- Associated Press - Saturday, March 31, 2012

DALLAS (AP) - The pecan tree, more than 300 years old, stands out from the others in a forested area of Dallas, a 25-foot segment of its trunk slightly bowed and running almost parallel to the ground before jutting high up into the sky.

It, like numerous others across the country known as Indian marker trees or trail trees, was bent in its youth by American Indians to indicate such things as a trail or a low-water creek crossing.

“If they could talk, the stories they could tell,” said Steve Houser, an arborist and founding member of the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition. The trees, he said, “were like an early road map.”

The coalition says their mission of protecting and maintaining the trees is becoming more urgent year by year.

“We feel time pressure to let people see these wonderful trees before they are gone,” said Mary Graves, the group’s president.

The coalition has recognized four marker trees in Texas and is investigating reports of some 32 others across the state. The group also serves to celebrates the heritage the trees represent, Houser said.

The Jasper, Ga.-based nonprofit Mountain Stewards has been compiling a database of the trees since 2007, documenting about 1,850 Indian marker trees in 39 states.

Those who research the trees have a verification process, as they must be old enough _ at least 150 to 200 years old. It also helps if scars can be found that would indicate it had been tied down. Sometimes, the researchers consult with tribes for confirmation.

“Mother Nature can bend a tree and it can look in some cases almost like an Indian tree,” said Don Wells, the president of Mountain Stewards. He says people contact the group about three to five times a week to inquire about whether an oddly shaped tree is a marker tree, he said.

Dennis Downes, an Antioch, Ill.,-based artist and sculptor who founded the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society, released a book last fall called “Native American Trail Marker Trees,” which chronicles more than 30 years of documenting and photographing the trees across the United States.

He drove several hundred thousands of miles over the years, pored over books that might give clues as to where to find the trees, talked to locals and researched the locations of old American Indian trails.

“Once people figure it out, they’re amazed,” said Downes, who also makes the trees frequent subjects of his sculptures.

In Colorado, most of the bent ponderosa pines at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument point in the direction of Pikes Peak, the landmark about 8 miles away that was considered a sacred site by the Ute Indians, said park ranger Jeff Wolin.

“They are living archeology,” said Rick Wilson, Florissant’s chief ranger, who added that they speculate the Utes bent the trees to mark a trail to Pikes Peak.

Trail trees don’t adhere to one specific shape. In North Texas, the Comanches bent them in a low, half-moon shape that runs parallel to the ground before shooting up. In other places, the trees bend at a 90-degree angle a few feet from the ground with the trunk running parallel to the ground for a few feet before bending again up toward the sky.

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