After cruising timber with a client in Shawano County, the landowner took Kretz Lumber Co. foresters Al Koeppel and Jim Kostrzewa to a high clearing on his property to show them this unusual sugar maple tree. Could this be an Indian marker tree? (It must be noted that this tree may have been formed due to an accident of nature such as another tree falling across a young sapling and pinning the trunk to the ground for some years resulting in the bent shape.)
Marker trees were used by Native Americans to assist them in their survival in what was regarded as “the wilderness” by Europeans when they started their settlement of this continent. Traveling through this wilderness required good navigational skills and to assist them, Native Americans used marker trees as signposts to help find a river crossing, campsite, trail or other important features. (Coincidentally there is a river within a ½ mile of this site and this clearing on a prominent high point would have made a great campsite. As well as being a good vantage point there is little to impede even the slightest breeze. This would have been much welcomed by the occupants to keep the bugs at bay in the heat of the summer!) The landowner reported it is said that Native Americans regularly travelled through this area and it is thought that by looking along the bent stem of the marker tree they were guided in the intended direction.
Marker trees, trail trees or thong trees as they are called were created when a small sapling was tied to the ground and held in the bent position for some time. A piece of animal hide or thong was sometimes used to hold the sapling down. Not all these trees have the same shape and there is ongoing research to determine what this variability might indicate. Perhaps different shapes were used by different tribes and conjecture has it that these trees could also have been used to mark tribal boundaries.
True marker trees exhibit shapes or characteristics that have clearly been manipulated by man as pictured below and not by natural causes.
Thousands of marker trees have been documented in Southern Appalachia and are attributed to the Comanche people. Many people are not aware of marker trees and their existence is a wonderful connection to the past and the people that occupied this land coexisting with and respecting nature. These trees are slowly but surely disappearing and should you be fortunate enough to know of a marker tree, treat it with the reverence it deserves and appreciate your good fortune!
If you discover a marker tree, we’d love to see it. Snap a picture and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.