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  • Writer's pictureHannah McQuilkan

native american marker trees

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

I recently discovered the curious phenomenon of marker trees, trees that were modified by First Nations peoples across the USA and Canada.

Across the continent you can find bent trees that were used by Native American tribes to serve as permanent trail markers.

Each tribe had their own unique way of moulding the trees and helping them hold their positions.

According to Appalachian History, some trees were weighted down with rocks or dirt while others were tied down with rawhide, bark, or vine, depending on the materials the tree shaper had access to. They were only modified after prayer and with consent from the creator.

Native Americans used this shape to point the way to everything from fresh water to encampments, or from the right place to cross a river to a more accessible terrain. They may have even pointed the way to good hunting and gathering grounds, as well as sacred sites such as burial grounds and stone circles. Early trail tree makers often used trees that were on high ground so that they could be seen from a distance and as well, if the ground was covered with snow.

Trees were also modified for ceremonial purposes, medicinal purposes, navigation and story telling. They also modified them for a clock, calendar and compass. They also grafted different trees together and carved trees with arboglyphs (patterns carved into the tree trunk). There is one tree which has been modified to have a tiny slit in its trunk and the sun only shines through this hole on one day of the year, that of the winter solstice.

Right now these culturally significant trees are being protected from felling. A true marker tree will be more than 200 years old, so it is only a matter of time before these trees age and disappear completely.

This youtube video with John Anderson, tells of his fascinating journey with these trees:

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