To our knowledge, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition (TXHTC) is the only group in the Southwest that works to identify potential Indian marker trees. When our research began, there was no established protocol or set of procedures to follow. The process we use to submit, identify, research, and assist in recognizing a potential Indian marker tree (IMT) was developed over many years. It is the product of much research, and also of careful listening to our American Indian friends. It is based on a profound respect for the American Indian culture and their way of life.
In 1997, the Comanche Nation’s Tribal Elder Council, Historic Preservation Officer, and Language and Cultural Preservation Committee worked together to officially recognize the first tree, which is in East Dallas. Since this time, a great many conversations and meetings have been held to help us understand more about their culture and how it relates to these unusual trees. Over time, a process was developed to respectfully request official recognition of marker trees.
The first step of the process involves the submission of a potential Indian marker tree (PIMT) to TXHTC for consideration. Anyone may submit a tree for consideration. We receive information on potential marker trees from foresters, historians, hikers – happily, we receive tips from all kinds of people who share a love of these trees. The submissions are typically made via the TXHTC web site, and usually include several photos and a few details. At this point, our arborist reviews the information and determines if the tree appears to have some potential; sometimes, natural forces are likely to have shaped the appearance of the tree rather than American Indians. Trees that appear to have potential require more research, and we ask the person submitting the tree to provide more information. Once the information is received, it is reviewed again by our arborist. Those trees that continue to show potential are officially logged into our files. Next, our Indian marker team volunteers visit the site to inspect the tree and collect more detailed information.
After the site inspection, if the tree is old enough and still has potential to be a marker tree, a great deal of background research is required. The objective is to make a strong case that American Indians were likely to have occupied the site of the tree or to have marked the location or used the tree for a specific purpose. This can be a difficult task, and often requires determined sleuthing. There is very little written information available to help us establish American Indian presence and practices in most of the areas where we find potential marker trees. As a result, research often begins with a search of property records at the county courthouse and progresses to checking with local historians, anthropologists, and archeologists, and more.
TXHTC simply does not have the volunteers required to research each individual tree. To date, TXHTC has collected information on over 300 trees and we work diligently to keep up with current submissions. We rely heavily on our tree nominators and people in their communities to help us with the work of establishing the presence of American Indians near the potential marker tree. We review the information provided and verify the sources given.
Once there is substantial evidence and research linking the tree and site to past American Indian presence, this information is submitted to the officials in the appropriate American Indian Nation. At present, we work primarily with the Comanche Nation’s officials because they are the only group that has previously recognized Indian marker trees in Texas. Once the information on a tree is submitted to officials, any response is respectfully left in their hands. TXHTC may check back with them, but it is important to note that it is a slow process due to the many other issues that the officials must address.
It is also important to note that we have a great respect for history that is passed along through the oral tradition in the American Indian culture. Although there is very little written information available, we find that the oral tradition has preserved their history, culture, and values exceptionally well. The importance of the preservation and passing along of history in their culture has produced generations of people that know who they are, what they believe, where they’ve been and where they’re going. We highly value and respect the decisions they make about the trees we submit for consideration.