Before we owned the 80 acres that we call Roundrock, we had 40 acres in an adjoining county that we called Fallen Timbers. And while it was also an upland Ozark forest, it did not have any round rocks. It did, however, have what may have been burial mounds and thong trees.
I got a lot of scoffing on Roundrock Journal when I wrote about the thong trees in my forest. The name alone evokes mirth and doubt, but the seeming unlikelihood of a human-modified tree surviving since pre-settlement times raised most of the doubt.
Thong trees are ones that were strapped down with leather thongs when they were saplings so that they would grow into a distorted shape. Generally these were set in place to mark some important feature of the land, such as a spring, so that those traveling through the (otherwise) trackless forest would know what was around them.
While the trees at Roundrock are not old enuf to have been around in pre-settlement times, there were many at Fallen Timbers that likely could have been. And many were deformed into what might have been actual thong trees. The one in the photo above is beside a street in the nearby community of Lakeview Heights, Missouri and it shows many of the classic marks: not only the bent shape but the knobs at the end of the upright turn. (These were supposedly formed by cutting the bark of the sapling and then inserting coals from the fire for the tree to grow around.)
Yes, natural forces could create these trees. A fallen tree pressing a nearby sapling to the ground could do it. The fallen tree would eventually rot away, and the sapling would be permanently deformed. Yet there is documentation of deliberate human work to create these as well. One of the most elaborately deformed trees at Fallen Timbers (that I cannot find a photo of) pointed uphill to a small spring.
Still, the doubt and ridicule remain. Do thong trees exist? Yes, I have no doubt. Did I have any in my forest at Fallen Timbers? I think it was likely.
But I leave you with this photo of a tree I came across on a country road near Muscatine, Iowa several years ago. You can decide for yourself.
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