Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis

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For arborists and others who study forests and plant life, “Indian trail trees” or “trail marker trees” are an intriguing way to mark a path. But, for Native American people, the trees provided a trail marker that led to essential resources. According to Guy Sternberg (2015), there are several criteria for a tree to be defined as a trail marker tree; such standards are that the “species is Native to the area, long-lived, and point towards a significant location” (Sternberg, 2015). Through traditional deformation, white and red oak trees were the primary species of trail marker trees because of their strength and pliability (Kawa and Murray, 2015). As saplings, these trees were bent and tied down to grow in a deliberate direction (Kawa and Murray, 2015). These specifications are essential to identifying Indian trail trees because other trees may seem to fit into the category due to natural deformations such as wind, snow, or animal use of the trees (Janssen, 1934). There are many steps needed to categorize a tree as a trail marker tree, but that is why the authentic trees are full of history.

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