Native Scarred Trees

The native scarred trees found in forests and on private property show that Native Americans have been scarring trees for centuries. This practice was used to send messages to other tribes, assist in medicinal healing, prayer and burial.

We wish to thank our friend, Greg, for his help in researching this fascinating topic of Native American culture.

The following are the different trees as they appear in the Ute Nation, specifically in the state of Colorado.

Message Trees

Signs were carved into the bark of trees, usually aspens.  The Native Americans used pictures instead of words and many message tree bark has been found in areas west of the Continental Divide.

The Frontier Historical Society in Glenwood Springs, Colorado has a few sections of aspen tree bark showing messages.

One in particular, shows a story of the burning of the Indian's hunting ground and their leaving to find a new one. 

The carving on this native scarred tree is estimated to be from 1863.

Medicine Trees

Peeled bark of the medicine trees, usually pine, is probably the most studied of the native scarred trees by historians.

As the westward expansion kept moving, medicine trees were discovered all over Colorado.

The Ute Indians would peel the bark from the pine trees and cut the inner strips into bundles and eat them.

In 1868, a man named John Wesley Powell spent some time with the Utes.  He studied their language and customs and found numerous uses for the medicine trees.

At times, game would be scarce and the Native Americans would use the trees for sustenance. 

In the spring when the sap begins to run in the pine trees, the Utes would gather it to provide food.  The sap from the pine trees is very sweet.

The bark would be peeled back and the sap was scraped out and eaten.  Seeds and grains would be added to the sap and a meal would be made to feed the family.

As far as healing, the Utes believe that the Creator sends spiritual guidance to the Medicine People.

For some, the guidance comes from animals, but others have tree helpers.

So for medicinal healing, the Medicine People would have a dream about a specific tree speaking to them.

They would go and find this tree and make a small cut in the tree at the area where it would relate to the person's body that was affected.

Taking a sharp stick, the bark is peeled back and the inner part is used in the healing ceremony.

A fire is started using the cut section of the tree, the sap from this section creates a food source and the afflicted person eats the bark and is healed.

Prayer Trees

These are native scarred trees that have been bent when young and therefore grow in a certain shape and point in a certain direction as guidance and spiritualism.

In particular, you can find prayer trees that are very old in my area pointing to Pikes Peak.

The Utes believed Pikes Peak very spiritual to their culture.  In doing my research, I found out that the Indians would travel from Crystal Peak to Pikes Peak and stop and pray about 4 times.

At each prayer stop, a young tree was chosen and bent parallel to the ground and tied.  Everyone on the journey circled the tree and prayed.

The Utes believed that the tree would live and hold their prayers for 800 years and each time the wind would blow, it would send their prayers again.

So each time they stopped to pray, a tree was bent toward their destination, which was Pikes Peak.

We have a tree on our property that could be a prayer tree.  It is an old pine, bent and pointing to Pikes Peak. 

The area in which we live use to be Ute ceremonial grounds centuries ago.  So it wouldn't surprise me if it was a prayer tree.

Burial Trees

Cedar trees were used to mark the burial sites of Native Americans. 

Seeds from these trees were carried in pouches and when a member of the tribe, usually a chief or medicine person died, the seeds of the cedar tree would be planted near the grave.

In the Plains Indian culture, the cedar tree is thought to hold spiritual powers.

Crystal Peak, not far from my home and the route the Utes took to Pikes Peak, hold a great number of cedar trees.

There is not a lot known about the Native American customs and spiritualism.

A proud people, they keep their ways to themselves and will give us some insight into their lives and beliefs, but not all.

We must respect their silence and sacred ways.  It is their heritage.


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