7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Trail Signs and Paths

By Susan F. Craft

Because I have NO sense of direction and can get lost in my driveway, I am in awe of the trappers and hunters I read about during colonial American times. Just how did they make their way to where they wanted to go?
A term, “By Guess and By God,” came to mean inspired guesswork, an early form of navigation that relied upon experience, intuition, and faith.  Relying on faith would be me.
When I was researching Brigadier General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, a patriot militia leader, I discovered that as a young man, he went to sea. As a sailor, he learned to use a compass and a sextant and the stars to navigate. Those skills served him so well when moving from one battle to the next, his men often remarked at how precise his movements were in the murky swamps of South Carolina.
I always heard that moss grows on the north side of trees and does so because of the angle of the sun. Have you been to the woods lately? I see trees with moss growing completely around them. Lost again.

Trail Signs
            Many Indians, hunters, and travelers used axe blazes on tree trunks as trail signs.  There is a major highway in South Carolina that has the name Two Notch Road, because it was an old buffalo trail that Indians used where they carved two notches in the trees.  (And yes, there were buffalo in South Carolina. They migrated from the salt licks in Tennessee to the coast.)
           Some marked both sides of trees so that the trail could be run both ways. Trees marked on one side indicated a blind trail, used a lot by prospectors who didn’t want anyone following them. Indians usually nicked off small specks of bark with their knives while trappers and settlers may have used hatchets or broad axes. In the universal language of the woods, these marks meant “This is your trail.”
Another trail sign was to reach into an overhanging limb and bend a branch into an “L” shape meaning, “This is the trail.”   The twig broken off clean and laid on the ground across the line of march means, "Break from your straight course and go in the line of the butt end." When a special warning is meant, the butt is pointed toward the one following the trail and raised in a forked twig. If the butt of the twig were raised and pointing to the left, it would mean "Look out, camp, or ourselves, or the enemy, or the game we have killed is out that way." With some, the elevation of the butt is made to show the distance of the object; if low, the object is near. If raised very high, the object is a long way off.
But what did one do when finding themselves in a treeless areas such as grasslands or expanses of spartina, desert areas, or rocky regions? They used rocks, pebbles, sticks, and patches (tussocks) of grass.

Smoke Signals
To make smoke signals, a clear hot fire was made, then covered with green stuff or rotten wood so that it sent up a solid column of black smoke. By spreading and lifting a blanket over this smudge, the column could be cut up into pieces long or short.
Simple smoke codes:
One steady smoke -- “Here is the camp.”
Two steady smokes -- I am lost, come and help me.”
Three smokes in a row -- “Good news.”
Four smokes in a row -- “All are summoned to council.”

Signal by Shots
Buffalo hunters used a signal that is still used by the mountain guides.
Two shots in rapid succession, an interval of five seconds by the watch, then one shot; this means, "Where are you?"
The answer given at once and exactly the same means, "Here I am; what do you want?"
The reply to this may be one shot, which means, "All right; I only wanted to know where you were."
But if the reply repeats the first it means, "I am in serious trouble; come as fast as you can."
Cherokee Path in South Carolina
Before 1700, this famous Indian trail was followed by traders from Charleston, SC. There were two routes, one by way of the Cooper, Santee, and Congaree Rivers past present day Columbia. The other led to present day Augusta on the Savannah River, and headed north to meet the first route near Ninety Six, SC. 
In South Carolina, the path went by Forts Dorchester (Dorchester County), Pallachucolas (Jasper and Hampton counties), Moore (Aiken County), Ninety Six (Greenwood County), Rutledge (Oconee County), Prince George (Pickens county), and the Congarees (Lexington County).  French, German, and Scotch-Irish settlers travelled the eastern branch of the path. South Carolinians in 1756 hauled materials along the path over the mountains into Tennessee where they built Fort Loudoun on the Tellico River. Perhaps the largest archeological dig in the United States took place at Fort Prince George in 1967 revealing more information about life along the Cherokee Path.
Two British expeditions against the Cherokee followed this route in 1760 and 1761. Revolutionary heroes - Sumter, Marion, and Pickens - learned guerrilla fighting along the Cherokee Path.
The Great Trading Path
           Thousands of years ago, American Indians along the east coast established a system of paths and trails for hunting, trading and making war on other tribes. Most followed the migration paths of animals and along routes and fords across streams and rivers.
The Great Trading Path, or the Occaneechi Path, was one of many Indian trails in use when the English first explored the Carolinas backcountry during the late seventeenth century.
By the early to mid 1700s, the Trading Path provided European-American explorers and colonists a well-traveled route for settlement and trade. They traveled by foot, horseback, and wagon from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia and from South Carolina and Georgia.  The Trading Path became known as the Great Wagon Road because of this increased traffic. Following portions of the original path, the Great Wagon Road crossed Virginia into North Carolina. The route was not just one path, but many. One branch of the path led to Charlotte and another through the Waxhaws and on through Charleston, SC, and eventually to Augusta, Ga.



  1. I love your explanation of the trading paths. Many of our current highways follow those routes. I live just off the Santa Fe trail - US Hwy 56. The original trail is within a mile or so of this highway all the way from Kansas City to Santa Fe.

  2. Thanks, Judith. Sorry I'm so late getting back to you. When I got home from work, I started working on my current novel and completely lost track of time. Yes, it's amazing how our road systems mimic the original Indian paths.

  3. Susan, this was so fascinating. I learned a lot, thank you!

  4. Thanks, Debbie. So glad you liked it. I love researching stuff like this.

  5. Great article, Susan. I am thinking in different locales they used different types of sign dependent upon the tribes, too. I had no idea about Two Notch Road being named for that--I always wondered, having lived in Columbia and doing my internship in W. Columbia. I wonder how many Carolina fans know that?


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