Mysterious bent trees are actually Native American trail markers

(Web Desk) - Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease.

A massive network of constructed pre-Columbian roads and trails have been well documented across the Americas, and in many places remnants can still be found of trails used by hunters and gatherers.

One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow.

Even today, modern hunters look for horizontal shapes while hunting deer, elk, and moose. Dr. Janssen noted in 1941:

Among the many crooked trees encountered, only a few are Indian trail markers. The casual observer often experiences difficulty in distinguishing between accidentally deformed trees and those purposely bent by the Indians.

Deformities may occur in many ways. A large tree may fall upon a sapling, pinning it down for a sufficient length of time to establish a permanent bend.

Lightning may split a trunk, causing a portion to fall or lean in such a way as to resemble an Indian marker. Wind, sleet snow or depredations by animals may cause accidental deformities in trees.

However, such injuries leave scars which are apparent to the careful observer, and these may serve in distinguishing such trees from Indian trail markers.

Large trees that exhibit deformed growth and distinctive forms bent in a vertical plane are sometimes labeled trail trees, marker trees, thong trees, or signal trees by enthusiasts.

Historically, these unique trees were commonly known as Indian trail trees. Proponents of trail tree lore claim these unique forms are culturally modified trees used to mark trails or important places.

Distinctively bent trees have long been noted throughout the Temperate Deciduous Forest of eastern North America.

The extent to which indigenous peoples used such trees as navigational aids, and whether such trees were formed by anthropogenic or natural means is controversial.

These distinctively shaped trees have been photographed and documented in the Great Lakes Region by scientists and historians since the early 1800s.