hear people are interested in it, I think they are starting to understand that there are a lot of messages on this earth that people cannot take for granted anymore.”

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