The Trees and Rocks Will Always Show You The Way
Saskatchewan landscape, as you see it today, is very different
from how it was one hundred years ago. At that time, the
cities and towns that you know today, did not exist. There
were only small settlements here and there. There were
very few farms and ranches, and they were small. The majority
of the landscape was still in it's natural state and much
of the area was covered with dense bush. As people moved
in, the land was cleared for farms and ranches, and the
settlements grew and became the towns and cities we know
today. More lands were cleared to make roads and highways
to allow travel between the settlements and to the points
of the roads and highways built, were made in areas where
the Indian people had blazed trails, long before others
came to settle in this land. Each Indian Nation made a
series of trails, within their territory, to allow them
to travel through the dense bush, the forest and the rolling
prairies to hunt, fish, trap and gather other supplies
for their livelihood. They also made trails that connected
the various tribal territories so that they could visit
and trade. The explorers and settlers learned that Indian
men knew the land well and were very skilled in blazing
trails, therefore, they often hired Indian men to serve
as their guides. Even today, Indians are often hired to
serve as guides in the northern part of the province.
Dakota/Nakota/Lakota people made four types of trails
in the bush and forest: The blazed trail, the game trail,
the trappers trail and the concealed blaze. Each type
of trail was made differently and had it's purpose.
blazed trail was for general use. A sort of public highway.
It was not always the shortest route but it was the easiest
and most convenient route. The blazes were obvious and
close together. An axe was used to make a gash in a tree.
These were usually about three inches long and about three
feet off the ground and were made about every ten paces.
Where the trail would turn in another direction, a sapling
was felled at the same height as the blaze. The felled
top was left hanging and pointed in the direction of the
Dakota/Nakota/Lakota did not gash the trees just any way.
Care was taken so that they would only cut into the surface
of the bark. They were careful not to cut into the core
of the tree. When blazing a trail, the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
people always prayed and made an offering to the tree
spirits at the beginning of the trail. In the prayers,
they expressed appreciation to the tree Spirits. Tobacco
and pieces of colored hide were commonly used as offerings.
Once contact was made with traders, cloth was used because
it was highly prized. A prayer to the tree Spirits would
go something like this:
This day, no other may be mentioned but you, tree, most
Lend me this day, your flesh, so that the people may travel.
With it, lend me a good day.
I pray that there be no adversity, let the people live.
game trail was not a public trail. Therefore, the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota
made these trails more secretive. The blazes were smaller,
only about one inch long. They were cut about five feet
off the ground, about every twenty paces or so. Saplings
were not cut to mark turns in the trail, instead, the
gash was made deeper into the tree and made in the direction
of the turn. If the trail turned to the left, the gash
was made on the left side of the tree and to the right,
if the trail turned right. A trained person could see
the blazes when coming from the camp. Our Elders say they
did not need the blaze when returning, because they would
remember the trail but, if for some reason they became
confused, the markings would be there.
trappers trail was even more secretive. It was blazed
on each noteworthy tree, about thirty paces apart and
higher than the game trail. Each trapper had his own code
for marking the location of his traps. Sometimes they
made a double hack pointing left or right or clipped a
twig. Whatever the mark, it would point the way to a point
along a lakeshore or river bank, where there would be
another marking to show the location of the trap. If the
trap was in the water, a sapling would be cut two feet
from the ground and bent over so it touched the water.
If the broken part did not touch the water, it meant the
was on the shore. If a ring of birch or other bark was
put around the sapling, it meant that the trap was in
a hole. Some trappers had secret signs they added to tell
what kind of game they were trapping. The trappers trail
did not begin at the camp, but at a point which could
be easily described orally. In case the trapper was not
able to make his daily visits to the traps, he would send
his wife or another member of the family who he taught,
concealed blaze was used by a raiding or war party or
when several families were travelling and in danger of
being attacked by an enemy. Such blazes were highly secretive
and known only to certain members of the party. Often
the party would divide up into several small groups, who
would follow the trail of the lead party. The blazes were
high up in the trees and pointed in the direction the
party was heading. Right angled gashes about one inch
long were made pointing straight to the next blaze. Such
blazes were only made at well known points. When others
were following, messages were often left for the followers.
The members would have a code they used to leave messages.
Tied bunches of grass, bent twigs and hieroglyphics were
commonly used as
the prairies, there were few trees, therefore, rocks were
piled on hill tops to mark a trail. First the person marking
the trail would make sure there was no danger in sight.
Dakota/Nakota/Lakota people never stood boldly out on
a hill top, without first making sure there was no danger.
He would sneak up to the hill top, hiding himself as much
as possible. Then he would lay flat on the hill top and
survey the area. When satisfied that there was no danger,
he would gather the rocks. Prayers and offerings were
always made to express appreciation to the rock Spirits.
A prayer to the rock Spirits would go something like this:
day, no one else may be mentioned but you, rock,
you were the first to exist.
You created the earth and placed it here;
The people have been given to the earth.
Now I am in despair;
pity me, that the people may live.
Guide the people in their travels.
I pray that there be no adversity.
Rock, help me, help me with a good day.
several rocks would be piled up and other times, single
rocks were used. How many rocks were used depended upon
their availability and how much time the traveler had.
Whether a few or many were used, one rock would be placed
so that the apex would point in the direction that the
traveler was going. Several other rocks would be placed
behind the pointer rock to show what direction the traveler
had come. When the travelling party had divided into more
than one group and an enemy was sighted, one rock was
placed on each side of the pointer rock. If the traveler
had to change direction or go into hiding because the
enemy was straight ahead, a rock was placed in front of
the pointer. Another pointer was made to indicate what
direction the traveler went. These rock markers were used
again and again by changing the arrangement of the rocks.
Many of the large boulders and cone shaped rock heaps
that were used by the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota people as trail
markers can still be found on the prairies. Some have
been set aside as historic landmarks.
Dakota/Nakota/Lakota game and rock trail methods can still
be used effectively today. If you are hiking some distance
through bush or on the open prairies and are not familiar
with the area, try these methods. The trees and rocks
will always help you find your way, if you show them respect.