Diane Pulliam Wells
Document Indian Trail Trees
“Mystery of the Trees”
President of the Mountain Stewards, a 501(c)(3) organization located in
Jasper GA, has announced the publication of their book Mystery of
the Trees. The book will be available for sale on the Mountain
Stewards web site,
www.mountainstewards.org. It will
also be available in other locations to be announced soon.
The “Mystery of the
Trees” is a never-before-told story about curious, oddly shaped
trees that were used by Indians to guide themselves across the North
American Continent, to trade, to hunt, to communicate with other tribes,
to gather plants for medicines and more.
This book covers six
years of work in documenting a part of the cultural heritage of the
Indians that is rapidly disappearing. In the early 1900’s, some
information was published, but then it languished in archives. It has
remained below the radar for years. Through interviews with tribal
elders and extensive research the story can now be told.
The Indian Trail Trees
are sacred to the Native Americans and their preservation is very
importance. Although, many of these trees can live to be 300 to 600
years old, some are near the end of their lives. Others, unfortunately,
have been destroyed by urban development or vandals. The meanings of
these trees are not completely known. The meaning may never be known
since those who know are all but gone.
Some of these trees are
found marking old Indian Trails. Others point to water, shelter, stream
crossings, medicine plant sites and more. The techniques for bending a
tree into a particular shape have, for the most part, been lost.
However, these “living artifacts” are a testimony to the skills and
knowledge of the Indian people in their being one with nature.
traditionally transferred their culture and history through oral means.
Each year, at festivals and family gatherings, the elders told the
historical and mythological stories of their tribe. After the white
settlers and the missionaries came, the oral stories began to disappear.
By the time of the removal to Oklahoma, Indians had lost significant
parts of their culture and history, and with each succeeding generation,
more knowledge faded.
The methodology of
bending the trees and their meaning are part of what has been lost.
Wells said, “Probing the evidence will allow us to recover, explore and
preserve this fascinating part of Indian culture. In addition to the
book, a video documentary is being developed that will show the
ingenious and resourceful ways that Native Americans used trees.”
Interviews, historical research (both oral and written),
dendrochronology, GPS, satellite systems and sophisticated
computer-based mapping programs are being used to validate the extensive
geographic knowledge Native Americans possessed.
In less than six years,
bent trees have been documented as existing or as having previously
existed in 39 states. Some of these trees clearly marked Indian Trails.
GPS and digital topographic technology are being used to correlate trees
with known Indian trails and village sites. The plotting of these trails
and village sites on topographic and 3-D maps graphically tells more
about the cultural history of Native Americans.
The Stewards have
partnered with WildSouth, Inc. of Asheville, NC, and Moulton, AL.
Together, these organizations are collecting cultural and historical
data of Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States. The
first project in this massive undertaking is the trail mapping for the
Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (ECBI) in Cherokee, NC and in the
surrounding territory of western NC. Work on this project began in April
2009 and continues through 2012.
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