Trees That Speak
Indian Trail Trees
(Indian Marker Trees)
For preservation reasons and helping to map old Indian Trails, we are attempting to locate all remaining
trail marking trees in the United States.
These trees were used to mark trails, point to water sources, point to creek and river crossings, and so on.
I have been working with
Mountain Stewards on locating Trees and Trails.
Mountain Stewards has a website where you can submit possible trail trees.
Trail Trees, aka Marker Trees and Signal Trees, were created
when the Indians took a small sapling, generally of White Oak
or Popular, and bent it horizontal to the ground normally about
2’ above grade. The tree was tied to the ground for +/- one
year, allowing it to grow into a bend. At the end of that
period, the Indians would bend the tree again towards the
sky, leaving the horizontal “arm” about 2-4’ long.  The
bending process usually took between five and 10 years.
Some trees were bent in groups of two or three. Marker trees
typically had a “nose” on the front, which would degenerate or
be cut off after the initial bending. Marker trees today are
between 200-400 years old. Trail Marker Trees were an
ancient form of land and water navigational aids.
Examples of Trail Trees
Cultural Management of Living Trees: An International Perspective
Journal of Ethnobiology 29(2):237-270. 2009
Abstract at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2993/0278-0771-29.2.237

Abstract

Culturally modified trees, or CMTs, are a phenomenon of forest-dwelling peoples worldwide,
from North America to Scandinavia, to Turkey, to Australia. Living trees from which materials are
harvested (edible inner bark, pitch and resin, bark, branches), or which are modified through
coppicing and pollarding to produce wood of a certain size and quality, or which are marked in
some way for purposes of art, ceremony, or to indicate boundary lines or trails, all represent the
potential of sustainable use and management of trees and forested regions. Often their use is
associated with particular belief systems or approaches to other life forms that result in
conservation of standing trees and forests, and preserving or enhancing their habitat value and
productivity, even while they serve as resources for people. Various types of culturally modified
trees have religious or spiritual significance, tying people to their ancestors who used the trees
before them, and signifying traditional use and occupancy of a given region. Although some CMTs
are legally protected to some extent in some jurisdictions, many are at risk from industrial forestry,
urban expansion and clearing land for agriculture, and immense numbers of CMTs from past
centuries and decades have already been destroyed. The diverse types, and the patterns of CMT
creation and use, need further study; these trees, collectively, are an important part of our human
heritage.
From: Journal of Ethnobiology 29(2):237-270. 2009