Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Tree Revered by the Indians

Seen near the Bitterroot River by an 1840's traveler

Bighorn sheep, photographed in Montana by
Flickr user Jeremy Weber (doublejwebber)

The Bitterroot river valley of southwestern Montana was once inhabited by the Flathead or Bitterroot Salish Indian tribe, so perhaps they were the people who decorated the tree that is described in the following excerpt. This was written by W. A. Ferris in the early 1840's.

On the east side of Bitter Root river, there is a singular curiosity, that I had not before observed, because it is situated under some rocky bluffs, almost impassable to horsemen, the proper road being on the west side of the river: it is the horn of an animal, called by hunters, the "Big-horn," but denominated by naturalists "Rocky Mountain Sheep;" of a very large size, of which two-thirds of its length from the upper end, is entombed in the body of a pine tree, so perfectly solid and firmly, that a heavy blow of an axe did not start it from its place.

The tree is unusually large and flourishing, and the horn in it some seven feet above the ground. It appears to be very ancient, and is gradually decomposing on the outside, which has assumed a reddish cast. The date of its existence has been lost in the lapse of ages, and even tradition is silent as to the origin of its remarkable situation. The oldest of Indians can give no other account of it, than that it was there precisely as at present, before their father's great grandfathers were born.

They seldom pass it without leaving some trifling offering, as beads, shells, or other ornaments - tokens of their superstitious veneration for it. As high as they can reach, the bark of the tree is decorated with their trifles.

By W. A. Ferris. From Life in the Rocky Mountains, originally published in a series of installments in the Western Literary Messenger, Buffalo, N. Y.: J. S. Chadbourne & Co., from July 13, 1842 to May 4, 1844.

About the area today:
The Bitterroot National Forest, part of which borders the Bitterroot river valley and foothills, has had some terrible fires in recent years. One well-known and horific image of deer fleeing a Bitteroot fire in 2000 has been investigated and certified as genuine by the urban legend sleuths,

Biologists say that forest fires are both natural and necessary in the coniferous forest. The lodgepole pine, for example, needs fire's intense heat to release its seeds from the cone.

Clipped from a U.S. Forest brochure about
Bitterroot National Forest's Saddle Mountain

2 comments -- please add yours:

the.chronicler said...

My grandfather taught me how to fish and how to sharpen knives in southwestern Montana. I am familiar with the Bitterroots. We hiked many a stream in those parts when I was a young teenager.

As far as the lodgepole pine's seed is concerned, the fact is that not any forest fire will do the job. It requires the most intense of forest fires -- the feared crown fire -- to cause this release. The U.S. Forest Service expends many resources to prevent and stop these terrible fires. But if you talk to any trained Forest Service prescribed burn and fuels specialist, you will learn that the crown fire is understood to have this capability. So, let it burn.

Genevieve said...

I looked at a bunch of webpages about the whole Bitterroot area -- mountains, river, valley, national forest, etc. It is a beautiful area. I've never been west farther than Colorado and Wyoming. I'd love to visit out there someday!

No wonder I have read about you going off to the mountains from time to time, Chronicler. Your grandpa trained you. :)

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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