In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.
Eleven or twelve thousand years ago, it is likely that woolly mammoths traveled along an Ice Age migration path that formed the original Green Bay trail. Geologist Herman Bender of the University of Wisconsin states that geologic and climatic conditions favored the woolly on its northward migration along the Lake Border Moraine (an accumulation of earth and stones deposited by a glacier). Ice Age hunters followed in pursuit; evidence of this exists in Kenosha where spear points and woolly mammoth bones were discovered in the only confirmed woolly mammoth slaughter site east of the Mississippi River.
As Galena, Illinois was the objective of the thoroughfares leading westward from Chicago, so Green Bay was the terminus of the ancient highway to the north. Lying at the mouth of Fox River, on the earliest known water route from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, La Baye (Fort La Baye was constructed in 1717. The town of La Baye was incorporated in 1754. At the end of the Seven Years' War, it went under British control in 1761 and was renamed Green Bay), as the place was known to the French, was the earliest settlement of white men west of the Great Lakes. To this vicinity in 1634 came the venturesome Jean Nicolet (1598-1642), seeking the long-desired waterway to China and the untold wealth of the Orient.
Here Louis Jolliet and Père Jacques Marquette paused in the spring of 1673, outward bound on their voyage of discovery to the Mississippi (the Indians pronounced "Mississippi" as "Sinnissippi;" meaning "rocky waters"), and to the Jesuit mission already established here, Marquette returned for rest and recuperation when the momentous expedition had terminated. For three generations La Baye continued to be an important center in the French scheme of empire in the Northwest. Then came the downfall of New France, and although the English promptly established a garrison at Green Bay, it was withdrawn during Pontiac's war of 1763, and never restored.
For half a century Green Bay ceased to be a garrison town. But the old French settlement did not die, and the factor of geography to which its birth had originally been due continued to render Green Bay an important center of Indian trade. Although nominally American soil from the close of the Revolution in 1783, the place remained virtually a British outpost until after the War of 1812. In that struggle, the residents of Green Bay bound up in the Indian trade, sided unanimously with Great Britain, and at its close the government of the United States, determined at last to assert its sovereignty over the Northwest, proceeded to establish Fort Howard (1812-1841) at the mouth of Fox River at Prairie du Chien. This, together with Fort Crawford (first fort 1816–1832, second fort 1832-1856) at Prairie Du Chien, reinforced a dozen years later by the building of Fort Winnebago (1828-1845) at the Fox-Wisconsin Portage, enabled the government effectually to assert its authority over the denizens, tribesmen and traders alike, of Wisconsin.
To the Indians, as later to the white man, Green Bay and Chicago were places of importance, and the two were, of course, connected by well-established trails. These the white man found on his coming to the country and, adopting them for his own, proceeded to develop them into highways of civilized travel. Nowhere in America, perhaps, have clearer statements of the process of this transformation been recorded than in connection with the Green Bay road.
In 1792, a Frenchman living in Green Bay Wisconsin, who worked for the American Fur Company was assigned to establish trading posts near Indian villages. His name was Jacques Vieau Sr., but Indians had difficulty pronouncing his name so they called him "Jean Beau," or Jambeau. Jambeau's trading post at Skunk Grove, seven miles west of Lake Michigan, was in today's town of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. The trail between Green Bay and Chicago became known as the "Old Jambeau trail" and became a set route for travel by horseback and foot alike.
Andrew J. Vieau, whose father came as a trader to Milwaukee in 1795, speaking of the road between Green Bay and Milwaukee in 1837, writes: "This path was originally an Indian trail and very crooked but the whites would straighten it by cutting across lots each winter with their jumpers (a "Jumper" was the type of sled known as a French Train, consisting of a box some six feet long and three feet wide, which was drawn over the surface of the snow), wearing bare streaks through the thin covering, to be followed in the summer by foot and horseback travel along the shortened path."
The Indians, like his white successors, ordinarily had a choice of routes by which to travel to his chosen destination. The terms Green Bay trail and Green Bay road are used in their broad sense to include the more important variants of the route between the two cities.
|CLICK MAP FOR A FULL-SIZE VIEW|
|Chicago area map of the Green Bay Trail.|
This trail from Chicago up the Des Plaines Valley gave rise in the early period of white settlement to two country roads which today find a place on the map of Chicago as important diagonal city streets. One of these was Elston Road [Avenue], which Andreas describes as "a crooked wagon track leading from Kinzie Street through the Township of Jefferson, the western part of Niles and through Northfield towards Deerfield." The other was Milwaukee Road, which has become within the city Milwaukee Avenue. The two streets run parallel for a distance of nine or ten miles when Elston merges into Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Road, from this point, continued northward through Wheeling, Half Day and Libertyville. A mile north of Libertyville it veered to the northeast, and recrossed the Des Plaines at Gurnee, and joined the Green Bay Road three miles beyond that point.
From Milwaukee to Green Bay there were two distinct trails, both of which became the routes of important roads. The lakeshore route ran in a direct line to Saukville on Milwaukee River, four miles west of Port Washington. From here to Manitowoc Rapids it followed the general course of the lakeshore, although keeping for the most part to the higher ground some distance inland from the beach. At Manitowoc Rapids, it turned sharply inland and ran in a northwesterly direction to Green Bay.
The alternative route ran northwest from Milwaukee past Menominee Falls to Rubicon Post Office in Dodge County. Here it turned due north across Dodge to Fond du Lac at the foot of Lake Winnebago. It then skirted the eastern shore of the lake, through Taycheedah and Brothertown, struck the Fox River opposite Wrightstown, and followed the southern bank through Depere to its termination at Green Bay.
The earliest accounts of travel over the Green Bay Trail are the narratives of the mail carriers who before the coming of the settlers traversed the wilderness between Fort Howard and Fort Dearborn. At first, this task was performed by a soldier, detailed for the purpose by the commander of one of the forts. Despite the early importance of the Green Bay settlement, its remoteness from the rest of the civilized world made the expense of maintaining a mail route too great for the Post Office Department to undertake. Henry S. Baird, who came to Wisconsin in 1824, relates that in summer the mail was conveyed in sailing vessels, and the townsmen were often without news from the outside world for weeks in succession. In winter-time, a mail-carrier was hired to make monthly trips to Chicago, his pay being supplied in part from an allowance by the quartermaster at the fort, in part by popular subscription. How anxiously the arrival of the mail was awaited can today be but dimly imagined. If for any reason the carrier was delayed beyond the expected time, the presumption was that he had been detained by the Indians or fallen a victim to starvation.
The narrative of John H. Fonda, "who ran the mail" between Fort Howard and Fort Dearborn in the winter of 1826, supplies an interesting picture of the conditions encountered on such a journey. Strange indeed would be the figure cut by Fonda and his French-Canadian companion if encountered today on the busy cement-paved highway between Green Bay and Milwaukee or Chicago. Fonda was garbed in "a smoke tanned buckskin hunting shirt, trimmed leggings of the same material, a wolf-skin chapeau with the animal's tail still attached, and moccasins of elk-hide." He carried a heavy mountaineer's rifle with a shortened barrel and a strap so attached that it could be slung over his back. A powder-horn hung by a strap from his shoulder, while a belt around his waist held a sheath knife and a pair of pistols, in addition to a short-handled ax. Attached to the belt, also, was a pouch of mink-skin in which he carried his rifle bullets.
The appearance of Boiseley, the Canadian, was still stranger. He was short and thick-set, while to his long arms were appended huge hands of tremendous grasp. His small head was covered with coarse black hair, while his eyes, small and black, were piercing as those of a rattlesnake. Accoutered in a style similar to the garb of Fonda, he sported a long Indian gun and always carried in his belt a large knife, pistol, and hatchet. His bullet pouch and horn hung under his arm. Like most of the voyageurs, he was superstitious, and tied by sinew thongs to his horn were several charms which were supposed to possess some mysterious power to preserve the wearer from harm. The most important item of the outfit, however, was the receptacle that contained the mail -- a flat tin box or canister, covered with untanned deer hide.
The round trip of nearly 500 miles usually consumed a month by foot, and since the region traversed was an utter wilderness the men were thrown entirely upon their own resources. For food they chiefly depended upon the Indians and on such game as they might shoot en route; but since both these sources of supply were highly uncertain they carried by way of reserve a bag of parched corn, to be eaten only in case of special need. The nights were sometimes spent in an Indian village, but more commonly before a campfire in the woods, wrapped in the blankets which they carried on their backs. Leaving Green Bay on foot, laden with arms, blankets, and provisions, the two men followed the Indian trail to the southeast, passing through dense woods of pine interspersed with cedar swamps, and now and then a grove of red oak. As they penetrated deeper into the primeval forest the tracks of fisher and mink became more frequent. Herds of deer that had made their "yard" in the heavily timbered bottoms were roused at intervals, while an encounter with an occasional wildcat lent its variety to the journey. At one place they camped for the night on the bank of a small stream which issued from a live spring and flowed over the rocks in several beautiful cascades. Under a projecting bank, Boiseley found the water literally alive with trout and taking from his pack the light camp kettle he dipped out as many as the two men could consume and fried them over the fire. On another occasion, the marks of a bear were observed on the trunk of a large oak. Investigation disclosed that the tree was hollow and the animals had been attracted to it by the store of wild honey concealed within. The men helped themselves to a kettleful, and during the evening ate so much that Fonda could never again taste honey without a feeling of nausea and disgust.
The hazards of such a journey were chiefly those incidents to the hardships and exposure of wilderness travel. Illustrative of these is the record of the first capital surgical operation ever performed at Chicago, the subject of which was an unfortunate Canadian half-breed who had frozen his feet while carrying the mail from Green Bay to this place. This was in 1832 and Dr. Elijah Harmon, who has been denominated the “Father of medicine" in Chicago, had but recently established himself in the old Kinzie house across the river from Fort Dearborn.
|Jean Baptiste Point du Sable built a cabin just north of the Chicago River near Lake Michigan in 1779 (approximately where the Tribune Tower is today) where he established a trading post. (claimed to be the first house build in Chicago). Du Sable sold his property to Jean Baptiste La Lime, who in turn sold it to William Burnett, John Kinzie's business partner. In 1804 Kinzie buys the house and property from Burnett and keeps the property until 1828. The house of Antoine Ouilmette is seen in the background. Illustration from 1827.|
But the Indians, though commonly disposed to peace at this period, was ever subject to strange moods, and liable at any time to avenge upon the traveler some injury, real or fancied, which he had suffered at the hands of some other member of the white race. Such a murder was committed in 1836 at Theresa, the victim, Ellsworth Burnet, being totally innocent of any connection with the offense for which he was slain. Burnet was traveling over the trail in company with Captain James Clyman, and the men had stopped to cook their evening meal. Without any warning of impending danger a shot rang out from the bush, and Burnet fell dead in the act of stooping to blow air on the fire. A second shot wounded Clyman, but he escaped and succeeded in making his way to Milwaukee. The murderer, it later developed, was an Indian who took this means of avenging upon the white race the death of a relative who had been killed by a soldier at Fort Winnebago (1828-1845).”
A tragedy of peculiar sadness associated with the Green Bay trail was the killing of Dr. William S. Madison on May 12, 1821. Dr. Madison was the surgeon at Fort Howard. About a year and a half before his death he had married a young woman in Kentucky, and the couple had resided together but a short time when he was ordered to rejoin his regiment. Leaving his young wife at her home, he proceeded through the wilderness to Green Bay. The months passed, and to the absent husband was borne the news that a son had been born. At last, he obtained leave of absence for the express purpose of visiting his wife and child, and on May 11, 1821, he set out over the trail to Chicago in company with the mail carrier. On the afternoon of the second day, they fell in with Ketaukah, an Indian, who attached himself to the party. Toward sundown, when approaching Manitowoc Rapids, they came to a small ravine bordered with shrubbery. In crossing this the mail carrier took the lead, followed by the surgeon, with Ketaukah bringing up the rear. Hearing the sound of a gun, the carrier turned round to find Dr. Madison had been shot through the back, receiving a wound which he pronounced mortal. On receipt of the news at Fort Howard, a detail of soldiers hastened to the place, to find the unfortunate surgeon had already expired.
His body was carried back to Green Bay and interred with due military honors. Meanwhile, Ketaukah was brought in to the fort by the chief of his band and turned over to the soldiery. By them he was carried to Detroit, then the seat of government of what now is Wisconsin, and committed to prison. At the September session of the court, he was convicted of the crime of murder and sentenced to be hanged. Another Indian murderer was sentenced to death at the same time, and the two culprits were confined in a common cell until the end of December when they were taken to the appointed place and publicly hanged. Both men proved model prisoners, who acknowledged the justice of their doom and in their pagan way made careful preparations for death. They walked quietly to the gallows, and after shaking hands with several of the officers ascended the steps with a firm and resolute tread. With a final request for pardon for their crimes, and a last lingering gaze upon the heavens they were plunged into the other world.
The process of transforming the Green Bay trail into a white man's highway was begun by the federal government. A logical complement to the establishment of garrisons at Chicago, Green Bay, Portage, and Prairie du Chien was the construction of roads to make possible the free movement of troops between these points. The first military road in Wisconsin was designed to connect Fort Howard at Green Bay with Fort Winnebago at the Fox-Wisconsin Portage. An appropriation of $2,000 was made by Congress for this purpose in the spring of 1830, but not until October of 1832 was the work of surveying the route begun by Lieutenant Center. As surveyed, the road ran up the south side of the Fox and along the east side of Lake Winnebago, the route being identical as far as Fond du Lac with the Indian trail to Milwaukee, which I already described. The construction of the road was carried out the following season by detachments of soldiers from Fort Howard and Fort Winnebago. The work of improvement chiefly consisted in cutting a narrow track through the forest. Captain Martin Scott, whose fame as a marksman still survives in frontier legend, had the oversight of the twelve-mile section east of Lake Winnebago. He cut the road straight as an arrow for the entire distance, and this section was long known as "Scott's straight cut."
The road from Chicago to Green Bay dates its beginning from an act of Congress approved June 15, 1832, for the establishment of a postal route between these points. Although it was marshy and nearly impassable for a horse and wagon. Locally the road, marked by trail trees , had what was known as a “wet” and “dry” route. The wet route ran along higher ground. The dry route ran closer to the lake near the present-day Sheridan Road.
A report made to the Secretary of War in October of 1833, states that the fund appropriated had been applied to the purpose intended, while a later report indicates that the survey was completed the following year. Andreas' History of Chicago states that stakes were driven and blazed along the line, and that as far as Milwaukee the road was "somewhat improved" by cutting out the trees to the width of two rods and laying puncheon and log bridges over the impassable streams; but it seems apparent from other sources of information that most of this improvement dates from a later period. Horace Chase, who with two companions left Chicago for Milwaukee in December of 1834, states that they followed the route of the Indian trail and crossed twenty-four streams, big and little, "getting mired in most of them." When this happened they would carry the baggage ashore and pull the wagon out by hand, their single horse having all he could do to extricate himself. Another person who made the journey in the spring of 1835 relates that from Waukegan to Milwaukee the road was still a primitive Indian trail.
Another visitor to Milwaukee this same summer records that after crossing Root River the road became worse. The horse mired and they were compelled to loosen him from the wagon and help him out, after which they pried the wagon from the mud with handspikes. Two miles farther on they again became stalled and had to repeat the process. The road now became better but was still so bad that the men had to walk all the way to Milwaukee, where they arrived after sundown.
The newcomers found the Milwaukee of July of 1835, a town of several stores and dwellings where none had been at the opening of the season. Strictly speaking, not one town but several had been started, and the rivalry engendered between the promoters and upholders of the several settlements long survived to disturb the peace and welfare of the future metropolis. Near the mouth of the river, where it was one of the busiest industrial centers in the world, the newcomers found a marsh of several hundred acres, so wet that one could not travel through it, while to get around it entailed a detour of seven miles. Real estate speculation was the all-absorbing interest of the populace. "No one," records the observer, "thinks of raising anything on the land, but makes claims as fast as they can by going on and cutting a few trees, spade up a little ground, and perhaps plant corn. They are just as likely to plant corn now [July 15th] as at the proper season." Even the missionary preacher who had been sent out by the good people of New England to minister to the heathens in Wisconsin had become "a little tinctured" with the spirit of speculation.
The forecast recorded by these writers in July of 1835, that Milwaukee would eventually become a "place of considerable business" found speedy fulfillment, for with the following spring began a period of rapid growth which before long made the town a formidable rival of Chicago for the commercial supremacy of Lake Michigan. Yet even between two such commercial centers, the improvement of the highway proceeded with manifest deliberation. As late as January of 1839, Bishop Jackson Kemper records that the stage, which left Chicago at two in the morning, required more than twenty-four hours to reach Kenosha, although its schedule called for less than half this time; while the hundred-mile journey to Milwaukee entailed forty hours of travel. Milwaukee was then three years old, having 1000 inhabitants and the appearance of a "thriving and well-built town." The panic of 1837 had about run its course, leaving the community ample time to reflect upon the follies of the speculative era of 1836; yet the Bishop was led to conclude, from all that he could see and hear, that the town would soon recover its prosperity and renew its growth. The natural advantages of Milwaukee, combined with the enterprising character of the inhabitants, left no room for doubt concerning the "future commanding station" of the place.
Meanwhile, in 1838, Congress had appropriated $15,000 ($357,200 today) for the construction of a road from the Illinois state line northward to Green Bay, and the report of Lieutenant Cram, the army engineer, to whom the task of making the preliminary surveys was intrusted, sheds considerable light upon the conditions of the road and the country through which it passed. The projected road would open a "convenient" highway 158 miles in length along the west shore of Lake Michigan, chiefly through an excellent wooded district. From the Illinois line to Saukville, a distance of sixty-eight miles, the belt of woodland along the route of the road was chiefly settled; between Milwaukee and Sheboygan rivers there were several settlers. Between Sheboygan and Green Bay, an extent of sixty-three miles, there was no settlement other than the one which had been begun at Manitowoc Rapids.
Yet the route was the "principal mail route" from the south and east to the Green Bay District, and over it three times a week the mail was carried to Milwaukee on the backs of men. It was impossible to drive a wheeled vehicle on the route farther north than Milwaukee, and nowhere between Milwaukee and the Illinois line could a span of horses haul an empty wagon at a greater speed than twenty-five miles a day; while to transport the mail from Green Bay to the Illinois boundary, 158 miles, required five days' travel.
The plan of improvement called for a highway four rods wide, banked in the middle to the width of fifteen feet. Within this space, all trees were to be cut off close to the ground, while outside it and within a space two rods in width trees of less diameter than ten inches were to be cut. To complete the work as planned. Lieutenant Cram estimated that an additional appropriation of $33,381 would be required. According to the historian of Manitowoc County, there was much mismanagement in the prosecution of the work, and although it afforded "the principal means of communication by land with the outside world," the extension of settlement along the northern portion of the road proceeded slowly. The alternative route from Milwaukee to Fond du Lac, where a connection was made with the military road constructed in 1832-33, remained but a primitive Indian trail until the winter of 1841. Then the citizens of Milwaukee subscribed to a small sum of money which was paid to William R. Hesk for cutting a wagon road between Milwaukee and Fond du Lac. A capital narrative of a winter journey over this highway in February of 1843, two years after its opening, has been left by Increase A. Lapham of Milwaukee, Wisconsin's pioneer scholar and scientist. Sleighing was good at the time, and the journey was made in a cutter, drawn by a single horse. As far as Menominee Falls, fifteen miles from Milwaukee, the track had been worn hard and smooth by the loggers and farmers hauling their products to the Milwaukee market. At Vaughn's, seventeen miles out, the settlements began to be more scarce, and such few houses as there were had all been erected within the past year. Juneau's trading establishment at Theresa, forty-six miles from Milwaukee, was reached at sundown. Here was living a band of about 100 Menominee Indians, whose chief had taken an active part on the British side in the War of 1812 and had been one of the leaders in the Chicago Fort Dearborn massacre.
The "famous village of Fond du Lac" Lapham found to consist of two houses, and one of these was a blacksmith shop. Taychedah, which still existed as a deserted village, was then the metropolis of the vicinity, with a store and half a dozen houses. At the town of Stockbridge, seventeen miles beyond Fond du Lac, the traveler put up at the house of William Fowler, and here during the evening a prayer meeting was conducted by the civilized Indians of the settlement. A ride of forty-two miles the following day brought him to Green Bay.
The traffic of the Green Bay road differed materially from that of all the other thoroughfares radiating from Chicago. The Detroit road was a great highway of travel for settlers pouring into the West. All the others were avenues by which the products of the interior found outlets to the markets of the eastern seaboard, and over which flowed the return stream of merchandise of all kinds which the western people consumed in vast quantities but of which they produced little or nothing. Through the Chicago, gateway passed this double stream of traffic and from her merchants took a toll which became ever richer as the population of the interior increased.
The Green Bay road, on the contrary, throughout almost its entire extent was paralleled by the shore of Lake Michigan, distant at most, not more than half a dozen miles. Along this shoreline were scattered at easy intervals such aspiring communities as Manitowoc, Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, and Sheboygan, into whose harbors came, or might come, the same ships that found their way to Chicago. On the Green Bay road, therefore, were witnessed no long processions of farm wagons plodding their weary way to the distant Chicago market. Nor could one see on it the steady stream of emigrant schooners which characterized the Detroit road. Many of these, it is true, set forth from Chicago on the northward route, but for the most part before long they turned into the interior in search of the particular destination which choice or fancy might dictate. The reason for this is obvious. If the settler followed the overland route to the West, he was liable to be diverted into the interior soon after he reached Chicago. If he came by water, and his destination was some point in Wisconsin, he naturally landed at the point, usually Milwaukee, from which he could most easily proceed to it. In this connection, it is pertinent to remember that to the early settler Wisconsin meant that portion of the modern state lying south and east of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. All above this line was a wilderness covered by a practically unbroken forest, into which no one but the lumberman and the Indian trader ever thought of penetrating. Even as late as 1847, it was gravely asserted in the convention which framed the constitution for statehood that the section of western Wisconsin lying between the Wisconsin River and modern St. Paul and Minneapolis was a "cold barren wilderness" which would be "forever uninhabitable."
In eastern Wisconsin, the forest belt crossed the Fox and advanced to the lakeshore, as far south as Milwaukee. Because of its accessibility, probably, sturdy Dutch and German settlers did not hesitate to plunge into this forest and begin the work of carving out the splendid farms with which this section is now covered. But even here, aside from the immediate lakeshore, settlement proceeded much more slowly than it did in the more open country south and west of Milwaukee.
The traffic of the Green Bay Road, therefore, in the period we are discussing, was largely confined to two classes, local travel, and travel between such points as Chicago and Milwaukee and Milwaukee and Green Bay. Its volume, too, particularly that of the latter class, was naturally affected by the season of the year. When navigation was open and the journey could be made by water much of the through travel between Chicago and the upper lake points went by water. The schedules of the stage managers, of course, took cognizance of this situation.
The first stage service between Chicago and Milwaukee is said to have been instituted in the spring of 1836, the proprietor of the line being Lathrop Johnson, who kept the New York House in Chicago. For transporting the mail and such passengers as might choose to entrust themselves to his oversight, Johnson provided an open lumber wagon. To give character to the service, however, it was drawn by four horses instead of two.
The Chicago Business Directory lists a tri-weekly stage service between Milwaukee and Chicago in summer and daily service in winter. Coaches were scheduled to make this journey in one and one-half days, stopping at Kenosha overnight. An announcement by Frink and Walker’s Stage Lines in the Little Fort (now Waukegan) Porcupine Newspaper for December 3, 1845, advertised that "four-horse post coaches and stage sleighs" leave that place for Chicago each morning, and Milwaukee each evening. On appropriate notice being received, the Company would call for citizens at their homes and leave passengers off at any place where they might desire to stop.
Frink and Walker's stage office was on Lake Street two doors east of Dearborn Street just off the southwest corner. 1844 Illustration.
|The northern end of the "Old Jambeau Trail" or the "Green Bay Trail."|
The wonder of today becomes commonplace tomorrow; this aphorism finds fresh illustration in the case of the mail service of Waukegan. A local historian relates that the appearance of the first mail stage in the city "was an event creating a profound sensation." Half a dozen years later the Gazette nonchalantly reports that "five to six coaches pass daily through Waukegan, full inside and out."
|The Stagecoach wasn't as glamorous as the movies made them out to be.|
 Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease.