Area’s ‘trail trees’ signs of the past

By Erin France
Athens, Georgia (AP) June 2011

Northeast Georgia residents who notice any funky, L-shaped trees in the woods might actually have a piece of Native American history in their sights.

Virginia Moss, a self-employed business owner in Hull, is asking neighbors and friends to keep an eye out for “trail trees” - contorted timber that once marked pathways for Native Americans.

“For them, it was the interstate highways,” Moss said.

Moss first came across trail trees, also known as marker trees, after talking about a crooked tree on property owned by her son-in-law’s family near Ila, she said.

Family members researched the phenomenon on the Internet and came across the Mountain Stewards, a group of people who are trying to locate and confirm trail trees across the nation.

The Indian Trail Tree Program is locating, documenting and working to preserve marker trees in 39 states, said Don Wells, president of Mountain Stewards.

Native Americans made marker trees by pruning back some limbs and tying down other limbs so that the tree grew in a certain shape.

“Currently, the database has over 1,700 trees identified with about 20 trees being added each month,” Wells said.

Not every bent tree is a marker tree, Wells said.

“To be an Indian tree (it) has to be old enough to have been here before the Indians left in 1838, or earlier in the case of Northeast Georgia,” he said.

People interested in finding their own marker trees should look for white oaks with diameters wider than 15 inches, he said.

Native Americans mostly picked white oaks as marker trees in Georgia and anything less than 15 inches in diameter likely isn’t old enough to be a marker tree, Wells said.

The Creek Indians likely bent Moss’ tree, because they lived in the area, he said.

Moss’ tree isn’t yet an official marker tree because she hasn’t measured the exact GPS location, but she hopes to do that soon, she said.