Spirit Trees

Black Forest has a unique history dating back to the first inhabitants in Colorado. The Ute Spirit Trees 2jpg
Indians lived and hunted up and down the Front Range. Throughout the Ute ancestral land, many scarred trees have been identified and recorded by the Pikes Peak Historical Society. These scarred trees can date as far back as the 1400s. The Ute’s had a special relationship with our beautiful pine trees, which were used mainly for ceremonial. According to local historian Celinda Reynolds Kaelin, the trees come in four different types; Medicine trees, Prayer trees, Burial trees, and Message trees. The following information is derived from a paper on these trees that she published on the Pikes Peak Historical Society website (www.PikesPeakHSMuseum.org).

Medicine trees were used in healing ceremonies. These trees may be large or medium sized. When a Medicine Person sought to heal someone, a slanting, horizontal cut was made on the tree corresponding to the location of the healing to be done on the patient. The bark was then stripped off by pushing a sharpened stick upward, and the strip was removed. The pine resin that oozed on the open cut was used to start the fire of the healing ceremony.The inner; cambium layer of the stripped bark was thought to have medicinal value and was used with great respect. Because the sap is running; the cambium is sweet. The ailing tribe members will eat a portion during the ceremony.

According to Kaelin, Prayer trees were used for ceremony to bless the Ute people. They were formed by Ute spiritual leaders on the way to do ceremony, each of the four times they stopped to pray on the way. They would select a young sapling and lash the trunk parallel to the ground with strips of yucca rope. Using the Prayer Tree like a church or cathedral, everyone would gather around the tree to pray. The Ute’s believed the tree would hold their prayers for 800 years and with every breeze their prayers were renewed to cover the land again.

Spirit Trees 4The sapling would grow into a unique shape with two, ninety degree bends in the trunk. The first for the horizontal portion and the second to allow the tree to grow up to the heavens. The bend in the tree almost always points in the direction of Pikes Peak. In Ute mythology, they were created on Pikes Peak. Their name for Pikes Peak was Tava, or Sun. The band of Utes living in the Pikes Peak region was Tabeguache, The People of Tava. Some Prayer trees also have a medicine cut and were used to heal the sick.

Kaelin also documented what the Utes call Burial trees, which were used to mark the graves of a person of stature in the tribe. These trees are usually cedar. The seeds of the cedar tree are carried by a medicine person in a small leather pouch. When a respected elder, chief, or shaman passed, a cedar tree was planted nearby the grave. Cedar is thought to hold special spiritual properties, and is associated with the birth of the human race. In Ute mythology, the Thunder Bird makes its nest in cedar trees. According to Kaelin, if you find a cedar tree in a pine forest or meadow and it seems out of place, you can be sure it is a burial tree.

Message trees are used to communicate with other parties of the Ute tribe. Ute signs were oftenSpirit Trees 5 carved into the bark of aspen trees.Unfortunately; aspens only live about 80 years. Kaelin was able to find segments of Message Trees at the Glenwood Springs Museum.

Check your property for Spirit Trees. If you do find one, please protect it, as it is a historical link to the ancient Ute’s. They are still sacred trees to the Ute tribe today.

I am lucky enough to have a Ute Medicine/Prayer tree on my property.

Pine Cone Acres resident Kathy Fagerholm

The above information was compiled from a copyrighted article with permission of the author Celinda R. Kaelin. Thank you, Celinda.

For additional information, please view these youtube videos:
A guided tour of some of the Ute Prayer Trees at Fox Run Regional Park in Colorado Springs, CO
A tour of the Ute Indian Prayer Trees at Monument Preserve located in Monument, CO
A tour of the Ute Indian Burial Trees of Northern El Paso County