These images from the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society show a typical burr oak (left), a single trunk trail marker tree (middle) and a double trunk trail marker tree with the group’s founder Dennis Downes.

Trees Bent By American Indians Being Identified and Preserved


"If they could talk, the stories they could tell," Steve Houser, an arborist and founding member of the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition, told the Associated Press. The trees, he said, "were like an early road map” for American Indians.

The trees are known as Indian marker trees or trail trees and were bent by Native Americans in their youth to mark trails or other landmarks, like a creek crossing.

Houser’s mission: to protect the historic trees and their stories. The group has identified four marker trees and is looking into reports of 32 more across Texas.

Groups like Houser’s are popping up across the country to protect and maintain the trees.

Mountain Stewards, a nonprofit based in Jasper, Georgia has compiled a database of 1,850 marker trees in 39 states, reported the AP.

The group’s process to verify a tree is indeed an Indian marker includes age, it must be at least 150 to 200 years old, and finding marks that show where the tree was tied down.

The Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society’s website has a bevy of photographs of Indian marker trees. The group’s founder, Dennis Downes, released a book in 2011 called 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, the chief ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, told the AP. Park Ranger Jeff Wolin said the Utes bent the ponderosa pines to mark a trail to Pikes Peak—tava or sun in the Ute language—an area sacred to them about eight miles away.

The trees are an important part of history that should be preserved.

"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,'” Wallace Coffey, former Comanche Nation chairman told the AP. Coffey has consulted with the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition and said the marker trees they have found likely helped Comanche warriors find water or shelter during battles with the United States military.

"A lot of people don't recognize what they are and they're a really important part of the history of this country," Earl Otchingwanigan, Ojibwe, told the AP. The now-retired Bemidji State University professor also said he found a trail marker in the shape of the letter “N” near his Crystal Falls, 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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ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
What an incredible story. I will be looking for trees like these in our travels across the USA in our motorhome. I love finding out information like this. It's enriching to our daily lives. There's more to the forest than just the trees. There are special trees to look for. I can't wait to find some and get out my camera.

Mayra Anderson's picture
Mayra Anderson
Submitted by Mayra Anderson on
I think I may have either two prayer trees or trail marker trees on my property. Both trees are approx 8 feet apart from each other. Both trees are laying on the ground and then curve up. The trees are large and both trees have limbs that are large in size, like a lone tree. I live in Colorado, most articles that I have found have to do with trail marker trees in Michigan. What about Colorado? Does anyone out there have any information that you can share with me. Thank you.

Barry Trester
Submitted by Barry Trester on
I am from Colorado. The Ute have made their mark among the evergreens throughout the state, but specifically the Pikes Peak region. They are fascinating and spiritual to me. I have many photos posted on Facebook. If anyone is interested to view them, I would be happy to share. I also want to raise awareness and see them protected. Look me up if you would like, thanks! Barry Trester

Peter Garnham
Submitted by Peter Garnham on
Around here (Eastern Long Island, NY) those are called "lop trees." Settlers and later generations would "lop" a tree so it grew that way to mark a property boundary.

nick_kawa's picture
Submitted by nick_kawa on
Here's an article I published with some colleagues this year that provides an overview of existing research on trail trees in North America:

Lynn Aldridge
Submitted by Lynn Aldridge on
@dmammons, please share! I would love to know where some of these are in Alabama. I travel the state regularly and would love to look for some of these now that I have been introduced to them. :)

Brooksberry's picture
Submitted by Brooksberry on
Crazy. I saw one of these on my property in NW Alabama yesterday...looks identical to what is pictured. My wife and I sat there trying to figure out how the heck it grew like a friend posts this to FB. I will be on the lookout for more

Betsy Spiegel
Submitted by Betsy Spiegel on
We have a tree with this kind of a bend in Kosciusko County, Indiana. How would I find out if it is one of these

Laureen A Kanyan
Submitted by Laureen A Kanyan on
My Mother pointed one out to me as a kid. I had completely forgotten her telling me what it was until I read the article. I drive by it almost daily. And the people who own the land now have Medicine Hat Horses.