Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Medicine Tree

North of Sula stands the trunk of a large ponderosa pine estimated to be around 400 years old. It is the Medicine Tree, which has been an important landmark to local Native Americans since before Lewis and Clark passed through the Bitterroot Valley in 1805.  The Medicine Tree is sacred to the Bitterroot Salish, the Native Americans indigenous to the Bitterroot Valley.
When the Salish first encountered the Medicine Tree many generations ago, a ram’s horn was imbedded in its trunk.  Salish legend tells that in ancient times an evil bighorn ram marauded the valley, killing everything that passed its way. The Great Spirit sent Coyote to prepare the land for the people. Coyote met the evil ram and asked it to demonstrate its power by striking a tree. The ram attacked the tree, and when its horn got stuck in the trunk, Coyote cut off its head with his flint knife. Coyote then cut the head from the imbedded horn and declared that the tree would be a Medicine Tree to all tribes. Since then, the Medicine Tree and the ground it grew on have been sacred to the Salish. They hung offerings of feathers, scarves and other personal items from its branches or tacked them to its trunk and prayed for blessings and good fortune.

The Medicine Tree began to die near the end of the 20th century. In September 2001 a strong storm snapped the tree’s trunk about 20 feet above the ground. The ram’s horn is now gone, but the Medicine Tree and its location remain sacred to the Salish, who make at least two pilgrimages each year to their historic homeland from the Flathead Reservation north of Missoula. They continue to leave offerings and personal items tacked to the trunk of the Medicine Tree or placed in a hollow at its base.


  1. Awesome job...whoever your proofreaders/editors are should get a raise!

  2. The Tree was so special to me growing up, in the 1970's, I was fascinated with the tree and loved it dearly.

  3. My mother use to take me to the tree. I remember trading one of my nick nacks for another. I loved that tree and my memory of going there. I'm so happy at least a portion of it is still there. I hope to take my daughter there and tell her the story that has been a tradition passed down through my family.

  4. I live pretty close to the tree. Two miles from it. People here respect the tree. It is a constant reminder that there were other people's here before us. Someone comes quite often and tidy's up around the tree. So even tho it is rotting, it is still in good shape.