Native American Trail Marker Trees, (Indian Marker Tree, Indian Trail Marker)

Why use a pile of rocks when you can bend a tree and wait 50 years for it to be recognizable? Especially in New Hampshire

I think we have been duped!

A while back Michelle and I saw a post about “Indian Marker Trees” from a very reputable source.  We made our mental notes of what to look for and started keeping an eye out, without doing any background research.

Today, We found a real “Indian Marker Tree” – for what its worth.

Indian Marker Tree, Native American Marker Tree
Indian Marker Tree, Native American Marker Tree, Indian Trail Marker, Why Not Use a Pile of Rocks in NH

For more pretty pictures, or a hardcover book you can purchase with lots of pretty pictures of bent trees, check out Native American Trail Marker Trees: marking Paths Through The Wilderness  This also happens to be a book about them, which I have not read. Its a good description on amazon however, tells me there are 250 color and black and white pictures 🙂

Our tree matches every definition of “Indian Marker Tree”. But its likely not one, and its more likely they may not exist at all.  If you see these a lot, or know of more details, please comment and let us know. I would like more feedback before you get all pissed off, or after, whichever you prefer.

First, there is a controversy over whether these were actually man made in the first place. In this specific location, there is a large history of Abenaki about a mile away. This photo was taken in Tuftonboro, NH.  Mr. Google shows lots of books, websites, and blogs about these trees being actual trail markers, but nothing before about 1850. In my area, the Abenaki were forced out in 1696, and records show small groups traveled back to the area until about 1911. My photos lack a few characteristics. First, tree species: My immediate tree ID was white ash, I still think it is an ash. It could be a white oak, as white oak was the dominant species all around this particular hemlock seepage, with a few white ash mixed in. We will go back soon and pay more attention. I don’t think this would qualify for a 200+ year old white ash, let alone nearly 300. If it was white oak, it could be- the leaf litter around it is all white oak. Still, unlikely to be the correct age. This tree has the correct scarring to be a “marker tree”. It has the “nose”, the two 90 degree bends, and the scarring on the “message” angle. Another issue arises when you can account for all of these features naturally. As mentioned in the comments, all of these features can be created by a sapling being pinned by a larger falling tree, growing a new trunk straight upward, and the old trunk rotting away.
Second: I called some people who know about these things. A good friend of mine was an archaeologist who studied colonial and native american sites in New England professionally. He has worked on many of the regional Native American village sites, as well as other early colonial digs. He said directly: “Nope”. I asked if this whole marker tree thing was BS, he said yes. I also asked my mentor about it (PhD in mycology, wetlands scientist etc). He had never heard of marker trees. I sent him a bunch of links- to which he responded, “OK, Im potentially sold on the Idea, but not around here, I have seen trees in the midwest and other parts of the country that might qualify, but the reasons given would not be applicable here”.

Native American Marker Tree New Hampshire, Indian trail marker
Indian Marker Tree, Indian Trail Marker
Native American Marker Tree

In summary, this particular tree, and each and every tree I have been able to find online to research has a potential natural explanation. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any verified historical records of intentional creation of these trees, at least in the northeast. I must conclude, unless other evidence is given, that this is a natural occurrence, and I appreciate any feedback in this matter.

As my mentor put it: Hurricane of ’38 created a lot of these!”

For a Hardcover book you can purchase with lots of pretty pictures of bent trees, check out Native American Trail Marker Trees: marking Paths Through The Wilderness

Keith

Keith

the man at dirty botany
native orchid enthusiast
astrophotography wizard
mushroom farm owner
Keith
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1 thought on “Native American Trail Marker Trees, (Indian Marker Tree, Indian Trail Marker)

  1. Roger Brothers Reply

    Is it possible that some Native American somewhere at sometime in the last 500 years got it into his head to force a tree to grow like this? Yes of course it is possible. The question though is was this a widespread and common NA custom? Most probably NOT.

    I can’t find any reference to it that dates to before 1900. Most people just don’t understand how trees can form like this through natural reaction and adaptation to without the slightest help from a Native American or any other human being.

    Fact is though they can, did and are still doing so and not just in North America either. I can show you dozens of such “Indian trail trees” in various stages of development within a few miles of my home and have even created a few by accident myself. I have one on my property that that was created by Hurricane Opel in October of 1995 that I have been watching develop ever since. In 30 to 40 more years it will have developed into the classic “Indian trail tree” and my grandkids can regale their grandkids with that fable!
    It happens to be near a spring and a very old abandoned road bed too so they can explain that the Indians created it to mark the spring for travelers on what was originally a Native trail!

    William Bartrum the famous American naturalist lived among the Southeastern Indians for years in the 1700’s. He estensively chronicled the native flora and the customs of the Natives themselves at the same time. He was a keen observer of both trees and Indians (so keen in fact he even discovered, described and named two new tree species)

    Because of his knowledge of the tribes and their languages he was employed by the US government at one point to accompany a party of Creek, Cherokee and American surveyors that were engaged in marking a new treaty boundary between the Creek and Cherokee nations. He commented that in some cases the Indian surveyors were more accurate than the American even though they would not trust the vagaries of the white man’s magnetic compass!

    He wrote of the Indians marking trees by blazing them with an an ax and also marking points with piles of stone.

    In all his writing NOT ONCE does he mention the Indians bending trees to mark anything nor does he even mention observing such “marker trees”.

    Such trees undoubtedly existed then (they always have and have anywhere in the world that has deciduous trees that sprout readily, and they continue to form themselves today without the slightest help from humans) Bartrum and his native friend’s simply understood through observation and study how such trees formed (just as I have) an found them absolutly UNREMARKABLE.

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