Mystery of the Trees

The Mystery of the Trees is the story of curious bent tree that many believe were used by Indians as sign post across the continent. As they traveled, often great distances, to hunt, to trade, to gather medicinal plants, to communicate with other tribes, the trees guided their way. Exploring a story that has been hidden for many years, this presentation also leaves the audience with an appreciation for people who hold a great reverence for the earth and nature.

 The Indian Trail Tree project of the Mountain Stewards began in March 2007 when researchers from several states gathered at Hobbs State Park in Arkansas. The group agreed to work together to locate, document and preserve those “living artifacts” that are a legacy of the Native American presence on the North American continent. These living artifacts have many names: Indian Trail Trees, Marker trees, Thong trees, Signal trees, Prayer trees and Culturally Modified trees are a few. In less than five years, bent trees have been documented as existing or as having previously existed in 40 states. Using GPS (Geographical Positioning System) and digital topographic technology trees are correlated with known Indian trails and village sites. Plotting this information on topographic and 3-D maps graphically tells us more about the cultural history of the Native Americans.

The Indian Trail Tree project has grown into a multi-faceted program. Locating and documenting the trees led to using 1700-1800 survey maps to accurately identify old Indian trails and the trees associated with them.  Working with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee to locate all of their ancestral trails, publishing the book, Mystery of the Trees and beginning the production of a several part documentary about the trees are also aspects of the project.

The Mystery of the Trees presentation proposes an answer to the question of why there is a mystery. Native culture and history were transferred orally at festivals, family gatherings, and individually when the elders passed on the historical and mythological stories of their tribe. The coming of Columbus and other Europeans, greatly impacted Indian culture. With each succeeding generation more knowledge was lost. By the time of the Removal to Oklahoma, life for the Indians had permanently changed.  Many of the elders, having suffered so deeply for so many years, refused to talk about the “old ways” and the stories and historical information, to a great extent, disappeared. How and why the trees were bent were a part of that loss

Some, however, remembered.  Many tribal elders were interviewed over the past five years as the story about the Mystery of the Trees developed.  Those interviews not only resulted in a greater appreciation of the story of the trees and of the other great losses of their culture but also gave us a greater understanding and respect for the spirituality and wisdom of the Native Americans. Therefore Mountain Stewards now offers a second presentation, In the Presence of the Elders. In this presentation, the culture, spirituality and wisdom of those who were the original inhabitants of our country are shared. The two presentations are not only based on interview with elders, and “old timers” sharing their part of the story but also on extensive historical and scientific research.

The Mystery of the Trees is offered primarily to audiences interested in the trees and their story.  In the Presence of the Elders is designed to appeal to all. Over 2000 people heard the presentations in 2012.  For 2013 presentations are already scheduled in Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Newnan, Georgia and more are being scheduled in Alabama. Both presentations feature power point information and an embedded video showing parts of some of the interviews with various elders across the nation.  To schedule a presentation contact Don Wells on the Mountain Stewards web site.

The book Mystery of the Trees was published in December, 2011. The first printing was sold out by October and the second printing is now available. The book, which offers a more in depth, world-wide look at the story of the trees, can be purchased through the web site.

With over 100 hours of film in the can, the Mystery of the Trees documentary series is becoming a reality. The first part of the documentary will be available in the spring of 2013. The schedule for the following parts depends greatly on the availability of funding. A campaign is underway to raise money to continue the production of the rest of the series. 

 In addition to the work on Native American culture, the Mountain Stewards build and maintain public hiking trails throughout north Georgia. More information about the Mountain Stewards as well as information on contributing to their various endeavors can be found on the web site.

Media Contact:   Don Wells, 706-692-1565;

The Mountain Stewards, a 501(C)(3) organization located in Jasper, GA, announces the availability of two presentation for 2013, the Mystery of the Trees and In the Presence of the Elders. Details of when and where presentations have already been scheduled can be found on their web site: