Thong trees, also known as Indian trail trees, still dot the landscape throughout the Lake of the Ozarks area. They are trail markers left by Indians and early settlers. In addition to delineating a trail, some thong trees pointed to salt licks, springs, caves, and medicinal herbs found along the ancient pathways.
To create a thong tree, Indians tied a leather strap to a sapling then staked down the other end of the strap so the young tree would bend. Eventually the thong would break, but the tree trunk would remain bent, as the picture below shows.
There's a fairly high concentration of thong trees in the woods on either side of Highway 5, especially between Sunrise Beach and Camdenton. Keep in mind, however, that not all bent trees are original thong trees. In order to qualify, they would have to be old--the Osage Indians left the area in the 1820s, and only made occasional hunting trips after that. Also, a sapling could be accidently bent if a larger tree fell across it. Eventually the deadfall would rot away without a trace and the sapling would be left with a permanent deformation. Keep in mind, too, that authentic thong trees are bent in the main trunk, not in a limb or branch.
So the next time you're out walking in the woods, keep an eye out for thong trees. They may open up a path to real adventure!
Special thanks to Connie DeLancey of Sunrise Beach for supplying the photo above and suggesting the topic.
Text © 2001 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.