By H.M. Cauley
Tom Reilly grew up roaming the woods around Ashford-Dunwoody and Peachtree roads, back in the days when area was a verdant playground for energetic kids.
Even though that was more than 50 years ago, he still remembers coming across what he thought were some very odd trees.
The memories came flooding back a few months ago when Reilly accidentally stumbled across a book with pictures of the same unusual tree formations — trees with thick trunks that bent at sharp right angles from the roots.
“Suddenly, it occurred to me that I’d seen these trees before,” Reilly said. “So I went to the [Peachtree] golf course, below St. Martin’s church, and saw the same trees from my childhood. And I was floored when I realized what the trees were for.”
Reilly believes that the set of four crooked trees on the edge of the golf course are Indian guide posts, intentionally turned to create directional signs for the area’s earliest residents.
“Trees were bent and used as signposts, marking old Indian trails, towns and springs,” said Reilly. “In this area, there were loads of Muscogee settlements along Nancy Creek in this area.”
These particular guideposts are tulip poplars of indeterminate age. “They are hard to date, but I’d guess they were done by the Muscogees before 1825,” said Reilly. “They point to the creek that leads to Nancy Creek. Another points to an area that’s very flat and would have been a good camping area.”
Reilly took his suspicions about the trees and their purpose to Don Wells, president of Mountain Stewards, a nonprofit group conducting the Trail Tree Project to document the presence of the natural signposts. Currently, the Project has a database of marker trees in 39 states.
“We’re also mapping old Indian trails, and in some cases, you can see that the trees were obviously markers for a trail,” said Wells. “They may mark a stream crossing
I live in Pickens County, and there are about 50 of them on an old trail that turned out to be the original Appalachian Trail. Those trees dated from 1768 to 1826.”
Pinpointing the exact age of the tree markers is a daunting task, said Wells.
“You can’t be sure unless you core it, and getting permission to core trees that are frequently on state or private property can be difficult,” he said. “It takes an extensive amount of time to core it and then take it to a laboratory and have it read by a machine. The best way is to compare the ages of trees nearby.”
There’s also no precise way to determine if the Ashford-Dunwoody trees were, in fact, meant as primitive directional arrows.
“Yes, there is doubt on the part of many people, who say they got that way because something just fell on them, or that it’s a natural bend,” said Wells. “But there are certain characteristics of the trees that help distinguish them from others around them. They have a very particular shape. If you look where the curve of the tree is, you generally can see some disturbed area. We believe [the Native Americans] removed some part of the tree to bend it.”
But Wells is willing to place his bet on the side of the trees being authentic signposts.
“To have four trees together like this is very unusual,” he said. “Finding four that are almost identical really makes you stop and think. Surely, something had to happen to cause four trees to be bent in that particular shape at that location – a location that happens to be on a creek and close to the major Indian trading trail, Peachtree.”
There’s no doubt in Reilly’s mind that the trees he remembers climbing on as a kid were shaped for a very particular purpose.
“As far as I can tell, that formation is unique, not just to this area, either,” said Reilly. “These bent trees are all over the country. And they definitely were not made by aliens with flying saucers.”