The book was authored by Don and Diane Wells and published by Mountain Stewards, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Jasper, Ga.
Six years was given to documenting a part of the cultural heritage of the American Indians that is rapidly disappearing. While some of the information was published in the early 1900s, most of the data has “remained below the radar for years,” according to Don Wells.
The book is based on interviews with tribal elders and extensive research.
The Indian Trail Trees are sacred to Native Americans and their preservation is of importance.
Although many of the trees can live to be 300 to 600 years old, some are near the end of their lives. Others have been destroyed by urban development or vandals.
The true meaning of the trees are not completely known, Wells said.
Some of the trees are found marking old trails, some point to water, shelter, stream crossings, medicine plant sites and more.
The techniques for bending a tree into a particular shape have, for the most part, been lost, Wells said.
However, these “living artifacts” are a testimony to the skills and knowledge of the American Indians being one with nature.
Most of the traditions were transferred through oral means. Each year at festivals and family gatherings, the elders told the historical and mythological stories of the tribe.
After the white settlers and missionaries came, the oral stories began to disappear. By the time of the Trail of Tears, many significant parts of the American Indian culture and history had been lost and with each succeeding generation, more knowledge faded.
Wells said the methodology of bending the trees and their meaning was part of what has been lost.
“Probing the evidence will allow us to recover, explore and preserve this fascinating part of Indian culture. In addition to the book, a video documentary is being developed that will show the ingenious and resourceful ways the Native Americans used trees.”
He said interviews, historical research — both oral and written, dendrochronology, GPS, satellite systems and sophisticated computer-based mapping programs are being used to validate the extensive geographic knowledge Native Americans possessed.”
He said, over the last six years more than 1,800 bent trees have been documented in 39 states. Some of the trees clearly marked trails.
Wells said GPS and digital topographic technology are being used to correlate trees with Indian trails and village sites.
The Stewards have partnered with WildSouth Inc. of Asheville, N.C., and Moulton, Ala. The organizations are collecting cultural and historical data of Native American tribes in the Southeastern United States.
The first project is mapping for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, N.C., and the surrounding territory of western North Carolina. The work was completed in 2011.
The team of researchers are now focusing on finding the trails within the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
The book is available on the Mountain Stewards’ website: www.mountainstewards.org.