The History (and Mystery) of the Indian Signal Tree


During the time when American Indians roamed what is now Northeast Ohio, special landmarks were used to pinpoint significant locations. One particular landmark they may have used for this purpose still famously stands in Cascade Valley Metro Park today: the Indian Signal Tree.

THREE-TONGED MYSTERY

Some people believe a strange accident shaped the (possibly) 300-year-old bur oak tree’s branches.

Others think American Indians shaped the Indian Signal Tree as a sapling to achieve its unique, three-tonged structure. “The tree might have been physically manipulated by American Indians to use on a transportation route,” explains Mike Johnson, chief of natural resources for Summit Metro Parks.

Also perplexing is the fact that the Signal Tree is a bur oak — a variety that experts say is an unusual find in Northeast Ohio. And, while the use of signal trees was once common practice, it is uncommon to find one with a three-tonged structure.

(photo by volunteer Joe Prekop)

TRAIL MARKER

In Cascade Valley, a plaque from 1986 states that the Indian Signal Tree marked the path to the Portage Trail from the Cuyahoga River, which is a connecting link between the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Portage Trail “connected” the Erie, Seneca, Shawnee, Ottawa, Delaware and Mingo tribes, which traveled to the Ohio River by this route. From the Signal Tree, American Indians might have carried their canoes eight miles south to Summit Lake.

FACT OR FICTION?

According to Education & Recreation Manager Mike Greene, no one really knows how old the Indian Signal Tree is, or why its shape was altered by humans. “If it is truly over 300 years old, it was most likely shaped by American Indians, but for what purpose?” Greene asks. “It could mark a gathering place, maybe for ceremonies. It could show the way to another area or trail. It could mark the previous location of the river, or good hunting and fishing grounds.” Greene said there are many possibilities, but the answer — despite what is written on the 1986 plaque — will probably remain a mystery forever.

(photo by volunteer Joe Prekop)

GO SEE IT

Although several branches have fallen over the years, the Indian Signal Tree’s three characteristic limbs remain intact. Hikers can see the tree near the start of the 2.4-mile Chuckery Trail in Cascade Valley Metro Park.