Tree in the Trail

Tree in the Trail
Tree in the Trail

Tree in the Trail  is another beautifully illustrated title by Holling C. Holling on our recommended reading list.

The tree begins as a lone cottonwood sapling on the Kansas plain near Cow Creek.  A young Indian boy notices the tree standing alone and builds rocks around the tree to protect it.

Through the long life of the tree we learn about the Plains Indians, buffalo hunts, Coronado’s travels, and the unique calendar tree rings make.  As the life of the tree continues, it is declared a “Peace-Medicine-Tree” by the Indians, and becomes “an island of peace set in the seas of war” — protecting those who seek shelter beneath it.

Still later trappers pass, and wheels begin to turn on the Santa Fe Trail.  The tree becomes a mailbox of sorts, a place to leave messages for the next person who happens along to carry back to those left behind.

Of course, trees don’t live forever, and after a tornado delivers the final blow, the cottonwood continues to live as an ox yoke on the way to Santa Fe.

Tree in the Trail is another one of those living books that helps us learn geography and history.

  • Find the location of the tree on a map of Kansas.  The map in the back of the book should help you.
  • Narrate the Plains Indian’s buffalo hunt from beginning to end.
  • Trace Coronado’s path on a map of the United States (see the map in Chapter 5).
  • Explain how a flintlock works (see Chapter 11).
  • Trace the Santa Fe Trail on a map of the United States.
  • Learn more about tornadoes and tornado safety.
  • Draw an illustration of a cottonwood tree, writing a description underneath.
  • There are many wonderfully illustrated asides in the book.  Choose one that you are most interested in to copy and illustrate in your notebook.
Additional Resources

More about cottonwood trees from the Great Plains Nature Center.

Great informational site geared toward students that includes tornado safety.


Interactive Trail Map
Interactive Santa Fe Trail Map from the Santa Fe Trail Association.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Tornadoes: A Unit Study
Great for a rabbit trail or just information on tornado safety.

Kansas: A Unit Study
Another rabbit trail or just information on the location of the tree.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Kansas Map
Map for locating the tree.

United States Map
For tracing Coronado’s path and the Santa Fe Trail.

Author Notebooking Pages

Author Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for recording information on Holling C. Holling including room for copywork, narrations, an illustration, dates of birth/death, and books by the author.

Drawing & Writing Notebooking Paper {Free Download}
Lined paper with room to draw.  Use it to write and illustrate a buffalo hunt, how a flintlock works, a cottonwood tree, one of the asides in the book, copywork, or narrations.