Historically, living in complete harmony with nature has turned into a way of life for the American Indian. They depended on Nature for all their needs. Many ages ago, traveling from place to place required good navigational skills, directions along the way, and a method to mark paths that are common. American Indians used trees to not just indicate a trail, but also to indicate the existence of important attributes, a few of which were critical for survival.
Today, some call these old road signs Indian mark trees. Years ago, Linda Pelon, one of the first anthropologists researching the subject, taught me the term of Indian marker tree. I shall stick with this title.
An Indian mark tree is a tree that has been bent over as a sapling and held in a bent position throughout the majority of its young life. The trees were tied down using a thong of animal hide, which is where the name “thong tree” originated. They have been used to direct the American Indians to a source of water, also a good spot to cross a river, a campsite or other significant natural features. To those who might translate their significance, they were similar to some off-road street sign.
Why are most folks not conscious that Indian marker trees exist? Many years ago, the American Indians were not fond of explaining all the details about their way of life into outsiders. They constantly saw the requirement to live inside the balance of character and had a great reverence for all the glorious things that nature supplied. They were the greatest stewards of the natural world, whereas the “white man” only saw endless opportunity.
Indian mark trees are the surviving witnesses to the foundation of a previous civilization and their incredible means of life. Indian marker trees are a significant part of this nation’s cultural heritage and a present to our existing society. They supply lessons about our previous and lessons not yet been discovered; but their life expectancy is limited.
This underscores an urgency to research and document as much information as we could about these trees that do exist. A number of suspected Indian mark trees at the DFW region are now being researched and more details are expected later on.
An extremely motivated group of volunteers called the “Mountain Stewards” have recorded literally thousands of Cherokee Indian marker trees in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. They made trail maps, presentations, and completed a soon to be published book in their research. The company’s president, Donald Wells, is an outstanding source of information and support for our regional study.
This Cherokee mark tree exhibits the typical sharp bend low over the back (near the ground) and a second sharp bend upwards. Photo courtesy of the Mountain Stewards.
Although the specific shape and tree species may vary, the Cherokees had another way of forming a mark tree compared to the typical Comanche mark tree found in the DFW area.
Most all trees discovered by the Mountain Stewards are the Cherokee design, that has a slight bend low on the trunk (near the ground) and a 2nd sharp bend upwards. The typical Comanche style Indian marker tree in North Texas has a trunk that’s often called a “half-moon”, which may touch the ground before growing upwards. Gateway Park Comanche Indian Marker Tree, recognized in 1997. Photo courtesy of Linda Pelon.
Because there are different shapes for some tribes, the trees might have been used to mark tribal borders, signaling other tribes to remain off–much like “no trespassing” signs.
Though there is enough documentation on Indian mark trees to more than confirm and affirm their existence, skeptics remain.