So you are asking yourself just what is a thong tree? There are a number of theories but the prevailing one seems to be that the Native Americans (mostly the Osage) “shaped” these trees to point to important locations. They would bend a sapling (usually an oak) over and tie it down with a piece of leather (called a thong) and let it grow that way. The tree would basically look like an “L” lying on its side.
We became interested in these unique trees when we discovered one on our property in the Missouri Ozarks. Ours is pointing toward the hollow below the ridge which would have provided shelter or perhaps an easier way through the hills.
The Native Americans would use these to point to sources of water, food, shelter or places of safety. Some believe that early settlers and some of the Old West outlaws would use these trees also. Legends claim that Jesse James and Billy the Kid used these to mark where they had hidden their “loot”.
There are currently a number of people who are locating and tracking these trees to see if there is a correlation between their locations and the Trail of Tears. The theory is that the Cherokee and other tribes marked their trek with these trees. There is a wonderful website maintained by the Mountain Stewards chronicling these great historic trees. Most of the trees are in Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. But there is a smattering of trees in most all states.
There are also variations on the name — Indian trees, marker trees, message trees, water trees, or buffalo trees (there is a theory that the early Native Americans would dry or “tan” the buffalo hides over the bend on these trees.)