Visitors to the Grayslake Historical Center's second floor permanent gallery are greeted by a wooden cutout silhouette of a marker tree with a bent limb pointing the way to the museum exhibit "Embracing Change: The Growth of Grayslake." The award-winning exhibit, created by the Grayslake Historical Society, has won three major awards for excellence including those from state and national organizations.
"Living Markers" is the title of the marker tree exhibit that notes: "Native Americans modified young trees to create arms which pointed travelers along established trails or routes. "Which way are these trees pointing?" the visitors are asked. The trees are pointing to the right directing them into the exhibit "Embracing Change: the Growth of Grayslake."
The trees with distinctive forms are known as trail trees, thong trees, signal trees or marker trees. They were used to mark trails or important places such a fresh water sources and deposits of flint, copper, lead and other mineral sources in the Temperate Deciduous Forest in eastern North America. They were also used on waterways to exit for portages or to a link to major trails. Along the waterways the marker trees were located high on the banks so they could be seen during floods. Another use was to the use the marker trees to designate boundaries between tribal territories. Many of the trees no longer exist, but a few still stand pointing the way.
Native Americans in portions of the wilderness in North America intentionally bent and secured selected saplings to force deformed growth that indicated directions. One unique characteristic of the tree was that the horizontal bend was several feet off the ground so that it could be viewed from greater distances and above several feet of snow on the ground.
It was the intent that each sapling would grow and retain its shape to become a part of a wilderness navigational system.
Wikipedia notes, with pictures taken in the 1890s and provided by the Lakes Region Historical Society in Lake County, a series of marker trees that provided northwesterly directions from Highland Park, IL to Lake Geneva, WI.
"This trail marker tree was one of 11 similarly shaped trail marker trees, all oaks, that were in a long line that helped lead the Native Americans on a less traveled trail of the area from the Highland Park area on towards West Lake Forest and Mettawa towards the Chain O' Lakes and Antioch, and finally directing them on to Lake Geneva, WI," a Wikipedia photo caption notes.
Marker trees are from the hardwood family and are mostly oaks and maples, because of their flexibility while young. These trees were able to retain their shape, were hardy and would last for a century or more.
The Native Americans would bend a sapling over to form an arch and then hold it in place by tying it to a stake in the ground or to a large rock with a leather strap or vine. A new branch would would then grow upward on the top of the arch which would form a new trunk. The old trunk would be removed creating a knob which is a distinctive feature of the trail marker trees, Wikipedia reported.
During the exhibition Abraham Lincoln: Self-Made in America, the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, 164 Hawley St., Grayslake, will be open additional hours. The Lincoln exhibit opens at noon on Saturday, March 23. Special hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Regular hours are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during downtown community events, including the Farmers Market which reopens Saturday, April 6.
—The Grayslake Historical Society submitted this information.