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Two Certified Comanche Indian Marker Trees in Gordonville

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The First American Road Signs: Native American Trail Marker Trees

Native Americans bent trees by tying them down with leather thongs and ties to mark their trails. In Texas, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition (TXHTC) helps to identify and certify marker trees with interested Indian Nations. In Texoma, Comanche Nation officials worked with the TXHTC to certify an Indian Marker Tree on Brad Ward’s property in Gordonville in 2014.

Indian Marker Trees are found all over the U.S., but the TXHTC is the only organization that works to identify and certify Indian Marker Trees. Steve Houser, an arborist for the TXHTC and director of its Indian Marker Tree Project, has researched over 300 Indian Marker Trees and maintains files on many more. He works with the Comanche Nation to certify these trees. They found and certified the first Indian Marker Tree in east Dallas in 1997.

Brad Ward's Indian Marker Trees

Brad Ward, now deceased, historian, and avid Bluebird house builder, inherited an unusually shaped tree in his backyard in Gordonville that he always thought to be special. By accident, he found a website with a picture of a tree like his in 2009. The Comanche Nation certified his tree in 2014. Brad remembered his father-in-law telling stories from his childhood of Native Americans coming to their land and asking to camp there. Brad worked with the TXHTC for three years. Steve Houser’s team examined arrowheads and artifacts found near the Indian Marker Tree on Brad’s property, and they found another Indian Marker Tree close to Brad’s tree on the site of a natural spring. Brad’s tree points to a low-water crossing on the Red River. (1) *

The Comanches traveled along thousands of miles of trails on the Comancheria which comprised land in central and west Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Mexico. Some of their tribe members spent summers in the Texas panhandle and migrated through central Texas in the fall on their way to winter in Mexico. The Native Americans bent tree saplings and tied them to the ground at the best camping spots, good water sources, hunting grounds, and meeting places. The trail marker trees grew horizontally for several feet or more from the bole of their trunks to the last tie-down and then grew vertically from that point. (2)

It took six years of research to certify the Indian Marker Tree in Holiday, Texas, in 2017. It grows at Stonewall Jackson Camp No. 249 about 85 yards south of the United Confederate Veterans Monument near a stream behind a baseball field. Robert Atchavit, an eighty-year-old Comanche elder, said at the time, “I am 80 years old, and I’m just now finding out about them”. (3)

Beyond Texoman Indian Marker Tree History

Native Americans built a grid of trail marker trees all over the U.S. They also left messages on the trees and cached items in them.

Oddly bent trail marker trees pepper the numerous trails and paths that make up the Trail of Tears. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 which gave the U.S. government the power to remove all Indians east of the Mississippi River to the west in what the U.S. called the Indian Colonization Zone.

The U.S. Army built military posts ten to twenty miles apart during the removal process on the Trail of Tears which provided shelter and supplies for U.S. troops. Those supplies were not afforded to the hundreds of groups of 1,000 Native Americans forced to walk up to 1,000 miles to the zone in the west. The Trail of Tears Indian Marker Trees represent a horrific and sorrowful reminder of an American president who wanted to rid America of its ancient societies. (4)

Elements of an Indian Marker Tree

The Indian Marker Trees have earned several names including thong trees, prayer trees, crooked trees, and lastly, the Caucasian term, culturally-modified trees.

1. Bole: Base of the tree.

2. Hip: The first bend where the tree grows horizontally and where the messages were etched.

3. Horizontal Section.

4. Where the tree grows vertically, and a thong left a scar at the top of the bend.

5. Nose: Where the tree grows vertically and left a scar underneath the top of the bend (above its elbow). Formed by putting a charred piece of the same tree under the bark and allowing the tree to grow around it. Indicates a message direction. Shapes and types of the growth indicate different meanings.

6. Tree Trunk: Grows vertically. (5)

Process of Certifying a Trail Marker Tree Through TXHTC

Since 1997, the Comanche council members and the TXHTC have developed a process to request Indian Marker Tree official recognition.

1. Submit a potential Indian Marker Tree to TXHTC for consideration through a form on the TXHTC website. An arborist reviews the information and determines if the tree appears to have some potential because nature also plays a part in the way a tree grows. Potential trees receive more research and require more information from the submitter. The arborist reviews the tree again. Trees that continuously show potential are logged into TXHTC files.

2. Indian Marker Tree team volunteers visit the site to collect more detailed information. If the tree is old enough and still has potential, an enormous amount of research work begins with a search of property records at the county courthouse and moves on to local historians, anthropologists, and archeologists. A strong case must exist that Native Americans occupied the site and show what its purpose was for. The tree must have been born between 1855 and 1750, at the least depending on the region, or before 1750. **

3. When there is substantial evidence and research linking the tree and its surrounding site to past American Indian presence, the information is submitted to the officials serving in the appropriate American Indian Nation. (At this time, the TXHTC works with Comanche Nation officials because they are the only Native American Nation to recognize Indian Marker Trees in Texas.)

4. After the Indian Nation takes over, the rest of the slow process is left up to them because of the large amount of other issues that they must consider. The TXHTC highly values and respects the decisions that the Indian Nation makes about the trees which they submit for consideration. (6)

Another Texas First and Only

The Comanche Nation is headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma, but no organization exists to officially recognize the Indian Marker Trees in Oklahoma or any other state. If you hike or bike in and around the vast open lands surrounding Lake Texoma, look out for the trees shaped like the ones in the pictures below. Native Americans hunted the Arbuckle Mountains and the Blue River section of the Washita river system for thousands of years, so the next time you go trout fishing near Tishomingo or play at Turner Falls, keep your eyes open for bent trees!

The Book: Comanche Marker Trees of Texas

Arborist Steve Houser, anthropologist Linda Pelon, and Comanche Tribal Historical Preservation Officer Jimmy Arterberry collaborated to write a book entitled Comanche Marker Trees of Texas. Neil Sperry, Texas plant and tree scientist and landscaping celebrity, reviewed this book: "Steve Houser's enthusiasm for Comanche Marker Trees spreads like birds through the forest in this new book. I have never known a person more totally in love with trees. Steve and his partners have been working on this much-needed project for years. Reading this book will convince you to become a part of the Houser Tree Team!"

You can buy Comanche Marker Trees of Texas from Amazon and the University of Texas Press.


*I worked with Brad Ward in 2007 to research the Dallas Hodges story which I finally published here. I can tell a long sad story about the powers-that-be in the Grayson County Historical Society then who refused to recognize Dallas Hodges for a historical marker. Brad and I traveled through the outlaw trail in the Gordonville and Dexter regions up to the south bank of the Red River. There are not enough words to explain Brad’s commitment and passion for accurate historical accounting in our history. Brad loved nature and built over 500 Bluebird houses at one time. I lived on the road then, but I so wished back then that I could have spent tons more time with Brad. You will understand why if you read Brad’s obituary.

** All the research I found stated approximately 150 to over 200 years old, but stated no year date. That would be much more helpful to researchers. In 2014, Steve Houser said the trees must be between 159 years to 264 years old, and I calculated from his quote to find these years.










1. Blueprint of an Indian Marker Tree: Roadtrippers link in sources.

2. East Dallas Gateway Park Indian Marker Tree; Photo by Doug Taylor

Great article:

3. Steve Houser with Dallas' Lake Highlands area Moss Park Indian Marker Tree; Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Great article:

4. Holiday, Texas, Indian Marker Tree from 102.3, The Bull FM 

Typical radio-hype article with interesting facts; check out this site for good historical pics:

Tree discovered back in 2010. Stonewall Jackson Camp has been here since 1897. Originally established to provide for widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers, the UCV also preserved relics, mementos and the history of service members, and provided a location for reunions and other activities.

5. & 6. Same tree

5. Bankhead Forest of Alabama in Northwest Lawrence County. “Legend has it that over 200 years ago, warriors of the local Creek and Chickasaw tribes fought a bloody battle in the area now covered by the forest. Some say the tree was bent and molded to its current shape in order to point out the burial places of each tribe’s fallen braves.”

6. Same tree to give proportions of the massiveness of this Indian Marker Tree





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