Have you ever come across a strangely shaped tree and wondered if there was a story behind its bent or curved trunk? Chances are good that the tree may have a unique history, and it could date back to the late 1700s.
Many trees that have a sharp bend in their trunks are believed to be trail markers created by Native Americans.
Saplings were manipulated to grow parallel to the ground.
Native Americans discovered that if they weighed down a sapling they could change how a tree grew. According to the Great Lakes Trail Tree Society, any species of tree was used, but the most commonly used trees were the Elm, Maple, and Oak. Historians have also found evidence that Native Americans used conifers.
While the trees looked unique as they grew, the bent trees served an important purpose—they acted as a trail marker.
The trees led people along a safe path or directed them towards a spring.
The trees, which almost always abruptly bend a few feet from the base, were used to indicate a path which might have led to food or clean drinking water or a safe place to cross a river. Researchers also believe that Native Americans used these trees to point towards special sites like a burial ground.
One example is the bent trees at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. The trail trees at this national monument point towards Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak was considered one of the Ute’s most sacred sites.
As time goes on these trail trees are disappearing.
The trees can be found hidden across the United States and Canada. There are a few groups who have devoted their time to researching trail trees in the Great Lakes region and the south. The Mountain Stewards’ Trail Tree Project documented over 1700 trees, many which are located in Georgia.
There are some skeptics who believe the bent trees were formed by nature. However, researchers have spoken to enough elderly people and formed their own strict guides to determine whether or not there’s evidence a tree was bent by a Native American.
“I will not say every bent tree in the forest is a trail marker tree,” Dennis Downes, a trail tree researcher told Atlas Obscura. “If there are only a few hundred of these unique living artifacts left, that’s enough.”
Unfortunately due to the public’s lack of knowledge of these type of trees and urbanization, many of these trees are being destroyed or simply dying due to old age.
The trees may be disappearing, but researchers hope their stories live on.
Next time you are on a hike through the woods or happen to come across a forest, pay attention. The trees might be trying to tell you something!