Have you ever been hiking in the woods and come across a tree that’s mysteriously bent over at a virtually 90-degree angle? It’s a pretty jarring sight, and if you have ever come across it before, there’s a good chance you probably just thought it was some funny quirk of nature. Maybe you even took a picture and moved on.
If you’re familiar with Native American culture, however, then you probably already know what makes these trees so special. If so, you already know to start looking around the immediate vicinity of the tree when you spot one.
Why? According to the American Forests website, bent trees were used as trail markers by Native Americans. They would strap down certain trees and then allow them to grow so the bend became permanent. These “marker trees” would usually point towards a trail path, stream, or river.
Here’s the full explanation from the website:
Native Americans would bend young trees to create permanent trail markers, designating safe paths through rough country and pointing travelers toward water, food or other important landmarks. Over the years, the trees have grown, keeping their original shape, but with their purpose all but forgotten as modern life sprang up around them.
That being said, it’s also important to know that not all bent trees are a piece of Native American history. There are a few other qualifying factors:
- Is it an area that was previously inhabited by Native Americans?
- Is the tree old enough to have been around in those days?
- Is the bend close to the ground?
- Are there any local landmarks, such as a river, nearby that would require a marker?
- Are you east of the Mississippi River?
- Is it an oak tree?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above, then you may have stumbled across a genuine marker tree. As you can tell, these trees are a pretty rare find – even if you’ve checked all the boxes above, as trees can technically grow in this shape under natural conditions.