Friday, November 14, 2008
Native Trail Trees
Native Americans populated this region into the 1830s. Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa peoples navigated through a vast network of trails by marking those trails with road signs known as trail trees. Also, waterways such as Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River were used as thoroughfares. Above is a trail tree photographed in the early 1900s by local historian, Bess Bower Dunn, along Waukegan Road west of North Chicago.
Trail trees were used along Native American foot trails to direct travelers to neighboring villages, and hunting and ceremonial grounds. The unusually shaped trees essentially “pointed” the direction the traveler needed to go. Typically trail trees were oak or elm since they lived much longer than other types of trees.
Bess Bower Dunn (1877-1959), researched trail trees at the turn of the 20th century, writing: “[They] marked routes or trails… by taking a small sapling, bending it to the ground, fastening it, taking off the lower branches or twisting them around the trunk… so the forests of Lake County… became penetrated with a network of trails… marked by trees."
The United Nation of Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa sold their last remaining Great Lakes land to the U.S. Government in the Treaty of Chicago on September 26, 1833. Lake County's current road system is based largely on native trails though paved over and in some cases straightened. Milwaukee Avenue, Fairfield Road, Greenbay Road, and Belvidere Road are a few of the former trails still in use today.