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The tree that marked a piece of our past.

"I was born upon the prairie, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived all over that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and like them. I lived happily."

-Parra Wa-Samen (Ten Bears) of the Yamparika Comanches, quoted in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Look at the cities and suburbs of the modern American Plains and the Southwest, and it's hard to imagine life there just 200 years ago. These Plains were the territory of the Comanche, whose name means "enemy" in the Ute language. Unlike many Native American tribes, the Comanches were warriors and wandereres, made up of as many as 38 bands related only by loose friendship.

When you migrate, buffalo hunt, and fight for a living, you need good campsites marked out for you; both Comanche and Cheyenne did that for their fellow tribesmen. A good campsite had to be near running water (as a source of water and fish), had to have tall bluffs or hills on at least three sides for lookouts, and very often bad a pecan grove. Not only were pecans widely used for food and dye, a grove often signaled good soil for other fruits and berries and abundant wildlife to eat them.

When they found a great campsite in which to set up their teepees, they would find a young pecan tree, usually 3 to 5 feet tall, and bend it, staking the top to the ground. The tree would thus become a marker" tree, growing horizontally along the ground before continuing to grow vertically. This marked a campground for generations to come.

When I first learned of the Indian Marker Tree in southeast Dallas' Gateway Park, it was only known Cheyenne marker tree still living. At the park today you can imagine Cheyenne teepees dotting the grass 200 years ago or lookouts hidden in the hills, despite the suburbs that now cover them.

The Indian Marker Tree, unlike others near it, had survived insects, pests, and bulldozers. Still, it was aging and had been through a few difficult years when I met there with Glenn Watson, a Mystic Warrior of the Lakota and a Pipe Carrier of the Comanche War Scouts. What an experience to watch him play haunting spiritual melodies on his hand-carved cedar flute and say prayers of thanksgiving for the tree.

The tree is dead now, but it's almost as if it waited patiently to be discovered. It produced one last, very strong batch of pecans, enough for us to harvest and begin to grow offspring to help this country remember life as it used to be. After its demise, the trunk was examined and the tree found to be at least 300 years old--even older than we had suspected.

This story is one of those whose ending makes me proud of the line of work I'm in. When the offspring of his tree are large enough, we plan to plant one in Gateway Park, right next to the pecan that stood duty for so many centuries. When it reaches the correct height, descendants of the Comanche who camped here will help stake this new generation down in the traditional growing shape of a marker tree.

Jeff Meyer directs AMERICAN FORESTS' Famous & Historic Trees proram. To order this or other trees, call 800/320-8733 or visit
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Author:Meyer, Jeff
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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