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Gordonville Man Tracks Historic Native American Trail

Published February 2, 2012 By JACQUITA LEWTER


Gordonville resident Brad Ward is on a mission. He believes that he may have a historic Indian trail marker tree growing in his own backyard and is currently seeking official authentication which will endorse his claim.

The tree in question is a Post Oak, approximately 7 feet 2 inches in circumference at its base with limbs 3 to 3 and 1/2 feet apart growing 30 to 36 inches off the ground. The base of the tree appears to have been bent and grows parallel to the ground supporting the limbs which grow upward.

Ward, who is now 89, and his late wife, Betty Moran Ward, built their brick house in 1981, on land owned by her family. The tree was there then, and his research indicates it has been there for a long time. Ward has always had a curiosity about the tree. 

"My father-in-law, Lloyd Moran was born on this property in 1899," Ward said, "and he remembered that tree when he was a little boy."

Ward recalled Moran told stories of playing around the tree when he was perhaps 7 to 10 years old, and that he picked up arrowheads at its base. The tree at that time was a small sapling, approximately 12 to 14 inches in diameter.

Last spring Ward was at his computer and just happened to click on a site which immediately captured his interest. He saw a picture of a tree which looks a great deal like the one in his backyard and read a news release regarding an Indian marker tree located in Holliday, Texas.

This tree was described as..."a 60-foot tall, knobby Pecan tree with a 12-foot base (which) seemed to have grown parallel to the ground near a stream, behind a baseball field." To most passers-by, it probably looked like just another awkwardly shaped tree, but the bicyclist who happened upon it sensed it was more than that. A park ranger in Florissant, Color. had pointed out such a tree to the man a few years earlier, and identified it as an Indian marker tree. Tied down for years by Native American,s these bent trees once signified special areas for tribes. 

Linda Pelon, an anthropology and history instructor at McLennan Community College in Waco, has researched Comanche Indian style marker trees for 15 years. According to her, the strangely bent trees typically pointed to low water crossings, campsites, rock paint quarries, hunting trails, graves, freshwater streams, and prayer sites.

In the mid-to-late 1800s, many Indian tribes were moved to reservations and forced to abandon their culture. By the 1950s, when many were brought back through another relocation program, few native Americans knew a great deal about their history.

The discovery piqued Ward's interest, and he began a search. During his quest, he has connected with various authorities on the subject of Indian marker trees and has uncovered interesting historical facts. He has submitted pictures of his tree and is currently awaiting an onsite visit from Steve Houser, a Dallas area arboriculturist (one who studies and grows trees) who is recognized as one of the metroplex area's most accomplished arborists. Houser has been referred by the Mountain Stewards to check out Ward's tree. The non-profit organization based in Jasper, Ga. researches marker trees across America.

A contact attempt was made a few months ago while Ward was spending some time in a rehab facility and was not at home. Thus the visit was delayed.

George Well,s president of Mountain Stewards, commented, "The difficulty in authentication (regarding marker trees) is that not much of tribal Indian history is written down. It is all word-of-mouth, passed down by tribal elders."

Pelon is also a member of the Mountain Stewards. The group accepts tree photos and other evidence submitted to Ward sent pictures of his tree to her, and Wells placed his tree in the database.

Ward has been in communication with Wells and is favorably encouraged by the information he has received thus far. His hard written reply after seeing the picture read, "It is identical to the one found in Holliday, Texas."

Wells said the stewards have documented more than 1,600 trees and over 1,000 miles of Indian trails across 39 states. Stewards register marker trees on Google Earth, seeking patterns and trails.

The authentication process involves the Mountain Stewards examining the tree, estimating its age, gathering historic information, and contacting the predominant Indian tribes of the area. The tribal elders then study all the specific data and make a decision based upon the evidence. If the tree is authenticated and accepted by the tribe, it is then entered into the national registry.

Ward has generated a degree of interest among three or four other area residents during the past year. His friend Jim Hardwick has taken pictures of some trees located within close proximity to Ward's property along Hwy 377 North, and another nearby landowner has spoken to Ward about a tree on his land. He has a picture of yet another possible marketer tree, a Post Oak, in the Cedar Mills area. Ward has studied a map of the area and particularly noted the placement of the tree sites. He sees a definite pattern and theorizes that these trees may all serve as trail markers.

Another interesting tree has been found on government property located near the Cedar Mills Cemetery. The slender Black Jack is formed from one stump which separates into two trunks and ten reconnects into a single trunk as it continues to grow. The open space between the two trunks gives the effect of a bow-legged cowboy standing at attention. No other trees shaped in this manner have been located in the area to date.

About the author

Ms. Jacquita Lewter

Ms. Lewter is a staff writer with the Whitesboro News Record in Whitesboro, Texas.

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