Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997 Page: 20
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Trees. One was an old, very large
cottonwood located in an area otherwise
barren of trees, near an old
XIT Ranch windmill and the
present-day town of Texline. During
the mid-1950s, a former XIT
cowboy then in his 90s, told Billy
Turpin (a current resident of Amarillo,
whose father owned the property)
that the same tree was there
during the operation of the XIT
Ranch. Presently, this tree is partially
uprooted, but it still survives.
Until recently, this old, isolated
tree grew near the present-day town
of Lazbuddie, along a faint wagon
trail that may have been formed by
the Comancheros during their years
of trade with the Comanche. The
advanced age of the tree was sug- ar
gested by the presence of handforged
iron chains hanging from it,
which were secured to the tree by a
limb that had grown around it. Not
too long ago this tree was struck by
lightning and burned.
Certain trees also were of significance
to another tribe that
dominated the Southern Plains,
the Kiowa. One such tree grew from a twig
that was driven into the ground to hold
"medicine" during a special ceremony by
the mother of Stumbling Bear, or Setimkia,
a tribal leader. Interestingly, this tree was
reportedly cut down by the Comanche.
Beyond the Southern Plains, in the Hill
Country of Texas, also were trees special to
the Comanche. According to Bruseth and
Kenmotsu, a descendant of early EuroAmerican
settlers recalled hearing his grandfather
speak of a misshapened tree on the
family's property near the San Antonio-toBlanco
road. This tree was said to have been
used as a trail marker by the Indians.
According to anthropologist Dr. Dan
Gelo, Comanches tied down saplings to
point toward watering holes that were off
the main trails. Some saplings became large
trees that continued to grow horizontally
and serve as landmarks. Local inhabitants
believe that one large tree north of the
present-day city of Austin is one such
marker. Gelo suggests such marker trees
were in the Texas Panhandle-Plains and
were Turning Trees.
An early Texas archaeologist, A.T. Jackson,
mentioned other kinds of trees special
to the Comanche, that were observed by
early-day Euro-American settlers. Trees
with painted or carved designs date at least
H.D. Bugbee (1900-1963), Untitled [Tree
and Tipi], circa 1925, charcoal and colored
pencil on paper, 9x6 in., Private Collection.
from the 1830s for the Comanche in central
Texas, according to an account by
Noah Smithwick. Smithwick observed
that the Comanche drew or painted designs
upon many materials, including
smooth-bark trees. Most such decorated
trees, though, were quickly cut down by
non-Indian settlers. A.T. Jackson noted
that a number of these decorated trees
were located along the Comanche Trail.
In the Southern Plains region, the "gigantic"
and "strangely twisted" cottonwood
tree described in 1853 by Baldwin
Mollhausen while with Whipple's survey
party, was said to have "figures cut long
ago, in its bark, by Indians, or, perhaps, by
whites, in sport". The location of this tree
would have been near the present-day
Hemphill-Roberts County line, south of
the South Canadian River.
Trees painted by Indians also are noted
in Edwards, Palo Pinto, and San Saba Counties
of Texas. Decorations carved onto
trees by Indians are reported for the Texas
counties of Wood, Smith, and Van Zandt.
Designs with "all sorts of zigzag lines
and curlicues" made by Indians (possibly
Comanche), with red and blue paint on
oak trees were located along Pulliam
Creek, according to early Edwards County
settlers L.A. Fields and Jim Hill, and per
haps Jim Brown. Texas Ranger William
J. Hale, spoke of a roughly fouracre
area with large cedar trees near
Turkey Creek in Palo Pinto County
that became known as Painted Camp
because of hundreds of paintings applied
to the inner bark of many of
these trees from which the outer
bark had been removed. Red and
blue and other vivid colors were used
to paint complex designs. In the vicinity
of McAnally's Bend on the
Colorado River, in San Saba County,
was a cluster of large cedar trees that
may have been painted red, that was
reported to rancher J.M. Henderson.
In Wood County, early surveyor
G.W. Cowan saw several trees with
carved designs reportedly made by
Comanches, located along the
Comanche Trail. According to
Cowan, these trees were used as guides
in Surveyor's field notes and land
records. The designs included "circles,
turtles, snakes, and zigzag lines; they
were well executed and in fair condition.
Small figures were cut vertically on the trees;
long designs, such as snakes, were horizontal.
All were in outline only." Other "Comanche
tree carvings" were reported by Cowan in
Smith and Van Zandt Counties, "and other
Sabine River bottom sections".
When we last talked, Melvin Kerchee
felt that two of the suggested locations seem
likely candidates for the Turning Trees he
sought: Cottonwood Springs near Quitaque
and the place between Fort Concho and
Fort Sill reported by Kavanagh's informant.
Kerchee also observed that another Turning
Tree should be in Palo Duro Canyon.
We agreed that others might have further
information about Comanche Turning
Trees, and we are still in the process of
gathering facts and locations about these
trees that are so special to the Comanche.
A. J. Taylor is an archaeologist with the Panhandle-Plains
Museum in Canyon.
Author's Note: Please send information
about Turning Trees (or other special trees) to:
A.J. Taylor, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum,
WTAMU Box 967, Canyon, TX
79016; (806) 656-2250
20 HERITAGE *WINTER 1997
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997, periodical, Winter 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45400/m1/20/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.