General History Natives

The Native American Trail Markers

Gideon Anderson

In our contemporary world, we’re always moving from one location to another. We use street signs, maps as well as GPS devices to help us reach our destinations. Many times, older travelers do not use such sophisticated methods to get directions. Old schoolers, like myself, still use maps made from paper or ask someone for directions.

But, how can you navigate from A to B in the woods? It’s really easy to get lost, particularly since much fewer sophisticated technologies are available to navigate through them. Even a simple compass can be tricky to use. If you don’t walk well-worn, designated park paths that can easily guide you back to and from where you began, you would have to have an exceptionally good memory for remembering distances and directions. But if you’re blindfolded and dropped into a dense forest, it may not be possible to return to civilization.

Centuries ago, Native Americans established a simple system using trees for navigating forests. Perhaps you have taken a long stroll through the forests in America and seen old trees which are oddly bent? Native Americans bent saplings toward the instructions to assist other Native American tribes to locate significant landmarks. These “Indian road signs” also called “Indian trail markers” pointed other natives to “rest stops” However, traveling natives likely did not know specifically what these bent trees pointed to, except they represented important areas such as to acquire food, water, stones for tool making, in addition to discovering burial grounds and areas in which other indigenous tribes lived.

Early natives shot young trees made from oak, maple, and elm, and bent them over until the shirts were pulled near the ground. Over time, as these trees grew substantially bigger they morphed into strangely, crooked shapes. Rather than growing up, from five feet up, they bent sharply into right angles, parallel to the ground. They then turned sharply upward. This form of such a tree seems to zig-zag. The bent area between the angle and the right part that grew up, “pointed” to significant destinations.

For the last one hundred years, networks of special trees are found in woods, parks and private land throughout the nation. As of 2013, over 2,000 trees were found in 40 states. In addition to the search for more proceeds. However, they’re being cut down as more forests are cleared for modern evolution, but historians and nature conservationists are fighting to preserve these trees as ancient organic landmarks. With continued exploring, there’s little doubt that many more path trees are available.