photo by Michael R. Jeffords

Messages written on beech trees by Cherokees along the infamous "Trail of Tears" are in a code known only to these people. Though many types of trees were available, beech trees were intentionally selected because their smooth bark retains carvings for decades. Many Cherokees believed they would be able to return to their ancestral lands, read the messages of the trees, and retrieve cached valuables. They were never able to return, but as late as the 1960s, their messages were still visible almost a century and a half after they were carved.

The messages of these trees remained a mystery to those that viewed the inscriptions. In the words of one Cherokee, their secret language was the only thing that wasn't stolen from them. However, mystery regarding the use of trees by Native Americans is not confined to beech trees, but also surrounds trail-marker trees once prevalent throughout much of the Midwest.