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The Epic Story of Giant Sequoia and the Big Trees of Calaveras


ENDURING GIANTS By Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr. with Bruce Thomsen, Nancy E. Muleady-Mecham, Ph.D., Mary Anne Carlton and Margaret G. Bell

intentionally Blank Inside front Cover



By Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr. with Bruce Thomsen, Nancy E. Muleady-Mecham, Ph.D., Mary Anne Carlton and Margaret G. Bell





This book is dedicated to the people of California and to those very special individuals whose vision, hard work, and personal sacrifice led to the preservation of Sequoiadendron giganteum, and to the creation of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.



Fourth Edition 2013 Š Copyright 1973, 2013 California State Parks Post Office Box 942896 Sacramento, California 94296-0001 California State Parks supports equal access. This publication can be made available in alternate formats. For information call: (800) 777-0369 (916) 653-6995, outside the U.S. 711, TTY relay service ISBN: 978-0-9837114-0-7




By Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr. with Bruce Thomsen, Nancy E. Muleady-Mecham, Ph.D., Mary Anne Carlton and Margaret G. Bell Cover & Book Design by Sandra Kim Muleady




Foreword to the Fourth Edition Giant sequoia trees fascinate human beings, and there is no better testament to the strength of that fascination than this new edition of The Enduring Giants. Much has changed in the world of sequoias since the first edition of this book came out in 1973. Our knowledge of the giant sequoias has advanced in many areas and so too has our understanding of the threats they face. In response to these changes, this new edition contains extensive revisions and much new information.

Out of this interest has grown much of significance. Historically, giant sequoias inspired not only the creation of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park but also three of the first four national parks in the United States. In more recent times, these same trees have motivated extensive ecological research that has changed both our understanding of giant sequoia ecology and how western conifer forests and fires are managed. Now, the sequoias face yet another challenge: climate change. Again, as we ponder the future of our planet, these “enduring giants,” with their individual vitality and enormous life spans, are rising to become symbols for much that is at risk in the natural world.

Following in the footsteps of previous editions, this fourth edition provides both an understanding of the complex natural history of Sequoiadendron giganteum as a species and an introduction to their human history. This latter story focuses particularly on the story of the Calaveras Groves because it was there that Euro-Americans first encountered the California Big Trees, and there also that much of our human relationship with the giant sequoias was first defined. To understand the story of the Calaveras Groves — a saga that has evolved from awe to exploitation, to research and preservation — is to come to know how we humans have wrestled with the messages these trees offer us.

This new edition would not be possible without the invaluable role played by the Calaveras Big Trees Association. This nonprofit educational organization supports Calaveras Big Trees State Park in many ways and, without its critical support, this new edition would not have seen the light of day. Important assistance has also been received from the Save the Redwoods League and the Calaveras Grove Association. Over four decades, this book has come to be an important volume for those who seek to understand both the Calaveras Groves and the giant sequoias themselves. This fourth edition continues that tradition and has, in fact, become an “enduring volume” in its own right, a work of continuing value. Read on and you will see what I mean.

Giant sequoias exceed human experience in nearly every dimension. Those that survive the challenges of infancy outlive us by twenty or thirty times. In size, mature adults so much surpass us that numerical comparisons have little useful value. In terms of population, the comparison shifts. We humans count our numbers in the billions, and sequoias remain, at least in the wild, relatively rare. It is these contrasts, of course, that attract us to these trees and hold our interest.

William Tweed, Ph.D., Chief Park Naturalist, (1996 - 2006) Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park



Acknowledgements This fourth edition of The Enduring Giants represents the collaborative effort of numerous people. But the inspiration came from Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr., who saw a need to tell the story of finding and preserving these remarkable trees—the giant sequoias of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Interpreter Wendy Harrison, who is a wealth of knowledge and expertise about Calaveras Big Trees State Park and giant sequoia. Carol Kramer, who recently finished Images of America, Calaveras Big Trees, provided some previously unknown photographs and helped us select the photographs for this edition.

It was the intent at the outset to reprint the existing book, but we soon realized that something more was called for. Important research had been completed on the giant sequoia in the years after The Enduring Giants was first published. It seemed clear that the new edition should reflect those new insights and understandings. Utilizing the knowledge and skills of folks who love the giant sequoias made our job easier.

The rewrite of this remarkable story could not have happened without the support of the Calaveras Big Trees Association (CBTA) and its board of directors, whose love of the park and the trees is evident in the time they give in providing knowledge of the giant sequoias and their preservation. We also wish to thank CBTA employees Tami Rakstad-Schaner for listening in on our meetings and providing us with necessary information before we asked for it, and to Sue Hoffmann for doing the requisite administrative work to keep the project going.

Special thanks must be given to Amber Cantisano, Regional Interpretive Specialist with California State Parks, who assisted in reviewing the text and helped us navigate the review and approval process within the department.

We also wish to express our appreciation to California State Parks Interpretation and Education Division for granting us the opportunity to continue providing the story of the giant sequoias of Calaveras Big Trees State Park to the world. Specifically, we would like to thank Victoria Yturralde as the department coordinator for this project. A special thank you goes to Hazel Clark of Vishnu Temple Press for her guidance and editorial assistance. We are very grateful for the generous bequest from Betty Ann Prescott that made the publication of the fourth edition possible.

Thanks also to Thonni Morikawa, curator at Columbia State Historic Park, for providing access to the Calaveras Big Trees archives currently stored in the Columbia museum collection facility. Steve Stocking reviewed and suggested which plants to include in the book. His knowledge of wildflowers in the park and those associated with the giant sequoias was a tremendous help. Also assisting with the list of plant and animal species was Park Resource Ecologist Patti Raggio. Judith Marvin and Shelley Davis-King, our two experts on the Miwok and Washoe, commented on the Native American story.

Lastly, our appreciation is extended to designer Sandra Kim Muleady, who put our thoughts, ideas and images into a visual narrative that enchanced our story.

Moral support to continue with the project came from Park



Part III The Movement to Preserve the Calaveras Groves The First Campaign, 1900-1912 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72 The Second Campaign, 1926-1931 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 The Interim Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 Saving the South Grove, 1946-1954 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82 The Resurgence of Popular Interest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 The Great Sugar Pine Controversy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 Putting the South Grove Campaign Back Together . . . . . . 89 The Role of Newton Drury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Drury Returns to California . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 The Turning Point . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

Foreword to the Fourth Edition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii Map of Calaveras Big Trees State Park . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Preface to the Fourth Edition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Part I The Natural History of Giant Sequoia Germination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Seedling Survival . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Seasonal Hazards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Giant Sequoia Growth and Development Patterns . . . . . . 20 Distribution — Past and Present . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Part II Giant Sequoias and Human History Discovery of “The Big Trees” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Indians of the Big Trees Region . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 End of the Indian Period . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Discovering the Big Trees — Again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 “Old Dowd” the Bear Hunter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Taking the Big Trees to the World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Bringing the World to the Big Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Partnership Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 John Muir and the Big Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Calaveras Big Trees Sold at Public Auction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 Decline of the Mammoth Grove Hotel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68

Epilogue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 Plants and Animals of the Giant Sequoia Forest Community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Selected Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122 Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124 Preface to the First Edition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125 Foreword to the First Edition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 Foreword to the Third Edition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127 ix

table of contents









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North Grove Campground

Mother of the Forest Pioneer’s Cabin Tree


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Old Goliath Smith Cabin Tree









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Louis Agassiz Tree Palace Hotel Tree



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Preface to the Fourth Edition As the signature book for Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, The Enduring Giants was a landmark publication. First written by Joseph H. Engbeck, Jr. in 1973, it successfully melded science and history with graceful prose and a set of six charming natural history narratives that made the book unique. Forty years after its initial publication, however, we recognized that the time had come to revise and update The Enduring Giants. We formed a team to evaluate, revise, and in some cases, add entirely new information. Throughout the whole process we were careful to retain the basic organizational framework of the original book. The text now reflects recent changes in fire ecology, especially with regard to the role of fire in the giant sequoia groves of the Sierra Nevada. Taxonomic information about the region’s flora and fauna has been updated. The maps have been revised. Hundreds of photographs were appraised and selected for this new edition, with captions specific to each. A glossary has been added along with a new geological time chart and new information about plant succession, climate changes, and the role of carbon sequestration. Now we can only hope that you enjoy reading this book as much as we have enjoyed working on it. Joseph Engbeck, Jr., Writer/Environmental Historian Bruce Thomsen, State Park Interpreter, Retired Nancy Muleady-Mecham, Ph.D., Professor of Biology Mary Anne Carlton, National Park Ranger, Retired Margaret Bell, Past President, Calaveras Big Trees Association Muleady-Mecham

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 2013


Bathed in the gentle sunlight of a quiet afternoon in spring, the gigantic old sequoia stood motionless, apparently beyond the reach of time and serenely uninvolved in the continuous flow of small events in the forest all around it. And yet, despite its apparent stillness and its changeless, monumental quality, the tree was busy in all of its many parts. Nutrients and moisture were being absorbed by the roots and sent upward along the vascular system beneath the furrowed bark. High above the ground, the tree’s leaves were absorbing and converting the sun’s energy into sugars and starches that would allow the tree to enlarge its root system, to grow a little taller, to put out new leaves, new pollen-bearing cones, and new, bright green, seed-bearing cones. And while the tree was busy with all this, a multitude of other living things—algae, fungi, lichens, insects, birds, small animals, and various nearby trees, shrubs, and plants—were all influencing or being influenced by the tree.


One day in early autumn, high in the crown of an old giant sequoia, a chickaree was lopping off sequoia cones


— Ralph Waldo Emerson

and letting them fall to the ground, where he could gather and store them for later consumption. This activity continued for nearly an hour before the chickaree took time to devour the relatively soft, fleshy cone-scales of a young sequoia cone. The seeds did not interest the chickaree. He left them largely undisturbed. But as the cone began to turn brown and open up, the undamaged seeds began to loosen and float away.

open so that one-by-one its seeds—more than two hundred of them—could come loose and float away. A few seeds had slipped away on previous days, but this afternoon as the breeze began to press through the treetops, many more seeds began to go spinning, tumbling, or floating gracefully down from the heights on miniature voyages of exploration and colonization. Toward the end of the afternoon when the breeze was strongest, one of the last seeds to leave the cone began a particularly long and adventurous flight. Favored by a strong gust and then by a momentarily steady current of air, the little seed floated well beyond most of its companions, over a little ridge and, finally, down to earth more than five hundred feet from the parent tree. Its landing place was moist and recently burned. There was deep shade at this hour of the afternoon, but blue sky just above and to the east gave promise of morning sunlight and adequate warmth. That evening, a handsome little gold-mantled ground squirrel buried a choice pine nut nearby and inadvertently covered the seed with a thin layer of rich soil.

Meanwhile, high in another ancient giant sequoia, a small beetle—Phymatodes nitidus—deposited one of its tiny eggs on an old, lichen-covered sequoia cone. This particular cone had matured years earlier, but like others of its kind, it remained on the tree through the changing seasons, year after year, its cone scales tightly closed, protecting the seeds inside while a brilliant covering of yellow-green lichen formed on its outside surface. After the egg of the Phymatodes beetle hatched successfully, its larva drilled into the cone scale on which it had been deposited and spent the following months devouring the cone from the inside. As a result, the cone eventually began to dry out and crack


narrative one

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.


­Part I

The Natural History of Giant Sequoia Germination Sequoiadendron giganteum is one of the largest living things on earth and easily the largest living tree in the world, but it begins life looking very much like a blade of grass. To reach even that early stage of development, however, conditions must be just right—neither too wet or too dry, too warm or too cold. Conditions for germination are often best after a fire that has prepared the soil for the tiny seed. Fire eliminates litter and duff, organic remains of fallen leaves, twigs and branches that may prevent the tiny seed from reaching mineral soil. Fire also loosens the soil, so seeds can fall into small cracks that may accumulate moisture. If conditions are right, the seed swells slightly and then cracks open as the radicle, or root, reaches out and then downward into the soil. If the seed is slightly buried, the bright green hypocotyl, or stem, presses upward through the soil bent over double—an upside down “U” shape—with the middle of its delicate little stem leading the way. Very often, as the sprout begins to straighten up, the seed coat is carried along with it up into the air. After a few days, however, the empty shell of the seed pops off, and then for the first time the little giant sequoia stands upright, a full inch tall.


Almost immediately, three to five, sometimes even six, flat, pointed, leaf-like cotyledons spread out and turn slightly downward so that for a few days, the seedling looks like a miniature palm tree. At this point, the little seedling has


reached an important crossroad in its career. Its development so far has been based entirely on the energy and nutrients stored in its tiny seed. Now it can develop no further unless conditions are favorable. It must have the right combination of light, moisture, and temperature, and its delving root must come into contact with and begin to absorb nutrients. If these conditions are not met, the seedling will live a few days and then wilt and die. But if conditions are right—if the sprout is not trampled or otherwise damaged, and if a soil fungus does not destroy the root—then shortly a new bud will form at the top of the stem and the seedling will put forth a new set of leaves. With the growth of these secondary leaves, the seedling is on its way. It is taking moisture and nutrients from the soil, and photosynthesis has begun in its green stem and leaf cells.

Soil temperature is also a crucial factor during germination. Full sunlight is best for a new seedling but must be mitigated by a fine layer of forest litter to keep the soil from becoming too hot and dry. Fire can also benefit new seedlings at this stage of development by removing competing trees and brush, thereby opening the forest canopy and allowing sunshine to fall on the new seedling. Giant sequoia reproduction is likely to be hindered at either the upper or lower elevation limits of the range by adverse combinations of temperature and moisture. Throughout the winter, for instance, soils at the higher elevations are apt to remain too cold for germination. Then, during the late spring and early summer when soil temperatures may be within the optimal range, excessive moisture from the melting



Already the seedling is one of an extremely small minority since even germination is rare under ordinary circumstances. In the forest only a tiny fraction of giant sequoia seeds ever germinate under natural conditions. Germination depends on a strict balance of interrelated environmental factors. Even a few days of sunlight, for instance, can easily kill the seed embryo by drying it out even before it can begin to germinate. Once germination has begun, the seeds must have a reliable flow of moisture. Even temporary dryness will kill the seed embryos at this stage. On the other hand, too much water can also be fatal. High soil moisture can encourage the development of soil fungus and may result in “damping off,” in which case the seedling loses vitality and dies.

Giant sequoia seeds. The irregular-shaped flecks shown with the seeds above are crystallized bits of almost pure tannin. In liquid form, this material may be what keeps sequoia seeds from germinating inside the cone during the five-to-twenty years or more that the cone may remain on the tree.




Above left: Sequoia seedling in the early stage of germination. Above: The seed shell has popped off. Above right: A twoyear old seedling. Its cotyledons have been replaced by leaves.

run by killing off fungus and other soil organisms that would otherwise be a threat to seedlings that become established following the fire.

snowpack is likely to encourage soil fungus activity. At the lower elevations, on the other hand, soil temperatures may remain within the optimal range throughout much of the year, until the summer months bring excessive heat and dryness.

On rare occasions, a giant sequoia seed may germinate without the influence of fire. The death and downfall of old trees opens up the forest canopy and the exposed, loosened soil in and around root pits generally provides an excellent seedbed. The work of chickarees in cutting down and chewing on green giant sequoia cones contributes to seed release. Chickarees devour the fleshy portion of giant sequoia cones rather than the seeds themselves, allowing the majority of the seeds to fall to earth. Phymatodes, a tiny long-horned beetle, lays its eggs on the outer surface of the cone. Later, the Phymatodes, larva emerges from the egg and drills its way into the sequoia cone scale. During the winter the beetle gradually devours the cone from the inside out. This activity disrupts the vascular system inside the cone, causing the cone to dry out and open up. As a result, the sequoia seeds inside the cone are able to escape.

Because of these rather narrow limits, the relationship of the seed to moist mineral soil is a major factor in giant sequoia regeneration. It is one of the main reasons there is little or no giant sequoia germination in some years, whereas hundreds of thousands of new seedlings spring up in years following significant disturbance of the leaf litter, particularly if the forest canopy is simultaneously opened up so that sunlight can reach the ground. Under natural conditions, fire is the most effective agent in bringing about optimal conditions for giant sequoia germination. Fire prepares the seedbed, opens up the forest canopy, dries out the green cones in the trees so that seeds are released, and recycles nutrients back into the soil. Intense and persistent fires that result in extremely high soil temperatures may favor giant sequoia reproduction in the long




Female cones are the size and shape of a chicken egg and can last for up to 20 years on the tree, while male cones are inconspicuous small cones at the ends of the giant sequoia foliage.

observer, but in the fullness of life. To such a one she rushes to make her report.�

The cones themselves, no bigger than a hen’s egg, are green and persistent in the crown of giant sequoias. By counting the rings on the stems that hold a cone, the age of the cone can be determined. Many green cones have persisted in trees for decades, holding viable seeds. It is proposed that a circulating purple cone pigment prevents germination of the seeds year after year. When the seeds are finally released, after a fire or by the work of the chickaree or beetle, cone pigment can be found as dried crystals within the scales of the cone.

Of course, in order to hear the report at all, one must know something of the parts that make up the whole, and something about the natural forces at work behind the scenery. At first the sheer size of the big trees and the rich colors and textures may be enough. But over a period of time, a steadily increasing fund of factual information about the trees and the forest around them makes for an ever richer, ever more rewarding experience.

Respect for the complexity and diversity of nature, for the interrelatedness of all things, is a vital part of any sincere effort to understand the natural world. The isolation of individual factors is profitable for analytical purposes only as long as it is remembered that the factors are in reality woven inextricably into a whole pattern. In the long run, for most of us in most ways, it is the whole pattern that matters. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nature is reported not by him who goes forth consciously as an


For more than two weeks, the seed remained still. The days continued sunny and quiet for the most part, though occasional rain showers left the forest dripping and refreshed. High above the ground, a gentle breeze moved through the treetops almost daily. But lost amid the cathedral quiet of the forest floor, the seed continued to lie motionless, unnoticed and undisturbed — a very small thing in a world of giants.


Toward the end of the third week, some infinitely small changes began to take place within the seed. Slightly at first, and then more and more swiftly, the embryo began to swell. Individual cells began to differentiate, and with increasing momentum they began to press outward into the darkness around them. Soon they cracked the seed shell open and thereafter, unerringly, the dark red root pushed downward into the soil while the stem began to lift upward, dragging the empty seed shell through the loose covering of mineral soil. By the end of the fourth week, the seedling stood upright, its four little cotyledons opened wide and reaching for the sun.


— John Muir

back. And then one day it had been struck by lightning and set on fire so that its trunk and even its root system were severely damaged. Several months later, the remains of the great old tree were thrown down during a windstorm. In its thundering downfall it had broken off or knocked down several smaller nearby pines and firs, thereby creating a significant gap in the forest canopy.

Day after day, pouring down through a great rent in the forest canopy, a stream of sunlight lit up the forest floor, warmed the soil, and moved on with the passing hours in an ever-changing pattern of shadows and colored highlights. The seedling basked luxuriously in this life-giving stream of light from midmorning to midafternoon and immediately began to grow and prosper. Secondary leaves appeared, and the root system reached deeper and deeper into the soil. By early summer the seedling had nearly doubled in size. By September it was four inches tall, and its roots extended out and downward into the soft soil about an equal distance.

Now those seedlings, and others throughout the new clearing, stood in the sunlight of each new day and absorbed moisture that would have been unavailable in earlier years. Elsewhere in the forest, however, only a few tree seedlings and no other seedling sequoias were able to survive that year. In fact, it was for the most part a year of little change. Luckily for the little seedling, it was also a year with a relatively short dry season. Even so, as other less-favored seedlings began to wither and die from the drought, this seedling’s growth was cut short and its leaves lost their tender brightness and took on a silver-gray tone.

Many factors combined to favor the new seedling. Moisture was channeled toward it by the slope of the ground and by a nearby half-buried boulder. This moisture was essential to the seedling. In past years, however, this summer groundwater would not have been available to the seedling. For hundreds of years that moisture had been monopolized by a large sugar pine that stood just east of the seedling. Now the great old pine was gone. In its last years it had begun to suffer various infirmities. The topmost portion of its crown had begun to die

Late in September, as the days shortened and the heat went out of the wintering sun, a series of gentle rainstorms marked the arrival of a long, mild winter.


narrative two

The clearest way to the Universe is through a forest wilderness.


trees maintain massive interwoven networks of feeder roots near the surface, but even the smallest shrubs and flowers have root systems that spread out near the surface and reach as deep or deeper than those of a first- or second-year giant sequoia seedling. During the winter and spring, on the other hand, meadow areas are likely to be so wet that most tree and shrub species cannot become established. Their root systems simply need more oxygen than is available in the soil under such conditions. As a result, natural meadows such as the one near the Calaveras North Grove tend to be fairly permanent.

A thriving one-year-old sequoia seedling.

Nevertheless, seedling giant sequoias sometimes benefit from what may look like competition from other plants or shrubs. For instance, in relatively warm, dry locations, Ceanothus species and other shrubs may provide shade enough to protect seedlings from excessive heat, overly rapid evaporation or transpiration of moisture, while still allowing adequate light to reach the seedlings. In fact, this kind of plant succession is a normal part of life in the mountains and elsewhere and, curiously enough, wildfire is a crucial ingredient in the process.


Seedling Survival Of those few seeds that do germinate naturally in an open forest where conditions are close to ideal, only a very small percentage of seedlings will survive. Some germinating seeds never come into contact with mineral soil; others may be too deeply buried and therefore fail to obtain sufficient sunlight. Even among those seedlings that have adequate sunlight and access to mineral soil, only a small percentage will survive the first two summer dry seasons. Many apparently well-established seedlings begin to shrivel up and die as soon as the spring runoff diminishes and the topmost layers of soil begin to dry out. With their small root systems, the little giant sequoia seedlings are totally dependent upon continued moisture in the uppermost soil layers, yet this is precisely where competition for moisture and nutrients is most severe. Not only do old, long- established

Studies have shown that before human intervention and suppression of fire, much of the primeval Sierra forest was open and “park-like.� This naturally fire-disturbed forest favored the natural regeneration of giant sequoias instead of more shade-tolerant species such as fir and incense cedar. Many species of tree and shrub in the mixed conifer forest, of which giant sequoias are a part, rely on fire in varying ways. There is a succession of species and a mosaic of forest types because of fire (see Succession on page 12). Though fire plays an important role in plant succession, giant sequoia germination and seedling survival, it can also be thoroughly destructive. If it is too hot or too frequent, 10

Out of Thin Air Giant sequoias are the

fire is deadly to young giant sequoias. In the seedling stage, for instance, giant sequoias are extremely vulnerable to fire. Their roots are not deep enough nor their crowns high enough for them to survive even a relatively light ground fire. With each succeeding year, young giant sequoias become increasingly fireresistant, but intense and persistent fire can destroy even the oldest, toughest, most fire-resistant giant sequoias. This fact worries park administrators today because long years of successful fire suppression in park areas has led to an accumulation of flammable forest debris. Modern wildland fire management now involves a combination of mechanical thinning, prescribed fires, and the burning of piles of accumulated debris to prevent unnaturally hot and severe fires.

largest living trees on earth. By total volume, there is no organism contained in one entire package that can exceed these imposing giants. But where do they really come from? We know that a tree’s wood consists mostly of carbon and water. A small percentage of vital nutrients, such as nitrogen, come from the soil, but the carbon comes from the airborne gas— carbon dioxide (CO2). As a tree’s leaves take in carbon dioxide, the element carbon is stripped from the molecule. During photosynthesis, the sun’s energy combines with carbon and water (H 2O) to form hydrocarbons and carbohydrates that make everything from sugars to wood and sap. The tree, in turn, gives off oxygen as a byproduct.

The same general factors that are critical to giant sequoia seed germination continue to be critical to seedling survival although the range of acceptable conditions becomes broader as seedlings become better established. That is, various combinations of temperature, moisture, and sunlight continue to determine whether seedlings survive and how well they do. For instance, seedling survival is relatively rare in established groves because the tall, well-established trees create conditions on the forest floor that are unfavorable for small seedlings. Temperatures are too low much of the time, and sunlight is monopolized by the forest canopy high above. Probably the most strongly limiting factor, however, is the availability of moisture. This can be a serious problem even in the heart of well-established giant sequoia groves, many of which are located in relatively well-watered flats fed by year-round streams. This is true because the delicate little seedlings, with their limited root systems, must compete with the massive and highly efficient root systems of old, wellestablished trees.



Because lack of moisture during the summer dry season is such a severe problem for seedling giant sequoias, occasional summer or autumnal rains can play an important role in seedling survival. After the first few years, the seedlings become less susceptible to drought problems because their roots spread quickly and rather impressively outward or downward into the soil. In one case a year-old, half-inch-tall giant sequoia seedling was found to have a six-inch root. In another case, a flash flood cut the earth away from some young, five-foot-tall giant sequoias whose roots were eight and nine feet down into the earth.

Trees and all plants play an important role in climate change because they are highly efficient and reliable carbon sinks. That is, they take carbon out of the atmosphere and secure it in the cells of living trees and plants. By having lots of trees and plants and algae—lots of carbon sinks— the ability to create a warmer atmosphere is lessened and, in turn, the effect on global climate change is reduced.

It’s only a matter of time.

germinate, little soil moisture and mineral soil buried inches (if not feet) under forest litter and duff. There is one species, however, that loves these conditions, thriving in the shade. Over time — as the other species die — this remaining species survives as the only one that has acclimated. Succession has reached its climax when a tree species replaces itself and there are no disturbances.

Nothing is stagnant, especially in a forest. In a human lifetime, the growth of a tree in the forest may be almost imperceptible. However, not only are the trees growing, the entire forest is on the move. A disturbance starts the change. A small avalanche of rocks or a forest fire can be the disturbance. In an area where a disturbance has wiped the forestscape clean, there is an open field with exposed mineral soil, lots of sunshine and a certain amount of moisture. The first to move into such an environment is a plant  —  in our scenario  —  a tree that thrives in these conditions. As that young tree grows, it uses moisture, casts a shadow, loses leaves and bark and branches to create a forest floor of light litter and, soon, duff. The conditions that allowed this first tree to germinate and grow no longer exist. But they are wonderful for another species.

A disturbance  —  for instance, a fire in the forest — does not have to burn all of the species that are present or wait until Muleady-Mecham climax conditions have been established to be effective. Even small fires can reset succession to stage two or four or back to the beginning. Succession can also result from different fire intensities in the same forest, creating a mosaic pattern. This allows a variety of trees and other vegetation to grow in a variety of places. Disturbance is healthy for a forest. It creates a diversity of species and conditions within an ecosystem, and allows different plants and animals to share these varied conditions. Without fire, a forest will quickly evolve toward climax, and diversity dwindles until only one species can exist in a given area. This is an inherently unstable situation.

This next species of tree is one that doesn’t mind a bit of forest litter, a bit of shade and less moisture. This second tree thrives and grows and casts a shadow, drops litter on the forest floor and uses moisture. The conditions that were present when it sprouted no longer exist, but now these conditions are more optimal for the next species of tree to become established. Now the forest is more crowded, with more shade, and has more litter and duff.

Fire is a natural disturbance and has allowed succession in its many stages of development to create the forests we love so much. But in many areas, our efforts to protect forests by keeping fire out has caused these forests to become overgrown and well on their way to climax. In such areas, even small fires are apt to become larger conflagrations that burn so fiercely that the native forest and its resident species cannot adapt.

As conditions change in the forest over time, they allow one species to replace, or “succeed” another. Without disturbance, conditions may become extreme. A dense forest now exists, with little sunshine for new trees to 12




Coast Redwood

Giant Sequoia

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Natural Distribution

Grows only along the Pacific Coast of North America, from southern Oregon to the southern part of Monterey County in California.

Grows only in California in scattered groves along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, from Placer County in the north to Tulare County in the south.

Method of Reproduction

Reproduces both from seed and from sprouts that may grow from the root system or other woody parts of the tree that remain in prolonged contact with moist soil.

Reproduces only from seed.


Cones are small (5/8" to 1 1/8" long), have 14 to 24 cone scales, and contain 50 to 60 seeds that mature in one year.

Cones are larger (1 1/2" to 3" long), have 35 to 40 cone scales, and contain 100 to 300 seeds that require two years to mature.


Flat, needle-like, and arranged in flat sprays so that the foliage somewhat resembles that of hemlock or fir.

Small, scale-like, and spirally arranged along the twig so that the foliage resembles that of juniper or cypress.


Ranges from 300' to over 350' Tallest known specimen: 379'

Ranges from 250' to 300' Tallest known specimen: approximately 311'


Approximately 12' to 16' in diameter, six feet above the ground.

Likely to become twice as large in overall volume as coast redwoods — approximately 20' to 30' in diameter, six feet above the ground.

Life Span

Approximately 700 – 1,200 years.

Approximately 1,500 – 3,000 years, or longer.


Trunk or stem wood is tough, heavy, strong, and highly resistant to decay. For these and other reasons, it is valuable as lumber.

As giant sequoias age, the wood becomes increasingly drier, lighter, and more brittle so that it fractures easily and is of little commercial value as lumber.


After the summer drought was broken by the first autumnal shower, cloudy days were more frequent, and there was occasional light rain. For the seedling, it was a long, slow time of great quiet and little change. Its leaves were silvery gray now, and it did not grow because of the cold nighttime temperatures. Some trees in the area—alders, oaks, maples, and dogwood—began to turn color and shed their leaves. The habits of many birds and animals began to change as winter approached. Though the nights were increasingly cold, there were still many gentle days with long, sun-filled afternoons that seemed very much like midsummer.


Late in the autumn, several big storms swept over the forest. The soil around the little seedling became saturated with water, and the nearby brooks and streams


Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

began to sing and swirl and tumble. At the higher elevations, the ground was covered with snow that would remain a solid blanket of white for several months. With the storms came strong winds, and though the little seedling was well protected by the surrounding forest and by nearby downed timber, it was soon nearly buried in a thick carpet of leaves and small branches that came tumbling down from the storm-tossed treetops.

Beneath its covering of leaves and twigs, however, the little seedling was untroubled. The soil around its roots did not freeze, and even the seedling’s upper parts were largely shielded from the full impact of the sudden cold. In the gray light of dawn when the cold was most severe, only the top of the little seedling could be seen above the surrounding layer of forest duff. By midmorning the unusual cold snap was over. The bitter, hard-driving north wind died away and even the thin sunlight of midwinter was enough to bring the temperature back to normal. Nor did subsequent cold snaps bring temperatures back down so low again and, for the most part, the winter turned out to be unusually mild in that part of the mountains. Only light snow fell in the little clearing where the giant sequoia seedling stood. More than once, as the winter months passed slowly by, warm gentle rains melted the snow so that the forest floor remained dark and moist most of the time. Higher up in the mountains, however, an ample snowpack began to accumulate and to promise adequate runoff for the coming summer.

One night, following a blustery day of rain, hail, and snowfall, the sky cleared and a bitterly cold north wind began to blow. As the temperature plummeted, the nearby brooks froze solid, and ice crystals formed wherever the slightest amount of moisture was exposed to the air. Where soil was fully exposed to the air, the top few inches of moisture-laden earth began to freeze. Before the night was over, these isolated spots were decorated with fantastic ice crystal formations that had pushed up through countless tiny fissures in the soil, uprooting small plants and even some first-year seedling trees.


narrative three


Seasonal Hazards Seedlings that survive their first summer dry season must face a new set of hazards as winter approaches. The severity of the hazards can vary greatly from place to place, but in general they are more severe at higher elevations, just as summertime hazards are generally more severe at lower elevations. Giant sequoias occur naturally only in isolated groves on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Those groves tend to be at lower elevations in the north and higher elevations in the south. Giant sequoias do poorly in cold areas and, in nature, are rarely found where the temperature reaches zero degrees Fahrenheit. Young seedlings are protected from extreme conditions during the winter by a covering of snow, which, in turn, provides

abundant soil moisture in the spring. Under ideal conditions, including the availability of abundant moisture, a second-year giant sequoia may reach a height of 12 inches. One of the winter hazards for seedling giant sequoias is frost damage. Larger trees may suffer some loss of leaves (needles) and small branches, an effect known as pruning. A seedling giant sequoia can be completely pruned in severe cold. Under ordinary circumstances, giant sequoia seedlings are likely to be well prepared for wintertime cold snaps. But if severe cold is prolonged, it can be a serious problem even for large giant sequoias. In the Sierra Nevada, cold temperatures can injure sensitive plant tissues. In nurseries around the world, giant sequoia seedlings have done poorly in low-temperature climates. If it were not for the nurturing environment of the greenhouse nursery, these seedlings would not survive. In their native environment, young giant sequoias are somewhat protected from the cold because they normally stand within a well-established forest community in which the trees shield each other from the full impact of the chilling winter wind.


Another winter hazard for giant sequoia seedlings and young trees, especially at the higher elevations, is fungus damage to branches and leaves that remain in prolonged contact with the snow. This kind of damage occurs most often during periods of relatively warm winter weather when increased fungus activity is likely. Fungus damage is less of a problem for taller trees, especially as they begin to lose their lower branches. However, seedlings and young trees may be totally engulfed by a snowpack. In addition to being vulnerable to fungus attack, they may be bent over and pinned down for long periods and 16


in rather small watersheds unlikely to be ravaged by roaring, silt- and gravel-filled spring floods. Near the western or downstream limits of both of these groves, the canyons narrow rather sharply and become steep-sided. Seeds can occasionally be carried downstream and deposited in likely sites. It is reasonable to assume that soil erosion and stream bank cutting are also factors in the downstream limitation of the groves. An additional limiting factor in the case of the North Grove is a natural meadow that lies just west (downstream) of the grove. Under normal conditions, the meadow was too moist for giant sequoias or any other local native tree to become established. These conditions were challenged when the meadow was used for various purposes in the past. Calaveras Big Trees State Park staff has worked to bring the meadow back to its original state.

thus deformed or completely destroyed by movement of melting snow pack. The approach of springtime brings still other problems. Erosion, undercutting by stream action, and softening of the ground constitute the leading threats. The massive, thoroughly intertwined root systems of the big trees stabilize the soil and slow down runoff in the heart of giant sequoia groves, decreasing erosion. Giant sequoias that grow on the fringe of established groves, along stream courses below the groves, for instance, or on the slopes where seasonal streams enter groves, are more likely to suffer from soil erosion problems. At Calaveras Big Trees State Park, both the North and South Groves are located in gently sloping basins where the terrain gives some protection from southwesterly winds associated with most heavy storms. Moreover, both groves are located 17

When warm, gentle weather returned to the forest in the springtime, the little seedling began to grow once again. And favored again by almost ideal conditions, it continued to be healthy and prosperous and to outstrip its nearest neighbors and competitors. Its new, bright green leaves and branches spread outward almost as fast as its main stem grew upward. Beneath the ground, keeping pace with the growth of its upper parts, the seedling’s network of roots was spreading rapidly downward into the loosely packed soil.


Many other things were happening in the little forest opening where the fire had burned. One sugar pine seedling found itself well-placed and began to prosper beyond its neighbors, while shrubs, ferns, and a great many flowering annuals also found the clearing suitable for their needs. For a time during the bright, eager days of early spring, these diverse plant forms shared a kind of universal infancy. But by late spring, they had begun to go their separate ways. Some of them raced onward into maturity, burst into voluptuous displays of colorful bloom, and were gone with the first real heat of summer. Others proceeded more conservatively, took more time to reach maturity, and finally raised exquisite little bells of color into the spring or summer sunlight. As the season advanced, an almost unbroken procession of these festive occasions took place in the little clearing — each of them different, but all of them bright with color, rich in scent — a moment-bymoment, ongoing celebration of life itself.


The growing season was over now for most things, but already many perennials were strong young plants — adolescents perhaps, or young adults — and only the seedling trees were still infants of their kind. They had done very well, however, for the summer drought had not been severe. Occasional rain and generally cool temperatures had made it possible for many to survive and for some to grow with unusual strength and vigor.

Beneath a thick carpet of duff, the roots of the giant sequoia and the sugar pine that had begun life the same year dominated the entire area of the one-time clearing, while their own rapidly growing crowns kept the area and their few remaining competitors in deep shade. At about this time, the giant sequoia began to develop its first pollen-producing staminate cones on the tips of innumerable small branches. It also began to form a much smaller number of ovulate cones, complete with seeds that were fully capable of germination. It would still be many years before any of the seeds would result in new seedlings, but from this time on the tree would produce both pollen and ovulate cones each year. And, because of this activity, the crown of the giant sequoia would now slowly begin to lose the sharply conical quality of its immature stage and take on the more rounded shape of the older trees.

In succeeding seasons, the forest canopy above the little clearing began very slowly to fill in once again and this, in turn, brought changes to the forest floor. Violets brought a touch of yellow to the clearing, and other shade-loving plants replaced those that needed more sunlight. Azaleas and dogwoods continued to do very well, and each spring the fragrance of their fine white blossoms filled the clearing. During its fourth summer, the little giant sequoia seedling sent its roots out so broadly that it was no longer dependent on summer rainfall for moisture in the dry seasons. Thereafter it began to grow even more rapidly. Soon its main stem became dominant, and the little tree began to take on the characteristic conical shape of a young sequoia. At five years of age it was as tall as a tall man. At 10 years, it had reached 20 feet in height and, thereafter for many years, it continued to grow about two feet taller each year. Its annual growth rings were as much as one-half-inch wide at this stage of its life, and its bark was beginning to take on the rough texture and reddish color that is characteristic of older giant sequoias.

At 100 years of age, the giant sequoia towered more than 150 feet, and only the nearby sugar pine and a few other sugar and ponderosa pines in the area were tall enough to compete with it for light. Its trunk was nearly six feet in diameter now. With its thick bark to protect it, its height to keep it in the sunlight, and its massive root system to absorb moisture and nutrients throughout a broad area, the tree was as close to indestructible as living things ever become. Still growing rapidly and still a youngster of its kind, the tree continued to thrive and prosper through the changing seasons year after year after year. 19

narrative four

At 50 years of age, the young tree was nearly 100 feet tall and able to capture its share of sunlight though the small opening in the forest canopy was now closed. Its trunk was more than four feet in diameter, and already the lower branches had begun to die and fall away so that near the ground, the trunk was entirely clear of branches. At its feet the sun-loving shrubs that once occupied the little clearing around our young sequoia had long since grown old and died. Hard, dry, weather-bleached branches of ceanothus were among the few remaining traces of the little clearing that had given the giant sequoia seedling an opportunity to become established.

In the autumn, as the days came to be shorter once again, bright colors were seen amidst the dark green of the forest. Now, however, these colors—bright red, orange, and yellow—were provided by the dying leaves of the alders, dogwoods and black oak trees. By the time these leaves began to fall, all trace of the flowering annuals had vanished from the forest floor, and a new carpet of pine needles was being laid.



Giant Sequoia Growth and Development Patterns

other unusually moist sites. Even with an extensive root system, the giant sequoia is still sharply limited in its natural range by soil moisture conditions. As we have seen, it is the germination and early seedling stages that are most vulnerable to environmental problems such as drought. Once giant sequoias have germinated and developed into strong young seedlings with good root systems, they are quite capable of surviving for centuries.

The Root System California’s climate features wet winters and dry summers. Late summers can bring orographic cloud formations where valley moisture rises and is blocked by the massive Sierra Nevada and forms thunderclouds. These late afternoon and evening thunderstorms can be the source of additional moisture for the giant sequoias as well as the spark for the naturally occurring fires started by lightning. Giant sequoias normally develop an extensive root system very early in their lives. In a region marked by a prolonged summer dry season, this kind of root system is essential in all but streamside or

The direction of development for giant sequoia root systems depends largely on the nature of the water supply. In most situations the initial development is strongly downward. During the germination stage, one main or primary root goes almost straight down as a tap root. Shortly afterward, one or more secondary roots reach down parallel to the first root.


a steadily growing accumulation of leaf litter and other fallen organic material. This source of nutrients, along with some waterborne minerals in the soil, is sufficient to maintain the giant sequoias on a virtually permanent basis. Analysis and measurement of soil conditions around giant sequoias of varying ages show constant and reliable amounts of the various chemicals necessary to a giant sequoia’s survival.

Then, within the first two years of growth, the root system begins to branch out more and more thickly and, as the tree grows larger, it is this lateral development just beneath the soil surface that continues most strongly. Eventually the roots of the larger trees reach out 100 to 150 feet and, in some cases, may reach out more than two-thirds of the height of the tree laterally. This means that some large giant sequoias extend their area of influence throughout acres of forest land.

The soil near the base of a giant sequoia — where branches and bits of bark are likely to fall most heavily — is somewhat different from the soil of the area surrounding it. Bark and branch materials decay more slowly and are chemically different from the leaf and twig materials that cover the ground further out from the base of the tree. Because of this difference and because the base of the tree is continually expanding and pushing back the soil around it, many giant sequoias are characteristically surrounded by what is called a peripheral pressure ridge. This mound may be several feet high around the base of the tree. When debris falls on this pressure ridge, it tends to roll away from the trunk of the giant sequoia and serve as a natural fire break to prevent the accumulation of flammable forest debris.

Systematic study of one giant sequoia revealed that its root system reached down only about four feet beneath the soil surface within a ten-foot radius of the trunk. Further from the trunk, the roots of the tree became rapidly smaller in diameter and remained nearer the surface to a point 125 feet from the trunk. The total area of this root system was computed to be about 49,000 square feet or 1.13 acres. The soil volume occupied with roots was some 91,500 cubic feet. And this giant sequoia was only 12 feet in diameter. Most of the giant sequoia’s root system is made up of tiny, threadlike feeders that spread out from the larger roots near the base of the tree. None of the large roots are likely to be more than two-and-one-half or three feet in diameter, and most of them are much smaller. The entire root system is likely to be within four or five feet of the soil surface. This is an astonishingly delicate foundation for an above-the-ground structure that may tower upward 250 to 300 feet and weigh over 1,000 tons!

The Crown As soon as the young giant sequoia has an adequate yearround supply of moisture and sunlight, it begins to grow quite rapidly. Under optimal conditions, its main stem leads the way upward and the tree becomes conical in shape. The upper part of the crown will retain this shape for many years, although if the tree is not growing in full sunlight, it may begin to lose its lower branches as it gets taller and as the shade deepens around its base. Eventually, sexual maturity is achieved and the crown of the tree gradually loses its sharply spired appearance and takes on a more rounded, dome shape. This transition

Sierra Nevada forest soils are comparatively shallow, quite sandy and somewhat acidic. In the case of giant sequoia, it has been found that nutrient supply tends to keep up with demand even though demand increases steadily over a long period of time. This is apparently made possible by the subsurface activities of soil fungus, bacteria, and other agents acting on





As a young mature tree, the giant sequoia displays the typical pointed conifer tip. At middle age, the characteristic rounded top of the giant sequoia will appear. As the tree ages, less water and fewer nutrients rise to the top of the tree and a “dead” snag will often stick out of the top. generally begins after the tree is 40 to 50 years of age or more, but it may not be complete for as long as several hundred years. Sooner or later, however, the crown of a mature giant sequoia takes on a gracefully rounded look with great cloudlike billows of greenery that stand in marked contrast to the more pointed tops of other conifers around it. Since a giant sequoia is likely to tower 50 to 100 feet above its neighbors, the characteristic upper crown of a mature giant sequoia is easy to identify.

Veteran admirers of the giant sequoia claim that the crowns of big trees tell more about their history than any other visible part. The trunk of a tree, for instance, may be a very misleading indication of the tree’s age. Rapid growth because of favorable circumstances can result in spectacular trunk size within a few hundred or perhaps a thousand years. The Discovery Tree in the Calaveras North Grove, for instance, was one of the largest and most impressive trees at Calaveras. Yet after the great old tree had been cut down, a careful count of its annual growth rings indicated that it was only about 1,250 years old.


The crown of a giant sequoia, on the other hand, is seldom misleading. The top of the crown becomes more and more rounded as great age and height combine to inhibit further growth upward. Massive branches are also typical of the old veterans. Natural pruning may eventually result in main trunks that are branchless for 100 to 150 feet above the ground. Above that level the older trees may keep one or more branches that come horizontally out of the main trunk and then turn upward, reaching another 100 to 150 feet into the sunlight. With the passing years such branches may become extremely massive, as much as five or six feet in diameter and weighing hundreds of tons. Once the giant sequoias stop their upward growth and put more of their energy into cone and foliage production, they may take on a snag-topped appearance. That is, they have dead wood at the top of their crowns, indicating that they have been taller and then died back somewhat even though they otherwise appear to be healthy and robust. The largest single cause of snag tops is damage from ground fires below, not lightning strikes to the top.



Giant sequoias have thick insulating bark that protects the cambium or growth layer of the tree. Near the base, bark can be 12 to 24 inches thick. Ground fires can ignite the poorly flammable bark and burn to a particular height. Then, winter rains and snow wash blackened bark away, leaving isolated black areas under protecting shelves common to almost every standing big tree. But repeated fires and larger fires fueled by accumulated debris can burn through the bark and cambium and into the wood of the tree. Cutting off this living layer under the bark, the cambium results in fewer nutrients and water making it to the top of the tree, contributing to the dying back of the crown and the snag top appearance. But even this does not keep a giant sequoia from repairing itself. The tree is physically and chemically sensitive to this damage to its cambium and begins a process of growing over the fire scar to reunite and ultimately repair the damage. Logged giant sequoias are often found with internal fire scars that have been engulfed by the wood of the growing tree after similar repairs were made.



Growth As part of their work for the National Park Service, the Hartesveldt research team at San Jose State University measured both the size and rate of growth of many giant sequoias. They calculated that the General Sherman Tree (in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park), widely considered to be the world’s largest tree, may also be the fastest growing. They found that the diameter of the tree had increased about three inches during the forty years since careful measurements were first made in 1931. A three-inch increase in diameter over 40 years may not seem like rapid growth until one remembers that the General Sherman Tree is 275 feet tall, more than 30 feet in diameter and over 100 feet in circumference. Layers of new wood — one millimeter thick spread over a surface this broad and this high — mean that during those 40 years the General Sherman has added about 40 cubic feet per year. The same volume of wood as might be found in a tree 12 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) and 50 feet tall. A seedling tree to match the growth rate of the General Sherman would have to start from zero and reach 50 feet in height and one foot in diameter within a single year.

In addition to its title as the largest living tree, giant sequoia should also be recognized as one of the fastest growing. The claim does not have to do with increase in height alone, as other trees grow upward far more rapidly than the giant sequoia. Coast redwoods, for instance, may put on six, eight, or even more feet of height in a single season, whereas the giant sequoia is more likely to grow about two feet in height per year throughout its first 50 to 100 years. On the other hand, the massive trunk of the giant sequoia continues to grow, increasing its overall volume at a rate far surpassing that of any other tree. Growth rings one-half inch in thickness are common in young giant sequoias under optimal conditions. This amounts to an increase of one inch of diameter per year. And rapid growth is likely to continue even when the trunk has become 100 or more feet in circumference. By then, the annual growth rings may have become narrower, but the tree’s overall volume of growth may be continuing at the same or an increased rate.

How Big

is a Big Tree?

The largest giant sequoias are the biggest living trees on earth. Many of them are 250 to 300 feet in height and between 20 and 30 feet in diameter near the ground. At Calaveras Big Trees State Park the largest tree is the Louis Agassiz tree in the South Grove. It is about 250

feet high and about 25 feet in diameter, six feet above the ground. The largest tree in the North Grove is the Empire State tree, which is about 217 feet high and 18 feet in diameter, six feet above the ground. Several trees in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park and in Sequoia and Kings 24

Canyon National Parks are even larger. The largest living trees at the present time are the General Sherman (275 feet tall, 36.5 feet in diameter at the base) in Sequoia National Park and the General Grant (267 feet tall and about 40.3 feet in diameter at the base) in Kings Canyon



ladder fuels for fire, giant sequoias also have developed a chemical survival strategy. The beautiful red color in the tree is the presence of chemicals collectively called phenols and tannins. These chemicals are unpalatable to many insects and fungi, so giant sequoias are resistant to decay. While it is not impervious to insect or fungal damage, this resistance allows a giant sequoia to survive attacks that would down a lesser tree species. In fact, it appears that the demise of giant sequoia oldsters comes when they ultimately become unbalanced and topple over.

There does not seem to be any phase of a giant sequoia’s life span that can be termed “old age” in the ordinary sense. That is, its life processes do not appear to slow down or change in any basic way. Even the oldest giant sequoias continue to grow rapidly and create new male and female cones. Theoretically it would appear that a giant sequoia could go on living and growing forever. Part of the protection which results in their longevity lays in adaptations to threats in the forest. In addition to developing a pressure ridge, growing thick insulating bark, and losing branches that may act as

Giant Sequoia

National Park. The estimated weight in just the trunk of the General Sherman Tree is 1,385 tons. A case history cited by Professor Ellsworth Huntington is instructive in this regard. One large giant sequoia felled in the 1880s provided some 3,000 fence posts (enough to put a wire

Statue of Liberty

U.S. Capitol Dome

fence around 8,000 or 9,000 acres), as well as 650,000 shingles (enough to roof 70 to 80 houses), “and still there remained hundreds of cords of fire wood, which no one could use because of the prohibitive cost of hauling the wood out of the mountains.” To gain perspective in still 25

another way, the tallest giant sequoias are about as tall as a 28-story office building, as tall as a football field turned on end, or as heavy as a small, ocean-going freighter.

The day began like any other. The darkness faded slowly and, in the east, the s足 ky began to glow with increasing promise. Then, while the hush of early morning continued, the sun appeared over the horizon and began to climb into an intensely blue and cloudless sky. Birds sang in the forest, and because the summer had been long and dry, the resinous smell of pine and fir and incense cedar was strong. By midmorning the temperature had begun to soar. Several deer finished browsing for the morning and began to search out a cool dark part of the forest in which to spend the day. Insects buzzed in the treetops.


The sequoia, now nearly 600 years old, towered above the surrounding forest of pines and firs. Its handsomely rounded crown rose some 250 feet above the ground and was heavy with thousands of cones. Nearby, all but one of the trees that had stood near the giant sequoia in its seedling stage had died and had been replaced. In fact, some of the firs had gone through several generations. Now, however, even the great old sugar pine was approaching the end of its life span. For many years it had closely matched the giant sequoia inch-for-inch in height, though at last it had been outstripped. Now it was some 50 feet shorter than the giant sequoia, and its trunk was eight feet in diameter, little more than half as big as that of the giant sequoia.


narrative five


I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars. — Walt Whitman


moved across the land­scape. Most of these strikes caused little damage, but at last one of them hit an old fir tree that stood alone near the top of a ridge half a mile from the giant sequoia. Suffering from the recent drought, the fir tree was dry and caught fire immediately. Within minutes its entire crown was burning fiercely despite the rain that had begun to fall, slowly at first, and then faster and more heavily. Soon the fir tree’s larger branches began to fall into the forest duff and start numerous little smoldering fires. Once the rain shower ended, these smoky little fires began to heat up, flicker into flame, and spread out, moving slowly uphill toward the ridge. Occasionally a burning pine cone would break loose and roll down the hill, spreading the fire in that direction as well.

In recent years the activity of insects and other organisms had begun to take their toll on the aging pine. Only a thin fringe of blue-green needles remained in the crown, and many branches were beginning to fall away. Even the deeply furrowed, dark gray bark on the main trunk was buckling in places. Early in the afternoon as the temperature hovered near 100 degrees, a layer of clouds appeared low on the western horizon. As the air currents moved in over the mountains, these clouds began to billow up into the sky, building, rising ever higher, driven by their own internal energy. Soon the clouds raced forward and obscured the sun, turning the day dark and ominous. And, as the storm front formed and moved across the landscape, the turbulence inside the towering thunderheads continued to increase until the breaking point was reached and lightning stabbed down, discharging electrical energy into the earth.

Several hours after the lightning strike, some brush at the edge of a clearing went up in flames. Within minutes the fire had transferred into a dense stand of young fir trees; once this fuel was available, the fire became intense, almost explosively hot. Fanned by a gusty late afternoon breeze, it began to spread rapidly.

The thunder and lightning continued for an hour or more with strike after strike flashing downward as the great thunderhead



snag. The giant sequoia, on the other hand, was only superficially scorched and blackened. A pair of narrow, 20-foot-high grooves had been seared into its flanks, but within a few hundred years, the massive vitality of the tree would result in new layers of bark that would first close and eventually cover even these signs of fire damage.

It was dark when the racing, brilliantly red-gold flames swept through the forest around the giant sequoia and the aging sugar pine. Both veteran trees had survived other fires, but this one was extremely hot, and the pine was now vulnerable. Soon the limbs and branches that had fallen from its own disabled crown were going up in flames. Like so much kindling, they helped to ignite the main trunk. Bit by bit the solid old heartwood absorbed the heat. Sap began to boil and drain out of the cambium layer, vaporizing from the heat as it struck the air and crackled into flame. Pieces of bark began to smolder, then flare up and burn brightly, until the whole tree was a great, roaring tower of red and orange flame with brightly glowing embers swirling high into the dark night air.

In the days and weeks that followed, the entire basin around the giant sequoia was quiet, black and smoking. The little creek near the giant sequoia was choked with floating debris, and its gently moving surface was glazed with ash. Some of the larger pines had survived along with the giant sequoia, however, and again sunlight was pouring down onto the floor of the entire little upland basin. In the next few years, along with a forest of new pines, thousands of giant sequoia seedlings would put down roots and take their places in the sun.

For many days thereafter, the remains of the sugar pine continued to smolder and burn fitfully until all that was left was a great black


attribute their demise to climate change, secondary to mountain building as a result of plate tectonics. Surviving individuals were able to retreat to climates that could support them. Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwood, became established on the coastal areas of Northern California and Oregon where a dense fog provided moisture to trees which, in turn, grew tall to reach sustained sunlight. Today, Sequoiadendron giganteum is found in approximately 75 groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range. The establishment of isolated groves instead of a continuous stand raises several intriguing questions. For example: as the Sierra Nevada mountain range rose, did Sequoiadendron migrate west through the lower passes to achieve its present, highly discontinuous pattern of distribution? Or did local microclimates scattered along the west slope of the Sierra Nevada cause these groves to become grouped as they are today?

Distribution — Past and Present The Fossil Evidence

Most students of geologic time connect dinosaurs with the Mesozoic Era (251 million to 65 million years ago). But it was also a time of great conifer development, including the cone-bearing trees ancestral to giant sequoias. The family, Cupressaceae (Taxodiaceae) emerged in the fossil record in the Triassic about 235 million years ago. Today there are many members of this family, including the bald cypress. But the antecedents of three closely related members (known today as redwoods) of this family began their appearance in the Jurassic, 208 million years ago and are called Sequoia. Much of this early fossil evidence is in the form of pollen, but larger or macro-fossils became evident from the Cretaceous, 144 million years ago. With the ability to identify different genera, including Sequoia and Sequoiadendron, came the awareness of their ever-expanding range on planet earth. As flowering plants began to appear, Sequoia species were exploding across the northern hemisphere and part of the southern hemisphere. In the Cenozoic Era (65 million years ago to present), Austrosequoia from Australia, Quasisequoia from Sweden, Metasequoia from China and Alaska, and Sequoia and Sequoiadendron from western North America all became established.

Present Distribution

Today giant sequoias grow and reproduce naturally only in isolated sites along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. These sites are all within a 260-mile-long zone at elevations between 2,800 and 8,900 feet. Even in these widely scattered places, giant sequoias do not form pure stands as do the coast redwoods. Instead, giant sequoias occur sporadically, scattered throughout a forest community made up of sugar and ponderosa pine, white fir, and incense cedar, as well as a characteristic group of shrubs and smaller plants.

From 26 to 4 million years ago, the fossils began to show a segregation of Sequoia and Sequoiadendron fossils. Sequoia fossils are now showing an affinity for coastal areas, moving west from the Cascades. Sequoiadendron fossils show a retreat from Idaho and Nevada to the present Sierra Nevada, specifically on the western slope. Distribution of these trees across the rest of the planet began to wane. Many scientists

The most northerly grove of giant sequoias is near the middle fork of the American River in Placer County. It consists of only six trees, and is of particular interest because it is so small and so isolated from the other giant sequoia groves. Recent reproduction seems to be extremely limited, and the




Millions of Years Ago Began



Climatic instability; humans occupy entire coast of California in early Holocene; Sequoia most abundant in mid-Holocene (ca. 5,500 years ago), with range contracting thereafter; heavy logging begins in nineteenth century



Glacial cycles; Sequoia as far south as Santa Barbara in late Pleistocene



Principal uplift of Sierras, Cascades, and coast ranges; Sequoia still as far north and east as Columbia River gorge in early Pliocene; floras with Sequoia in California much like modern floras, but included summer-wet genera (e.g., elm, holly)



Climate becomes dry over much of western North America; Sequoia affinis forests in western and eastern Oregon and Idaho; Sequoiadendron forests in western Nevada, much like modern Sierran forest



Sequoia as far south as Colorado at beginning of epoch, then eliminated a few million years later; Sequoia in Oregon and Montana in Middle and Late Oligocene; Sequoia and Sequoiadendron segregated



Climate in western United States subtropical to temperate; Sequoia affinis in Nevada and Idaho



Sequoia affinis in Wyoming



First angiosperms; peak of diversification and distribution of Taxodiaceae, including Austrosequoia, Taxodium, Sequoia, and Sequoiadendron



Seed ferns, cycadeoids, and conifers dominant; possible Sequoia



Conifers increase, seed ferns and true ferns decrease; oldest Taxodiaceae



Treelike lycopods and Calamites decline and go extinct; early conifer ancestors of Taxodiaceae and Cupressaceae present



Coal-forming swamps present in eastern United States



Progymnosperms, treelike lycopods, Calamites, seed ferns, and true ferns present



Lycopods, horsetail relatives, seed ferns, and early progymnosperms present



Land plants first appear



Marine algae



Marine “algae”









Carboniferous Paleozoic


Simple “algae” and fungi


Source: The Redwood Forest: History, Ecology and Conservation of the Coast Redwoods, 1999, Island Press.


grove may well be struggling against adverse environmental conditions. Toward the southern end of the giant sequoia range in the Kings, Kaweah, and Tule River Basins, the trees are much more numerous. They occur throughout broad areas, sometimes as few as two or three to an acre. South of the Converse Basin, the giant sequoias form an almost continuous belt; none of the groves is more than five miles from its nearest neighbor. Nevertheless, most observers continue to apply the grove concept and identify a total of about 75 groves. In the north, the groves are relatively small in area. The Calaveras South Grove is 415 acres and has more than 1,000 giant sequoias one foot or more in diameter. It is the largest grove north of the Kings River. The Calaveras North Grove is historically the most important and consists of just 62 acres, which includes slightly more than 150 giant sequoias one foot or more in diameter.


have been extinct for millions of years! Further study by Dr. Hu, Professor Ralph Chaney of the University of California, and others confirmed this view and opened up a new vista into the remote past. Over and above the fact that it was still alive as a species, the Metasequoia was surprising in another way. It looked like a coast redwood in most respects, but it was deciduous. Each winter it lost all of its leaves and was therefore far better suited to extreme cold than other species of redwood. In fact, it was soon determined that all of the most northerly fossil redwood specimens in Asia and North America were actually Metasequoia rather than Sequoia. By conducting a thorough review of the world’s major redwood fossil collections, Ralph Chaney eventually determined that most of the specimens labeled Sequoia, both from North America and Asia, were actually Metasequoia. This revision of fossil nomenclature made possible a clearer picture of the redwood story.

Redwoods in the Cenozoic Era Metasequoia glyptostroboides, the Dawn Redwood

On a visit to Mo-tao-chi, a village in central China, a Chinese forester by the name of Tsang Wang noticed a large tree totally unlike any he had seen before. He collected sample leaves and cones from the tree and took them to Professor Wan-Chun Cheng of the National Central University and Dr. Hsen Hsu Hu of the Fan Memorial Institute of Biology. Though both of these men were authorities on the trees of central China, neither had seen leaves and cones such as these on any living tree. They did remember, however, that similar leaves and cones had been identified in ancient fossil deposits. Soon it became obvious that Wang had discovered a living specimen of a redwood species previously thought to


Metasequoia, the dawn redwood, is now thought to have

(1 to 13 million years ago) with the single exception of a small area south of the Yangtze River in the central Chinese provinces of Szechwan and Hupeh (latitude 30°). Today, Metasequoia’s last areas of refuge are shady, moist ravines along the rocky banks of small streams and near mountain springs. The altitude of these sites ranges from 2,200 to 4,200 feet. The climate is fairly warm and moist in summer, very mild and rather dry in winter.

originated in west central North America and spread northward in late Cretaceous and Paleocene times (66 million years ago) until its range extended all the way from about 35° latitude (northern New Mexico) to the Arctic Circle and beyond. It then migrated westward into East Asia by way of the Bering land mass that once connected Asia and North America. It may also have migrated from the Mackenzie River Region of western Canada to Ellesmere Island, western Greenland, eastern Greenland, Spitsbergen, and on into Northern Siberia, although it seems never to have been present in Europe. After the close of the Paleocene, the worldwide trend toward generally cooler temperatures forced Metasequoia to withdraw southward. During the Eocene (37 to 57 million years ago), it was restricted to western North America from British Columbia southward. In Asia it was restricted to a coastal strip from the Penzhina Bay District at latitude 63° to Hokkaido and southern Manchuria. Later, in the Oligocene (23 to 36 million years ago), Metasequoia retreated further southward though it also seems to have spread westward as far as the Aral Sea.

Sequoia sempervirens,


Coast Redwood

Although present evidence is far from conclusive, some experts now theorize that the genus Sequoia, like Metasequoia, had its origin in west central North America sometime during the middle or early Mesozoic era. The earliest fossil evidence of Sequoia was discovered in Manchuria, however, and dates from the Jurassic period 135 to 150 million years ago. Nevertheless, theory has it that the overall range and migration routes of Sequoia were much like that of Metasequoia, except that Sequoia was also present in Europe, which it is thought to have reached via Greenland. Fossil remnants of this genus have been found as far south as southwestern China (latitude 26°) in the Pliocene, and southeastern Texas (latitude 30° in the Eocene). The majority of Sequoia fossils have been found at middle northern latitudes (34° to 58°), but some have been found as far north as western Greenland (70°) and Spitsbergen (79°).

Continuing climatic changes, particularly the shift toward more pronounced seasonal differences and hotter, drier summers, broke the fairly continuous range of Metasequoia into a scattered, highly discontinuous pattern of distribution. During the Miocene (5 to 24 million years ago), Metasequoia was still present in western North America but only in widely scattered portions of Oregon and Idaho. In Asia it was similarly limited to scattered pockets in south central Siberia (the Altai Region), Sakhalin, and the Japanese islands.

After the close of the Paleocene, Sequoia was forced southward on a timetable roughly similar to that followed by Metasequoia. In addition, as the climate became cooler and drier, Sequoia was gradually restricted to coastal regions. Eventually, perhaps as few as one million years ago, it was eliminated entirely from Europe and East Asia and all of North America with the

Eventually Metasequoia disappeared from North America (12 to 13 million years ago) and from all the rest of the world



1 1 1

1 1 1




32 1

1 1 1



1 1

1 2

2 2





1 2 1 3 2 1 1 2 11 2 2 3 3 1 2 2 2 1 2


3 3



2 2


3 23 2 3 2 32 2 3 2 2

3 3




2 1 1



1 2







1 2 1



1 Metasequoia 2 Sequoia 3 Sequoiadendron Source: Dan Gridley

Sequoia gigantea became Sequoiadendron giganteum, and a number of fossil redwoods that had been named Sequoia were also reassigned to the new genus.

exception of the extreme coastal region of northern California and southern Oregon (latitudes 36째 to 42째). In this area, the lack of summer rainfall is offset by coastal fog that keeps the river valleys, canyons, and ravines suitably cool and moist in summer. Sequoiadendron giganteum,


It now seems likely that Sequoiadendron followed a pattern of development similar to that of the other redwoods. That is, it originated in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere during the Mesozoic era and spread into the Arctic region during Cretaceous and Paleocene times. Migration into Europe occurred via Greenland and Spitsbergen. Unlike either Sequoia or Metasequoia, however, no fossil evidence of Sequoiadendron has been found in Asia.

Giant Sequoia

During the 1930s and 1940s, botanists began to argue that the physical differences between certain kinds of redwoods were sufficient to justify classification as separate genera. As a result the generic name Sequoiadendron was devised, and various species of redwood were assigned to the new category.



driven southward after the close of the Paleocene and may well have disappeared from Europe as early as the Oligocene or early Miocene some 25 million years ago. In North America a similar pattern of southward retreat and extinction was followed until finally just one species of Sequoiadendron remained. This was Sequoiadendron chaneyi, a tree that seems to have been virtually identical to our present-day giant sequoia. The earliest known fossil remnants of S. chaneyi were found in Nevada and Idaho and date from the middle Miocene some 15 to 18 million years ago. Unlike other Sequoiadendron fossils, S. chaneyi was then adapted to a climate much like, though not identical to, that of the present-day Sierra Nevada. This conclusion is based on evidence including the fact the giant sequoias were even then accompanied by big leaf maple, white alder, Douglas-fir, white fir, black cottonwood, currant, dogwood, coral berry, chokeberry, and other plant species that are part of the giant sequoia community today. As climatic conditions in Nevada and Idaho during the Miocene became generally cooler and drier, there was also a trend toward more extreme seasonal differences where winters were colder and summers were warmer and drier. And as a result, plant species that required summer rain were gradually eliminated from the giant sequoia community. Some of them, elm, birch, white poplar, water chestnut and others, survived in central California coastal areas until the Pleistocene ice age and then became extinct there. Today, they are native only to the east coasts of Asia or North America where summers are still wet and humid.

FOSSIL DISTRIBUTION and Known Fossil Sites of Sequoia (2) and Sequoiadendron (3) in the Western United States Source: Dan Gridley

Several species of Sequoiadendron were present in Western Europe and in both western and eastern North America. As with the other redwoods, these Sequoiadendron species were

The Miocene trend toward greater seasonality also had an effect on giant sequoia in Nevada and Idaho. Hotter, drier


summers increasingly restricted the big trees to moist slopes and cool, upland valleys overlooking broad flatlands where oak woodland had become dominant. As the summers became still more arid, this oak woodland was replaced by chaparral and desert-border plants, and the giant sequoia slowly disappeared from central Nevada and Idaho. The species still survived in western Nevada, however (near Virginia City, for instance), where 35 inches of annual rainfall resulted in a luxuriant conifer forest during the early Pliocene, perhaps ten million years ago. As rainfall decreased still further toward the middle of the Pliocene, virtually all of west-central Nevada’s forest trees were restricted to stream and lake borders, and then eliminated. By this time, however, giant sequoias had become established still farther west, on the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Giant S­­equoias

in the Ice


Giant sequoias had completely disappeared everywhere except on the Sierra Nevada’s west slope by the time the great Pleistocene Ice Age began, perhaps as few as one million years ago. Temperatures dropped sharply over the middle and high latitudes. Toward the end of the Pliocene, ice caps had reappeared for the first time since the beginning of the Mesozoic era. Now they began to spread rapidly toward the equator. Convulsive mountain-building continued, with the Alps, the Himalayas, the Andes, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges being lifted to approximately their present elevations. The California Coast Ranges were formed at this time, and the coast itself assumed more or less its present conformation. Pleistocene glaciations were most severe in the Northern Hemisphere, where a great shield of ice built up over Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Germany, Poland, and northern Russia. At least four times during the Pleistocene, great sheets of ice advanced and retreated, the most recent retreat coming less than 12,000 years ago.

In the mid-Pliocene, perhaps six to eight million years ago, the Sierra Nevada was much lower and had a warmer climate than at present. Oak, elm, beech, walnut, persimmon, and avocado trees had been present even in the higher parts of the range until the close of the Miocene. As the range continued to be uplifted and as world climate continued to become cooler and drier, conditions near the crest became suitable for giant sequoias and other conifers. The Sierra Nevada uplift, beginning about six million years ago during the Pliocene, began to have an increasingly strong influence on weather conditions. Its presence began to bring about conditions that were favorable to the development of a giant sequoia forest on the western slope and unfavorable to the continued survival of the older forest to the east.

In the Sierra Nevada, glacial activity seems to have reached its maximum extent 25,000 to 50,000 years ago, during which time a nearly continuous system of glaciers covered some 260 miles of the crest. Great tongues of ice ground their way down the more important river basins both east and west. We cannot be certain what happened to giant sequoias during this time. They may have migrated to somewhat lower elevations, but with only one exception, giant sequoia fossils have not been found at low elevations. This has led some observers to believe that the big trees may have weathered


the glacial advances and their attendant low temperatures in approximately their present locations. Study of this subject began in 1872 following Asa Gray’s visit to the Calaveras and Mariposa Groves. One of his guides at that time was John Muir, who had come to the Sierra Nevada in 1868. Muir’s interest in botany, and giant sequoias in particular, was matched by an equally strong interest in Sierra Nevada glacial history. Gray suggested that Muir combine these two interests and, in 1876, just four years after Gray’s keynote speech regarding the history of giant sequoia, Muir presented a paper on “Post-glacial history of Sequoia gigantea” (Sequoiadendron giganteum). In that paper Muir theorized that “giant sequoias” had probably once been widely and uniformly distributed along the western slope of the Sierra. More recently it has been suggested that Muir overestimated the extent and duration of glaciations in the Sierra Nevada, and that glacial theory cannot fully explain the present separation between giant sequoia groves. Other climatic factors may have had a role in restricting giant sequoias to their present grove areas.


One factor may well have been the occurrence of a warm, dry episode following the retreat of the last major Wisconsin glaciation. This episode is variously referred to as the Altithermal, or Hypsithermal, or Postglacial Thermal Optimum. It began 7,000 to 8,000 years ago and lasted until about 4,000 years ago. Throughout this time giant sequoias would have been in retreat because temperatures in the Sierra Nevada were higher and rainfall was less than at present. Adequate moisture and mild temperature conditions are



sharply limiting factors for giant sequoias. It is quite possible that Altithermal conditions (probably marked by frequent forest fires) explain the present-day absence of giant sequoias in places where glaciation was not severe. Giant sequoia regeneration would occur if seed-bearing trees were still standing in the vicinity.

recent that lichens have not yet begun to grow on the exposed boulder surfaces. Nor has soil begun to form amid the loose gravel and other glacial debris in the moraines left behind when the ice retreated. There are still glacial remnants in the Sierra Nevada above 10,000 feet. After the cold period of 2,600 and 2,800 years ago, the climate of the Sierra Nevada and of the northern hemisphere in general gradually became warmer and drier until about 1000 C.E. when, according to the historical record, vineyards flourished in England, and Norsemen set up colonies in Greenland and Iceland. After 1200 C.E., however, temperatures began to

Since the end of the Altithermal period, environmental conditions in the Sierra Nevada have continued to fluctuate. About 2,700 years ago, a cold period resulted in three distinct pulses of glacial activity along the crest of the range above 8,000 feet elevation. The last of these ice advances was so


sudden dramatic changes in the composition of a biological community. In the giant sequoia region, a trend toward moister conditions gives fir an advantage over pine, and pine an advantage over oak. The opposite effect is brought about by a trend toward drier conditions. These same trends also have subtle genetic implications. Certain giant sequoias, for instance, may be slightly more drought resistant than the rest of their kind and may begin to replace less well-adapted individuals during extended dry periods. Of course it should be remembered that climate is just one of many environmental factors important to survival. Still, climate and normal genetic variability are among the most important ecological nuts and bolts in the ongoing story of evolution. One of the values of a giant sequoia grove is that this evolutionary story comes alive so vividly. A knowledgeable observer may notice many aspects of the story, but even the most casual visitor to the groves can see that the giant sequoias stand apart, living on a time scale unlike that of the other trees and shrubs around them. Meanwhile, fir trees crowd the forest understory and pines grow right on up through the branches of old, sun-loving oak trees, with the evergreen foliage of the pines beginning to shade the oaks out of existence. Clearly the giant sequoias stand amidst a forest forever in transition.


decline once again so that by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a harsh climate troubled England and most of Europe. Northern seas that had been sailed by the Viking ships of 1000 C.E. were once again choked with ice. Another warming trend occurred during the nineteenth century. It became warmer still after 1890, and continued until about 1940. Since then conditions have become slightly cooler and moister. In recent times, global climate change shows a trend to warming again. In overall terms the net effect of climate fluctuations since about 500 B.C.E. has been a trend toward slightly cooler and perhaps moister conditions.

Some people find the giant sequoias impressive for their size alone. And it is true that they are the largest of all living trees. Many people find the giant sequoias beautiful for both their color and their symmetry. Most agree that giant sequoias have a distinctive presence as well — a commanding quality of grandeur and majestic serenity that suggests a kind of immortality or timelessness.

Climatic changes generally occur far faster than most forms of life can adjust to them. It is possible, however, to see fairly




And yet, as we have seen, time is an integral part of the giant sequoia’s beauty. Not only do the individual trees transcend the ordinary time scale, but the species as a whole has come to symbolize prolonged survival. More clearly than any other living thing, giant sequoias evoke a sense of the antiquity of life, the ongoing struggle for survival in an endlessly changing world. Because this is true, one should enter the forest not only with an eye for beauty and respect for the immense diversity and unity of the natural world; one should also bring along some sense of the slowly unfolding, ever-changing procession of life on this four-and-a-halfbillion-year-old planet. Only then can one fully appreciate the immense physical vigor and endurance of the giant sequoias, and recognize that these mighty trees truly do belong, as the poet Edwin Markham said, “to the silences and the millenniums.�


Naming the Giant Sequoia Since their discovery

by western civilization, the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada have been given many names. Cedar, Arbor-Vitae, Mammoth and Big Tree were among the earliest popular terms. More recently the terms Sierra redwood and giant sequoia have come to be frequently used, but still no single name seems acceptable to everyone. One of the problems, of course, is to differentiate simply and clearly between the redwoods of the Sierra Nevada and those of the California coast. The problem goes all the way back to 1852 when A.T. Dowd first tried to get the scientific world to give giant sequoia an appropriate scholarly name.

During the summer of 1853, a plant collector by the name of William Lobb was in California representing James Veitch’s Exotic Nursery of Chelsea and Muleady-Mecham Exeter, England. Shortly after hearing a description of giant sequoia, and viewing specimens at the Academy of Sciences, Lobb made his way to the Calaveras Grove, collected wood, bark, leaf, and cone specimens, as well as a number of live seedlings and a goodly quantity of seed. He quickly returned to San Francisco and sailed for England where he arrived in mid-December. Before the month was out, John Lindley, England’s foremost botanist, published a description of giant sequoia in the Gardener’s Chronicle and gave the tree its first official scientific name.

In June of that year, Dowd sent some giant sequoia branches, cones, and other sample material to Albert Kellogg one of the founders of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Recognizing the uniqueness and importance of the samples, Kellogg and his associate Andrew Randall, who was then president of the Academy of Sciences, sent some of the giant sequoia material to John Torrey, the father of systematic botanical nomenclature in the United States. The specimen material is said to have been lost crossing the Isthmus of Panama, but there is some possibility that Torrey actually received the specimens and then, for some reason, did not get around to classifying them and publishing his findings until some two years later. By that time a bit of international intrigue (with commercial overtones) had intervened in the otherwise rather stately and decorous academic process of naming.

“We think that no one will differ from us in feeling that the most appropriate name to be proposed for the most gigantic tree which has been revealed to us by modern discovery is that of the greatest of modern heroes. Wellington stands as high above his contemporaries as the California tree above all the surrounding foresters. Let it then bear hence foreword the name of Wellingtonia gigantea.”


After this announcement, Veitch’s Exotic Nursery was besieged by demands for Wellingtonia seeds and seedlings and, despite premium prices, it was not long before every major estate in England could boast that its grounds were graced by Wellingtonia, many of them grown from seed taken by William Lobb from the Mother-of-the-Forest.



Americans, scientist and citizen alike, were outraged by Lindley’s choice of a name. The Duke of Wellington was an English military hero of great fame, but he had never shown any particular interest in botany, and neither he nor Lindley had ever even seen giant sequoia in its natural and uniquely American locale. Immediately a campaign was launched in the popular press and elsewhere to name the tree Washingtonia, Californica, Taxomum, Americus giganteus, or some other combination of names that would be more “acceptable.” All of these suggestions flew in the face of the established rules of precedence in botanic nomenclature, but the strength of feeling behind the proposals could not be doubted. In addition, the genus name Wellingtonia had already been used to name a different plant.

by Professor J.T. Buchholz, a professor of Botany at the University of Illinois, began to reverse the situation once again. Following extensive investigation of cone and seed cell development processes in the two redwoods, Buchholz concluded that differences were significant enough to justify separate generic classification. In order to avoid reopening the old debate, and in order to maintain the species’ alphabetic position in the vast botanic literature, he suggested the name Sequoiadendron giganteum. But there is still a mystery afoot — where did the name “Sequoia” come from? While the paper trail has been lost, the story comes from Europe. An Austrian by the name of Stephen Endlicher named the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens (the specific name means “ever-living,” a testament to its ability to reproduce asexually from roots and stumps). It is known that Endlicher studied languages and perhaps admired the work of the Cherokee man Sequoyah, who developed a written language for the Cherokee nation that is still in use today. But Endlicher also discovered the tree fell into his organization of taxa, following right into sequence of other cone-bearing trees. The Latin word for sequence is “sequor.” Either way, it’s a beautiful tree.

In June 1854, Joseph Decaisne, a leading French botanist, rescued the situation by arguing persuasively that the redwoods of the Sierra Nevada were so closely related to the redwoods of the California coast that they did not deserve separate generic status, but should instead come under the older, already established generic name of Sequoia. He therefore proposed the name Sequoia gigantea, a notion that was eagerly endorsed by John Torrey, Asa Gray, and other leading American botanists. Debate was not immediately ended by Decaisne’s proposal but it was considerably calmed, except perhaps in England where the tree continued to be immensely popular. Seeds and seedlings collected in the Calaveras Grove by William Lobb continued to bring a tremendous premium for several years and were very widely planted. Many of the resultant trees are alive and prospering today, and are still referred to throughout the British Isles as Wellingtonia.


Scientists throughout the world generally accepted the name Sequoia gigantea until about 1939 when research


On the gently sloping ridge above the giant sequoia, there were splashes of gold where the oaks had turned


color and were beginning to shed their leaves. The afternoon was warm; the air motionless. A gentleness lay on all the land. In the depths of the grove, the silence was so profound that the miniature clatter and crash of falling oak leaves could be heard for a hundred yards in all directions. Up on the ridge, two squirrels were chattering at each other about territorial matters, while high over their heads, a woodpecker drummed repeatedly on the wood of a dead pine tree. Near the head of the stream a coyote stopped momentarily to drink before continuing on businesslike, quick, and purposeful. And so the afternoon passed, moment by moment, just as the days streamed by, and the seasons and the centuries.


The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. — John Muir

Over the years the tree had survived torrential rains and sudden frost and the heavy snow of many a long winter. It had survived the hurricane force of winter winds, and the searing drought of rainless summers. It had survived the ravages of sudden, furnacehot wildfire, and the more frequent but more benign impact of periodic small fires. Its topmost crown had died back due to the fire scars at the huge tree’s base that slowed nutrient travel to its top. And still the tree stood in its appointed place, and went on growing, generating clouds of pollen each spring and countless thousands of seed-bearing cones. Beyond the imagining of mortal men it had taken its place amid the ongoing stream of seasons, had claimed its full heritage as a creature of the centuries—and the millennia—a durable heritage first forged by ancestors that knew the sun of that warm, moist time before the age of ice when giant reptiles roamed the earth.

Now nearly 2,000 years old, the tree was a giant even of its kind. Its snag-topped, broken crown reached nearly 300 feet into the sky, and its burned and hollow base was over 100 feet in circumference. It had become a home for countless insects and a feeding ground for countless birds. Its cones had nourished some 500 generations of hustling, always busy Douglas squirrels. Through the centuries, following natural fires, its prolific seed had fallen throughout the upland basin so that, little by little, the rich, black soil had come to support a host of new giant sequoias. Scattered throughout the basin, the massive, cinnamon-red trunks of these giants brought a dramatic new dimension to the forest floor, even while their crowns soared above the forest canopy to bask with majestic serenity in the sunlight of each passing day.


narrative six


Part II

Giant Sequoias and Human History Discovery


“The Big Trees”

Throughout the many millions of years that giant sequoias have lived on this changing earth, they have done so without the benediction, the care, or even the consciousness of human beings. Only in the last few thousand years have people come to know anything about “The Big Trees” and, except for the last couple of centuries, all of these people were the aboriginal residents of eastern California and western Nevada. We do not know anything about the individual who first spied one of the giant trees or what thoughts raced through that person’s mind, although we can be fairly sure that the discovery was momentous. It may have occurred as much as 25,000 years ago, when nomadic hunters began to work their way into western America, or it may have come within the last few thousand years as human beings began to settle permanently in the Sierra Nevada.


We do know that in more recent times Washoe, Central Sierra Miwok, Mono, and other Indians of the Sierra Nevada were aware of the giant sequoias and had developed semireligious, mythological beliefs about them. The Mono Indians who lived in the Fresno, Kings and Tule River Basins, for instance, believed that the gigantic trees were sacred, and that they were not to be used or disturbed in any way. A guardian spirit watched over the trees and was likely to punish anyone who violated the protective rules. The guardian often took the form of an owl, and so the Miwok people named the big trees “woh-woh-nah” after the call of the owl.


Further to the north in the vicinity of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, neither Washoe nor Miwok Indians seem to have shared the Mono conviction that giant sequoias were untouchable. It is known, for instance, that the Miwok occasionally used giant sequoia bark in the construction of their summer houses. Nevertheless, it is likely that the Miwok considered the giant sequoias sacred in some way, for they did not separate secular and religious matters. Their world was filled with objects and procedures that had spiritual significance and, in a sense, everything around them was sacred, including the plant foods they harvested, the game they hunted, the fields and meadows to which they set fire, and the places in which they lived or visited. It is likely that the Calaveras groves have been looked upon with awe and reverence not only by recent visitors but by virtually all of the humans who have known the groves. Indians

of the

found on Beaver Creek near the South Grove, and there is a small site with a bedrock mortar near Oak Hollow. The two Indian groups most closely associated with the Calaveras Big Trees area are today referred to as Miwok and Washoe. The two groups shared many beliefs, customs and practices, and there was intermarriage between them as well as an annual exchange of goods and information. Despite this, they were profoundly different in some ways. The Washoe people spent much of the year on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, and were almost nomadic in their lifestyle. The Miwok people wintered on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and maintained fairly permanent, well-defined villages. Beyond these very obvious distinctions, the two peoples were also different in basic cultural ways. The Washoe people spoke a dialect of the Hokan language, which set them apart from all their neighbors in both California and in the Great Basin east of the Sierra Nevada. Perhaps because of this cultural isolation, the Washoe developed a way of life that did not expose them to unnecessary risks. They lived simply, close to nature, and developed great sensitivity to seasonal changes. Their ability to obtain food, shelter and other necessities of life depended directly and immediately on their knowledge of animals, plants, soil types, and weather patterns, and the infinitely varied combinations of these things. In order to take full advantage of their natural environment, the Washoe continually moved from place to place (Lake Tahoe was the center of their world) as seasonal opportunities dictated.

Calaveras Big Trees Region

We know all too little about the people who lived in or near Calaveras Big Trees throughout the years before 19th- and 20th-century immigrants began to arrive. We do know, however, that two groups of Indians claimed the Calaveras Big Trees region. It is unlikely that either group lived in the area on a permanent basis. Instead, it seems that both groups visited the area more or less regularly, and lived in or near the present-day state park on a seasonal basis. Evidence of four habitation sites has been found near the North Grove. One is near the foot of the meadow, where a large rock outcrop bearing some 34 bedrock mortars can be seen. Another, smaller site is located alongside the stream below the meadow, while a large site, perhaps a village, was located on the south-facing slope above the stream. Other sites have been

The Miwok, on the other hand, developed a less utilitarian and more elaborate system of social behavior. Miwok life was marked by a wide variety of ceremonial and other social


activities, which were possible for them because subsistence activities left plenty of time for leisure. They spoke a dialect of Penutian, the basic language stock of central California, and they were part of the California Indian world — a world of great diversity, complexity and richness.

usually remained west of the divide until late in the autumn. Then, just before heavy snowfall made travel difficult, they would cross the mountains and spend some time collecting piñon nuts in western Nevada. The piñon harvest made it possible for them to live quietly throughout the winter near present-day Woodfords, Markleeville, and at other sites east of the mountains.

During the period of Indian residence, Calaveras Big Trees and the surrounding forest remained quiet throughout the long winters. Then when spring returned, the Miwok people were likely to follow game animals into the higher country and remain there to fish, hunt, and otherwise enjoy the cool summer temperatures until the autumn chill made lower elevations more appealing once again.


of the Indian



Miwok life and culture were shattered by the coming of Euro-American man Bedrock mortars were used for during the early and middle part of pounding various grains and acorns, the nineteenth century. Spanish and staple food sources of the Native Mexican missionaries and immigrants Americans. brought cultural disruption as well Washoe Indians, on the other hand, as contagious diseases that had a traditionally gathered each spring at Lake Tahoe, where they catastrophic impact on the Indian population of California. enjoyed the fishing and a certain amount of social activity. For the Miwok of the central Sierra Nevada, however, it was Later they would separate into family groups and follow the Gold Rush that brought almost total ruin. hunting and gathering activities that brought some of them up over the crest of the Sierra Nevada and down the west slope. In 1848 and 1849, hundreds and then thousands of eager gold seekers arrived in the Mother Lode country that was home Some of the most southerly Washoe families came down the to the Miwok. The Washoe were not so directly affected; Stanislaus River as far as the Calaveras Big Trees area. because they were relatively mobile, they could stay out of the gold region and minimize their contact with the aggressive, Treaties were made between the Washoe and the Miwok each year in order to avoid disputes about fishing rights and often violent miners. But the Miwok found themselves other territorial matters. Once these arrangements were dispossessed. Their traditional home sites were taken over by the “forty-niners,” and their highly-prized fishery resources completed, the two peoples were able to live near each other on a generally friendly basis. The Washoe families were spoiled. Salmon and steelhead trout could not survive in 46

the heavily mined silt-laden streams, and deer and other game were killed or chased out of the country by new hunters using more efficient and powerful weapons.

language and thought of the time, the Miwok were “just digger Indians,” a form of life that was “lower than the lowest animal,” entirely devoid of dignity and incapable of genuine human emotion. It is surprising that any of the Miwok survived the physical and spiritual abuse heaped on them during and after the gold rush. But some did survive, and today there are a good many people, some of them in the Murphys and Calaveras Big Trees region, who are of Miwok ancestry. As recently as the 1920s there was still a Miwok settlement or “rancheria” on the ridge just north of Murphys that was architecturally and, in other limited ways, an oldstyle, traditional Miwok village.

At first some Miwok tried to work with or for the miners and thus overcome the loss of other, older advantages. Just how well this arrangement worked for the Indians can be characterized by a brief review of the Murphy brothers’ activities in and around what came to be known as the town of Murphys, just a few miles west of the giant sequoias of Calaveras. The Murphy brothers arrived in the area in 1848 and, in 1849, John Murphy set up a trading tent and managed to get a great many local Indians to work for him. His friendly relations with these Indians is said to have resulted partly from the fact that he married “the daughter of the chief” (Pokela). In any case, it is definitely known that from 1848 to 1850 many Indian men worked the rich gravel around Murphys Flat, dutifully exchanging gold dust for goods at John Murphy’s makeshift trading post. It is said that by this means Murphy accumulated something on the order of $1.5 million in gold dust and, that when he left Murphys in the fall of 1850, he possessed more gold than any other man in California at the time. Six mules were required to haul away his seventeen “hides” or leather pouches full of gold dust. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how Murphy’s business activities benefited the Indians, whose trust and respect he obviously enjoyed. Some idea of Murphy’s trading technique is given by the often-repeated story that he once gave a blanket to an Indian in exchange for a five-pound lump of gold.

During the Gold Rush period, the Washoe Indians were also having trouble with immigrants, some of whom were settling in western Nevada and the Lake Tahoe Basin. The Washoe’s simple, sometimes severely practical, relatively mobile way of life, however, made it possible for them to avoid conflict with the settlers, and gave them time to adjust somewhat to the new order of things. It is not surprising, therefore, that it was a family of Washoe Indians who made themselves part of the summer hotel activities at the North Grove. From the time the hotel opened in the 1850s until 1934, succeeding generations of this Washoe family (the Arnots) summered in the vicinity of the Mammoth Grove Hotel, where the men found hunting and odd jobs to do, and the women sold their handwoven baskets and demonstrated weaving or arrowmaking skills to the delight of hotel guests. Discovering

But though John Murphy was capable of making sharp deals with the Indians, he does not seem to have indulged in the kind of cold-blooded, pointless murder of Indians that for a time became commonplace in the gold fields. In the popular


Big Trees — Again

During the 1830s and 1840s a number of American hunters, explorers and immigrants began to cross the Sierra Nevada. We will never know how many of these people may have 47


Conditions became so desperate that the men were forced to kill and eat a number of their own horses. Nevertheless, one man, Zenas Leonard, managed to keep a journal and, several years later in 1839, wrote a little book in which he stated that the expedition had “found some trees of the Redwood species, incredibly large — some of which would measure sixteen to eighteen fathoms around the trunk at the height of a man’s head from the ground.” But the book remained so obscure that the reference to redwoods apparently did not stir even the professional curiosity of botanists, much less the interest of the general public. In later years, students of Sierra Nevada history have deduced that Leonard and the rest of the Walker party must have passed through either the Merced or the Tuolumne grove of giant sequoias.

seen giant sequoias while crossing the mountains. We do know that many of the earliest self-proclaimed giant sequoia “discoverers” were so preoccupied with other problems such as their own survival or the all-consuming search for gold, that they were either uninterested in the giant trees or unable to persuade others that such large trees could exist outside the human imagination. One early discovery, very likely the earliest by a member of Western civilization, came in October 1833, when a detachment of Captain Bonneville’s fur trapping and exploring expedition crossed over the Sierra Nevada into what was then the Mexican province of Alta California. The detachment of 40 men was led by the veteran frontiersman Joseph Walker, and was well-armed, well-mounted, and generously provisioned. In order to get across the Nevada desert and through the early snows of the Sierra Nevada, however, they had pushed themselves and their horses to the limit of endurance. As they fought their way down through the snowcovered forests of the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, they were on the verge of starvation and had no clear idea about how much farther they had to go in order to reach the gentle, game-filled central valley of California.

Other groups or individuals may also have seen some giant sequoias during the next 10 or 15 years, but no one announced his discovery effectively or even recorded the event in any reliable way. Later, after the trees had become world famous, many men, including John Bidwell, claimed that they “discovered” the giant sequoias, but none of the claims predates that of Zenas Leonard, the Walker party’s unpretentious and unofficial journalist. 48

With the opening of the gold rush in early 1848, a great many men from many parts of the world began to travel in the Sierra Nevada, but several factors still kept the world from hearing about giant sequoias for another four years. The most dominant of these factors was the single-minded haste involved in the rush for gold. Men were in a hurry to make —  home to their strike, get rich quick, and get out again  friends and family, complete with newfound wealth, stories of adventure and, if possible, a whole skin. The stories of most interest to “forty-niners” were stories about new gold strikes, new prospects, or any of those many related schemes whereby a more or less honest man might hope to make a fortune overnight. A prospective “forty-niner” might be willing to hear about some of the difficulties to be expected along the way. But in any case, stories about “big trees” were irrelevant.

laughed at or solemnly heard and then topped by something even more unlikely. One case of this kind occurred in October 1849 when four men, including James Burney, the first sheriff of Mariposa County, stumbled upon a grove of giant sequoias (probably the Tuolumne or Merced Grove) while pursuing some livestock that had been stolen by Indians. They stopped for a close look at the trees they had “discovered” and even took time to measure some of the largest ones. But when they returned to Mariposa and told their friends about the gigantic trees, they were immediately suspected of trying to match some “big yarns” that had been circulated a few weeks earlier among the same group of men. After being joshed about his part in the big tree story, Sheriff Burney swore that it was all true but vowed never to mention the trees again because he found it unpleasant “to be considered an habitual joker, or something worse.”

Those few visitors to the mountains who saw big trees and then tried to tell others were generally disbelieved, for this was the heyday of the “tall tale.” The actual facts of the early gold rush were often hard enough to believe, but stories were continually being invented that went beyond the facts in order to explore the limits of human credibility. Among other things, the truly inspired liars of the time spoke of a great “mother-lode,” a solid core of gold that was the source of all those insignificant surface traces that had been found until then. The skillful telling of fantastic stories became a well-established campfire activity, an important sport of the time. The trick was to tell your story convincingly, to sell your audience on believing some outrageous piece of nonsense, and then either expose their foolish gullibility then and there, or wait and see how long it would take them to come to their senses. Because this kind of entertainment was so popular at the time, more than one “big tree discovery” story was either

Another well-documented case took place a few months later in June 1850 when John Marshall Wooster and several companions set out to discover the location of a mysterious prospector’s supposedly rich gold strike. The prospector was locally famous for his free spending habits in the town of Volcano and for his secretive activity in the mountains to the east. So little did this man tell anyone about himself that even his name, Whitehead, was simply a local invention based on his white hair. Whenever Whitehead ventured into town to obtain provisions, he was careful to elude pursuers on his departure. On one occasion, having completed his business in town, he gave a party complete with free drinks for everyone in the vicinity. Once the festivities were in full swing, Whitehead


excused himself and quietly slipped away. Those who were sober enough to notice his departure were subsequently thrown off the trail by various tricks of woodcraft at which Whitehead was apparently a master. Wooster himself was left behind in Volcano, but a number of his friends who were camping on the edge of town were able to pick up the trail of Whitehead’s party and follow it into the mountains. They followed this trail through what is now the town of West Point and then on to the south and east. When Wooster returned to camp he found his friends gone and, knowing that they were short on provisions, he immediately set out with another friend to follow the obvious trail they had left. “On the evening of the second day,” Wooster later wrote, “we camped in a little valley under the ridge upon which Sperry’s Hotel (close beside the Calaveras North Grove) was erected later.” That evening when he went out to shoot squirrels for camp meat, he suddenly found himself staring at the giant sequoias. Hurrying back to camp he told his friend he had seen trees that were “forty feet in diameter.” The next morning the two men went back for another look at the trees and spent some time measuring them and carving their names into the charred base of one that was exceptionally large.

Undoubtedly, other men also came across giant sequoias in the weeks and months that followed, but nearly two more years would go by before the world would be ready to listen to anyone’s story about big trees. Ironically, when the world was finally ready to listen, the “discovery” story would once again involve a hunter accidentally “discovering” the same grove of trees, the Calaveras North Grove. “Old Dowd”


Bear Hunter

Augustus T. Dowd was a seafaring man from Connecticut who jumped ship in San Francisco harbor during the summer of 1848 and subsequently adopted the role of frontiersman and backwoods hunter. In this new role, Dowd soon acquired a reputation for honesty and reliability, though he was at the same time considered a colorful character even by gold rush standards. He wore his curly blonde hair in what came to be known as “Buffalo Bill style.” He wore buckskin clothing in the manner of a frontier hunter, scout or mountain man. His feeling for the backwoods and wilderness and his proven competence as a hunter made him well-known and respected in and around the Murphys Flat area throughout the 1850s. He was especially well remembered as the man who, during the summer of 1851, had tangled with a grizzly bear and managed to kill it using no weapons other than his hands and a hunting knife. Though he lost three fingers in the fight, he nevertheless retained his enthusiasm for hunting in general and for grizzly bear pelts in particular.

The details of their remarkable discovery were recorded in the diary that Wooster was keeping. “With my hatchet I chopped my name in a crevice on one of the Big Trees, June 2, 1850.” Later that day Wooster’s friends showed up on their way back to camp after giving up Whitehead’s trail, and all of the men paused for a look at the giant sequoias. And yet again, despite the number of witnesses, the Big Trees remained a secret for the story Wooster and his companions told was generally disbelieved, just as Sheriff Burney’s story had been “seen through” and scoffed at.

In the spring of 1852, Dowd was working for Captain W. H. Hanford of the Union Water Company. His job was to supply venison and other fresh meat to the construction crews working in the mountains above Murphys. These men were building a fifteen-mile-long system of canals, ditches and


flumes that would bring a new supply of water to the valuable but dry gravel beds around Murphys.

their next day off and spend it with Dowd in the mountains. Their decision is clear evidence that conditions had changed drastically since the earliest days of the gold rush. These men were not totally preoccupied with the day-to-day prospect of instant wealth. They were wage-earning employees of a large, well-capitalized construction company. They could “afford” to take a day off from their labors, and they were willing to think about something other than gold.

One day when Dowd was in the midst of pursuing a wounded grizzly bear, he found himself staring at a tree so large, that for a moment, he did not believe his own eyes. By all accounts, Dowd was so impressed with the tree that he allowed the bear to escape while he verified his first impression, and then went on to explore the entire grove.

Dowd estimated the trees were about 20 miles from Murphys, so the group decided to get an early start. They mounted horses and mules and carried provisions enough to stay out overnight. Several hours after the noontime break for lunch, Dowd began to think that he had somehow missed the grove. But then, toward the end of the afternoon, one of the men climbed a tall pine tree and spotted some unusually tall, round-topped trees in a little valley back down to the west below the ridge they had been following. The men remounted their tired animals, and Dowd soon led them into the grove, where they spent the rest of the daylight hours in excited exploration. That night they picketed their animals in the “fine grassy meadow” below the grove and set up camp among the big trees, “beneath the one around which Mr. Dow [sic] had put his string.”

On the following Saturday evening, Dowd tried to tell some of his suppertime companions about the big trees. According to John DeLaittre, who was there at the time, Dowd “told such wonderful stories about them [the trees] that the men were inclined to laugh and make fun of him.” Dowd, however, was equal to this challenge and insisted that the trees were every bit as big as he had described them. To prove his point, he said that he would take a piece of string with him on his next hunting expedition, find the grove again, put the string around one of the largest trees, and let the men “see” for themselves. At supper a week later, good as his word, Dowd produced the piece of string that he said he had put around his discovery tree “as high up as he could reach.” When the men measured it, they found it was a little over 100 feet in length. Incredible! Fantastic! But, of course, as someone quickly pointed out, Dowd could have put the string around a log cabin and come up with the same measurement.

The next day, after some further exploration in the grove, the men returned to Murphys and began to tell others about the big trees. Soon various newspapers, including those of Stockton and San Francisco, heard the story and sent reporters to investigate. Still there were many doubters. The story had a kind of “believe it or not” quality that almost automatically made it suspect. Within six months, the big trees discovery story had gone out around the world, but many who read or heard the story insisted that the thing was unbelievable and obvious nonsense.

To end the controversy, Dowd offered to act as guide for a party of men if they wanted to see the big trees for themselves. The proposal met with considerable interest, especially among the employees of the lumber mill where John DeLaittre was then working. Soon afterward a group of men agreed to take




Big Trees

to the

They selected the same tree that Dowd had put his string around. A crew of five men was hired and soon set to work. First they cut 50 feet of bark off the tree in ten-foot-high sections. Then they started to cut it down. But since they were mining men, familiar with mining tools and full of ingenuity, they chose not to saw or chop the giant down. Instead they took pump augers, approximately three-inch diameter drills used for making hollow wooden pipes or flumes, and welded long extensions onto them. Using these strange weapons they drilled holes into the center of the tree from all sides.


During the summer of 1852, a small stream of visitors found their way over the rough trail that soon came into existence between Murphys and the big trees. Local commercial interest in the trees, however, was delayed until after the Union Water Company’s water supply system was completed. The importance of this project can be seen by the fact that upon its completion in January 1853, hundreds of miners in the Murphys area were able to proceed with long-delayed mining projects, and the town entered a new era of solid prosperity that lasted for a full 10 years.

Although the process was probably not a very efficient way to cut the tree down, it was first-rate from a publicity point of view. Newspapers across the nation and in England carried the story and it made very satisfactory copy, just the sort of larger-than-life saga of frontiersmanship that people had come to expect from California.

Once the canal was completed, attention was again turned to the trees and, before long, a number of local businessmen hit upon a fantastic scheme to exploit the trees for profit. As it turned out, the scheme was neither profitable nor popular, but it did result in worldwide publicity for the giant sequoias of Calaveras County and established the North Grove as one of California’s most important tourist attractions.

Once the holes were drilled, the tree might have been expected to fall over, but it didn’t. It was so symmetrical, so well-balanced, that it continued to stand upright and gave no sign of weakening. Saws were used to cut as much as possible of the wood that remained between the drill holes. But still the tree remained standing. Wedges were driven into the cuts and drill holes. One story has it that this kind of work went on for two-and-one-half days until, when the men were eating lunch, a breeze came up and the tree went down at last with a crash that was heard for miles around.

It is said that A.T. Dowd would have nothing to do with the scheme. Another man (who claimed that it was all his idea in the first place) could not find a willing partner and, after his idea was “stolen,” could not find a bigger tree even though he traveled widely for several months. Nevertheless, despite these and other expressions of outrage, dismay and disgust, the project went forward: Captain W. H. Hanford, lately of the Union Water Company, joined with John Kimball and Ephraim Cutting, two of that company’s largest shareholders, and set about to cut down the largest giant sequoia they could find. The plan was to ship part of the tree to New York City and elsewhere for display.

Soon afterward, a section of the trunk and the ten-foot-high sections of bark, carefully marked for later reassembly, were crated, placed on wagons and hauled overland to Stockton. From there they were sent by river steamer to San Francisco where a brief, but apparently successful showing was arranged. The bark sections were re-assembled to form a “spacious


carpeted room,” which the exhibitors showed off to advantage by a variety of means. At one point, the room was furnished with a piano and 40 chairs. At another time “140 children were admitted, without inconvenience.” At still another time “thirty-two couples waltzed within its colossal enclosure.” But the opportunity to make really big money with the exhibit lay in the East and in Europe, and so the bark and the cross-section of wood were packed up once again and put on a ship bound for New York City via Cape Horn. Early in 1854, Captain Hanford went to New York to make arrangements for the show but, at this point, the exhibit ran into trouble. In New York, the most celebrated showman of the time, P. T. Barnum, was then in the midst of a great struggle to save the Crystal Palace, New York City’s fabulous new — but highly controversial — exhibition hall. Many New Yorkers were calling the Palace a mistake, an extravagant misuse of public monies, a white elephant that would never pay for itself. Faced with stiff political opposition and mounting financial difficulty, Barnum had put his personal reputation squarely on the line and spent every available penny on an all-out effort to make the Crystal Palace a success. By the time Hanford and his giant sequoia exhibit arrived in New York, the Palace displays had been chosen and installed, and the city was saturated with announcements of the long-awaited grand opening. Hanford could not have chosen a worse moment to bring his exhibit into New York. Undaunted, however, he attempted to reach an agreement with Barnum about including the giant sequoia exhibit in the big show. When Barnum failed to show the


The Discovery Tree as sketched by Joseph Lapham, one of the first owners of the groves. Lithographed by Britton & Rey in San Francisco, the drawing was widely distributed by W. H. Hanford. 53

proper interest, Hanford was outraged and stubbornly decided to open a show of his own in direct competition with the Crystal Palace. Moving quickly, Hanford rented the “spacious Racket Court, adjoining the Metropolitan Hotel, on Broadway,” tore out two interior floors, and attempted to put on his own show in defiance of Barnum and all the odds. Countering this move, Barnum saw to it that newspaper stories were written and supplied to the press ridiculing and discrediting the giant sequoia exhibit. The result, as Hanford afterward told his friends in Murphys, was that few people bothered to visit the exhibit, and many who did pay to see it would come in, look around, and then remark “that it was impossible, that such a thing never grew, and that they were being humbugged.” The show was a total disaster financially, and it closed after a short run. Not long afterward, while awaiting shipment to Paris, the bark and the section of wood were destroyed by fire. Meanwhile, an even more ambitious show business enterprise was getting underway in the Calaveras North Grove. Another magnificent tree, one whose size and beauty had led men to call it the “Mother of the Forest,” was now having its bark stripped off in eight-foot sections all the way up to a height of 116 feet. A crew of men worked at this task for about 90 days throughout the summer of 1854 until they had some 60 tons of bark lying on the ground in carefully numbered eight-foot-high plates that were from one to nearly two feet in thickness. This work was accomplished in the face of continuing local and even international protest. It was called “vandalism” by some, a “botanical tragedy” by others. CSP

An article in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion for October 1853, expressed the feelings of many:


“Probably it will not be very long before our readers will be able to get a view of this monster of California’s woods for a trifling fee. In Europe such a natural production would have been cherished and protected, if necessary, by law; but in this money-making, go-ahead community, thirty or forty thousand dollars are paid for it and the purchaser chops it down and ships it off for a shilling show. In its natural condition, rearing its majestic head towards heaven, and waving in all its natural vigor, strength, and verdure, it was a sight worth a pilgrimage to see; but now alas, it is only a monument to the cupidity of those who have destroyed all there was of interest connected with it.” This piece was written in reaction to news of the destruction of Dowd’s “Discovery Tree,” but such sentiments only grew stronger when people learned that still another tree, a second giant sequoia, was being similarly attacked. Nevertheless, despite this strong and persistent undercurrent of bad feeling, the sections of bark followed the route taken by the first exhibit and finally arrived in New York City. But where Hanford had met disaster, George D. Trask, the new entrepreneur, met only with success. The Crystal Palace was under new management, and though still in deep trouble, was at least in a more opportune condition. The new manager was Horace Greeley, editor and publisher of the popular and highly successful New York Tribune. Greeley’s task, unlike Barnum’s the year before, was to find exciting new displays to replace those that were rapidly being lost by the Palace due to financial and other problems. Greeley decided that “The Tree Mastodon” from California was just the sort of thing he needed to give the Palace exhibits a massive and unique focal point. As a result, the bark exhibit was given a place of honor in the Palace, and all of the city’s newspapers carried somewhat

Far left: A page from W. H. Hanford’s brochure announcing his sequoia exhibit and describing the Mammoth Trees of Calaveras, 1854. Above: Scaffolding left from the removal of the bark on the Mother of the Forest in 1854. exaggerated but wonderful (paid) descriptions of the exhibit and the matchless tree that had produced it. The authenticity of the exhibit was guaranteed by sworn statements of men who were both well-known and of unquestionable integrity, men who had visited the Calaveras Grove and looked upon



the giant sequoias in their natural setting. Among other things, the promoters of the Crystal Palace exhibit also claimed that the “other tree,” the one that had been on exhibit a few months earlier, “was almost a pygmy in comparison with this mastodon.” On opening day, July 4, 1855, thousands of people crowded into the Crystal Palace to see the giant sequoia exhibit. They were not disappointed. Raised to its full height inside the spacious exhibit hall and surrounded by only slightly exaggerated descriptions of the “Mother of the Forest’s” size, height, and antiquity, the display was truly impressive. Continued advertising and rapidly spreading word-of-mouth recommendations resulted in large crowds day after day. The exhibit continued through the summer and was held over until October 1, 1855. For the first time, and at least for one season, the Crystal Palace was solvent and successful. Conservationists were still furious, but Greeley and Trask were basking in the warmth of popular acclaim. In October, Trask had the exhibit dismantled and shipped to England where it was scheduled to be shown in London’s more successful version of the Crystal Palace.

English Heritage. NMR

In England, as in the United States, the Crystal Palace venture had been highly controversial. Both houses of Parliament had heard bitter, outspoken statements to the effect that the Crystal Palace would be a financial, political, and aesthetic disaster. However, its supporters had managed to carry it through to completion and a successful opening. The venture had been the pet project of Queen Victoria’s German-born Left: Bark from Mother of the Forest on display in London’s Crystal Palace. Far right: The Mother of the Forest as it appeared after 1855. Saw and scaffolding marks are visible to this day. 56

husband, Prince Albert, and its immediate and overwhelming popularity upon its opening May 1, 1851, had redeemed Prince Albert’s public reputation and greatly pleased the Queen. However, when George Trask arrived in England toward the end of 1855, the Crystal Palace was in the process of being moved from Hyde Park, a site that many people felt was too precious to house any structure. Bit by bit, the Palace was being reconstructed, enlarged, and made into a permanent exhibition hall at Sydenham, England. As a result, the giant sequoia exhibit was only partially shown in two of London’s small, private galleries during 1856. At last, on April 10, 1857, the new Crystal Palace was opened and there, in the north end of the building, an eager public found the giant sequoia exhibit in all its glory. Twenty-seven thousand people were able to get in that first day, and it was estimated that an equal number were turned away for lack of room. Once again the giant sequoia exhibit was an overwhelming success. From that time until the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1866, tens of thousands of people were able to see the gigantic display and to sense, at least dimly, the serene inspirational quality of living giant sequoias. Bringing



to the

Big Trees



While exhibits of dead bark were receiving rave reviews in New York and London, a steadily increasing number of people were going to see the real thing in the only grove of giant sequoias then known to most people. Despite the poor roads and the short summer season, it became apparent that money could be made by providing tourist accommodations at the grove. Joseph M. Lapham and William W. “Billie” Lapham of Murphys had previously staked out 160-acre land claims in the vicinity of the Calaveras North Grove on July 19, 1853.

Primitive accommodations were apparently available that first summer with Billie Lapham and his wife Nancy acting as host and hostess. In October of 1853, Billie bought out his brother and made plans for more luxurious hotel-type accommodations. He was also involved in other ventures and always short of capital, but he and an assortment of partners did manage to make improvements each year. In July 1856, A. Smith Haynes became a full partner with Billie, and together they put up a new hotel building adjacent to the cottage known as the Haynes addition. At least part of the money to build this new hotel was borrowed from two extremely popular and successful local hotel men from the town of Murphys, John Perry and James L. Sperry. Doing business as “Sperry and Perry,” these men had built the very stylish and “fireproof” Murphys Hotel and staged a widely-advertised grand opening in August 1856. Sperry and Perry considered it good business to encourage the development of a summer hotel at Lapham’s “Big Tree Ranch” because almost everyone who was headed for the big trees had to pass through the busy and prosperous little town of Murphys. Many people who made this trip found the Sperry and Perry Hotel (now known as the Murphys Hotel) a convenient stopover point. But both Lapham and Haynes were continually over-extended financially and, during 1857, were unable to pay the taxes on their Big Trees property. As a result, the sheriff of Calaveras County put a lien on the property and, in order to settle the matter, held a public auction at which Dr. George Fischer of Mokelumne Hill acquired title to the 320 acres of land known as the “Big or Mammoth Trees Rancho or Grove.”



Far left: The Ayers lithograph of 1855 shows Lapham and Haynes “Big Tree Cottage” close beside the stump of the Discovery Tree. Photo courtesy of CSP. Right: Drawn in 1861 and published in 1862, Edward Vischer’s lithographs carried the image of the Calaveras Big Trees around the world.


­ y 1861 the Sperry and Perry Mammoth Grove Hotel, complete with the marble fountain and fenced greensward, had replaced B Lapham’s less imposing hostelry. Vischer, no doubt, felt the camels gave the scene a heightened aura of strangeness and romance. A string of Bactrian camels did actually pass through Calaveras Big Trees on their way to the Nevada desert in 1861.


particularly “The Stump House,” a round-topped pavilion that Sperry and Perry had constructed over the smoothedoff stump of Dowd’s “Discovery Tree.” This feature became almost as famous as the giant sequoias themselves, and continued to appear in encyclopedias and elementary school geography texts until the 1930s. Many of the guide books also contained a tour guide to the North Grove.

In November 1858, Nancy Lapham died; Billie left Calaveras County in favor of Lake Tahoe, where he subsequently played an important role in various hotel, fishery and commercial boating enterprises. At this time, Sperry and Perry, along with a third partner named Smith Mitchell, began to buy up and otherwise take control of the Big Trees property. Starting in 1859, Sperry and Perry managed the hotel themselves. They had plenty of time for it that first year because their hotel in Murphys was temporarily put out of business one Sunday in August 1859, when most of the town of Murphys burned to the ground. Apparently, a crack in the stone wall of the Murphys Hotel allowed the fire to enter the structure and destroy furnishings and other personal property that had been considered safe inside the “fireproof” building. Sperry and Perry were subsequently able to rebuild and improve the Murphys Hotel and continue developing the Big Trees property. In 1860 they began to buy up Smith Mitchell’s interest in the Big Trees property. Soon they had become the sole owners.

By this time all of the large giant sequoias in the North Grove and many of those in the South Grove had been given names — some of them based on mythology, some honoring the great men and women of the time. Marble tablets with those names carved into them were placed on the trees, and a path was laid out through the North Grove so that visitors could see the trees easily and conveniently, and at the same time avoid trampling the many colorful wildflowers that grew throughout the grove and whose delicacy and brief life spans further dramatized the majestic size and serenity of the giant sequoias. The hotel and the hospitality of its owners and operators were warmly praised by virtually everyone who visited the grove. Business at the hotel continued to be good throughout the early 1860s despite the great civil war that was then threatening the nation. Frederick F. Low, the governor of California, appointed Sperry to serve as Ordnance Officer on the staff of Brigadier General W. A. Davies, Commander of the Third Brigade of the California Militia. The appointment carried the rank of major, but there is no evidence that Sperry lost a significant amount of time from his business activities. After the Civil War, Sperry and Perry enlarged and improved the Mammoth Grove Hotel so that, by about 1867, it could accommodate 75 guests. This made it one of the largest, as well as one of the most famous, “resort hotels” in California. The veranda across the entire front of the building faced out

At about this time, a number of travel or tourist-oriented publications began to feature the “Mammoth Tree Hotel” and its adjoining grove of giant sequoias. The lithographs and written descriptions of Edward Vischer carried the image of the Mammoth Tree Grove and Hotel to a wide audience in both the United States and Europe. In 1859, N. P. Willis wrote a story for Hutchings’ California Magazine entitled “Mammoth Trees of California.” Willis gave considerable attention to that colorful frontiersman and fearless bear hunter who had “discovered” the giant sequoias. Soon the story was included in James Mason Hutchings’ extremely popular travel books, Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California, In the Heart of the Sierras, and other publications. Many of these included pictures of the trees, the hotel, and


over a carefully tended greensward complete with picket fence, flowers and decorative marble fountain. Coaches arrived and departed daily from the hotel. A telegraph line kept visitors in touch with the outside world, and improved roads and rail service continually brought the big trees closer to Stockton, Sacramento and the international port city of San Francisco. The guest registers both at the Mammoth Grove Hotel and the Murphys Hotel began to record the visits of famous men and women from throughout the world.

it possible to eloquently and impressively pay homage to great accomplishment on behalf of mankind’s highest and most noble aspirations. Partnership Problems

Prospects were brighter than ever at the Mammoth Grove Hotel as the decade of the 1870s began. A new law intended to raise money for the University of California made it possible for Sperry and Perry to add 560 acres of land to their holdings in the area of the North Grove at a cost of five dollars per acre. Shortly afterward, at just $1.25 per acre, they acquired 800 acres in the South Grove under the State’s program to sell public land as a way of raising money for the development and support of public schools. This brought the Sperry and Perry holdings in and near the big trees to some two thousand acres.

Many of the giant sequoias in the Calaveras groves were renamed after the Civil War in honor of individuals who had played important roles in the war. Thus the names of Abraham Lincoln, General Phil Sheridan and many other less wellknown Civil War figures came to stand alongside the names of world famous scientists such as Torrey and Gray, Humboldt and Agassiz, and alongside Aglia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, the Three Graces of Greek mythology. Other trees were named George Washington, Florence Nightingale, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay to honor individuals from various fields of human endeavor.

Then in the year 1874, a long sequence of legal difficulties was introduced by the sudden death of John Perry. James Sperry arranged a very generous settlement in behalf of his partner’s widow, Eliza Perry, a settlement made possible by Sperry’s entry into partnership with Eugene Elias Malbec de Montjoc, the Marquis de Briges, and his wife, the Marchioness Marie Rosario Barsena. The Marquis and his wife were from Paris, but were residing in Murphys at the time and were extremely enthusiastic about the Big Trees property. The bright promise of this new partnership ended abruptly, however, when Sperry and the Marquis found it impossible to work together. The Marquis felt that some of the hotel’s longtime employees did not pay proper respect to him. He said they were “insubordinate” and “incompetent” and, accordingly, he fired them. Sperry claimed, on the other hand, that the Marquis had agreed not to interfere in the day-to-day management of the hotel. Matters quickly went from bad to worse, and within the year Sperry took legal steps to dissolve the partnership.

Many people objected to the marble plaques and to the idea of placing the names of “mere men” upon the great and abiding giants of the Calaveras groves. But it must be said that the names did make it easier to refer to specific trees, and to call attention to special characteristics of individual trees, or relationships among them. Moreover, a tour through the groves could become a lesson in history, science, public affairs or the liberal arts. At least for some visitors, the names heightened and gave human focus to the groves’ natural atmosphere of dignity and solemnity. The gigantic old trees and the cathedral quiet of the groves were impressive in themselves, but they also made



Visitors to the North Grove passed between the Sentinels (also known as the Guardians), went by the bowling alley built atop the upper portion of the Discovery Tree, and passed the great stump and the pavillion on their way to the Mammoth Grove Hotel, seen here in the background.



The Sentinels. Severely burned and undermined by Big Trees Creek, the Sentinel at right began to lean more and more sharply — and finally fell on Thanksgiving Day 1919.


too clinical — a bit out of touch with the emotional realities of wilderness — he nevertheless was deeply impressed by Gray. In fact, Gray persuaded Muir to undertake some botanical explorations that might possibly throw new light on the interrelationship of giant sequoias and glacial activity.

The Marquis was willing to see the partnership ended, but he did not want to give up the big trees. They were, he said, “among the wonders of California.” To him and his wife, “the property has a value beyond its value in the market. It is like an heirloom, or an old picture, or a beautiful gem.” They simply did not want to part with the property at any price, and preferred instead to see it divided, with each partner keeping one of the giant sequoia groves. Since Sperry felt this was not economically practical, he insisted that the property be sold off as a whole and that the proceeds be divided among the partners.

Muir traveled extensively in the Sierra Nevada, observing how the giant sequoia groves were separated from one another and what conditions prevailed in each site. A year earlier he had begun to write a series of articles for various magazines and newspapers, including some as far distant as the New York Tribune. Now these articles began to be filled with descriptions of what was happening to the giant sequoias as logging, grazing, and other commercial interests began to move into the forests of the Sierra Nevada.

In 1875 and 1876, while the lawsuit was proceeding, the Mammoth Grove Hotel was managed by a court-appointed receiver, a Murphys man by the name of Council Goodell. Under his competent and genial management, the hotel was once again a happy and serene place to visit. Throughout this time, the famous groves of giant sequoias were again receiving considerable public attention as a result of scientific reports that were then being published. John Muir

and the

“Last summer,” he wrote in 1875, “I found some five saw mills located on or near the lower edge of the sequoia belt, all of which saw more or less of the big tree into lumber. One of these (Hyde’s), situated on the north fork of the Kaweah, cut no less than two million feet of sequoia lumber last season. Most of the Fresno big trees are doomed to feed the mills recently erected near them, and a company has been formed by Charles Converse to cut the noble forest on the south fork of the King’s River.”

Big Trees

In 1872, Asa Gray, the distinguished botanist from Harvard, delivered his long-awaited, much-publicized lecture about Sequoia history to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Just prior to the speech he traveled across the country in order to visit the Mariposa and Calaveras Groves. One of the people Gray met on this trip was John Muir, whose extensive field observations of natural history matters in general, and glaciation in particular, made him an excellent guide and companion. Gray’s work at Harvard had never permitted him much time away from the laboratory and lecture hall. Although Muir found the old professor a bit

In August 1876, Muir sent an article on “The Postglacial History of Sequoia Gigantea” to be read at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York. His paper was clearly an outgrowth of his conversations with Asa Gray four years earlier. In the paper, Muir developed the theory, still accepted in part, that glaciers and related cold air masses moving down the great canyons of the west slope of the Sierra, had destroyed the continuity of



In July 1876, a very simple, charming little article by John Muir appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin calling attention to the many attractions of the North Grove at Calaveras and reminding people that the grove was now easily accessible by train and coach. “To the free mountaineer all the woods are accessible alike from the firs that girdle icy Shasta to the giant forests of the Tule, but the feeble or the timebound must follow ways and means, and I know of none better than those of Calaveras. The Big Tree Hotel is located on the very edge of a flowery glade in the very heart of the woods, forming a fine center for the student, and delicious resting place for the weary.”

the giant sequoia belt and so drastically changed the landscape that the giant sequoias could not bridge the gaps. The great trees existed now only in certain favored places where topographical and other factors had protected them from the full impact of the massive mer de glace, the sea of ice that had once capped the entire mountain range.

With promotion like this, and with a new element of urgency in the minds of giant sequoia enthusiasts, the Calaveras Grove continued to attract visitors and the Mammoth Grove Hotel continued to prosper despite the long, drawn out, and sometimes bitter legal dispute between Sperry and the Marquis de Briges. Calaveras Big Trees Sold


Public Auction

In August 1877, the suit between Sperry and the Marquis was finally decided in favor of James L. Sperry, and an order to sell the property was issued by the circuit court. The Marquis appealed this decision on the basis that this was an improper way to dissolve the partnership. Meanwhile, he also posted a bond and obtained a restraining order that kept the sale from proceeding until the appeal hearing could be held and a decision reached. The appeal was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the decision again favored Sperry. Finally, in December 1877, the circuit court set a date for the Big Trees property to be sold at public auction.

Muir’s paper ended with a reminder that although giant sequoia, “The Forest King, had survived the ice age and might live gloriously on in Nature’s keeping, it is rapidly vanishing before the fire and steel of man; and unless protective measures be speedily invented and applied, in a few decades at the farthest, all that will be left of Sequoia gigantea will be a few hacked and scarred monuments.”



Far left: The brass band from Murphys atop the Father of the Forest. Seated figure in foreground appears to be John Muir. Above: The Mammoth Grove Hotel as it appeared in its heyday during the 1870s. The old wooden building was destroyed by fire in August 1943. When John Muir and a number of University of California faculty members heard of the impending sale, they made a strong appeal to various state legislators to have the State of California acquire the property and make it a state park so that it would be permanently protected from logging or any other form of inappropriate commercial exploitation. Joseph LeConte, John Swett, and a number of other well-known university professors joined Muir in trying to persuade the legislature to act, and it should be noted that if their recommendation had been followed, long years of painful

anxiety and hard work by countless citizens would have been avoided, and several million dollars of State money would have been saved. Sufficient support could not be generated within the legislature at the time, however, and at noon on the fifteenth day of February 1878, just as advertised, the public auction was held on the front steps of the county court house in San Andreas. The successful bidder was James L. Sperry’s brother, S. W. Sperry, of the Sperry Flour Company in Stockton. His bid


for the whole property, including the famous and still popular hotel, was $15,000. A few months later, on July 23, 1878, the entire property was reconveyed to James L. Sperry. Decline

of the

Mammoth Grove Hotel


During the 1880s and 1890s, the giant sequoias of Calaveras along with Sperry’s Mammoth Grove Hotel, began a slow and, at first, imperceptible slide from the public eye. Other giant sequoia groves, particularly the Mariposa Grove, were beginning to attract more and more attention, partly because some of them could be visited on the way to the ever-morefamous and popular Yosemite Valley. After 1880 the most important travel guides mentioned Calaveras Big Trees only as an interesting side trip on the way to Yosemite. Reinforcing this trend was the fact that access to Yosemite was continually being improved. In 1871, when Calaveras Big Trees still held center stage, it was possible to go by rail via Stockton to the little foothill town of Milton. Travelers then transferred to T. J. Matteson’s Stageline for the 44-mile trip to the Big Trees. At that time the only access to Yosemite was a trail suitable for walking or, at most, for mules or other pack animals. In 1874, however, a wagon road was put through to Yosemite, and thereafter access was continually improved until, by 1907, it became possible to go from Merced to El Portal by means of the steam-powered trains of the Yosemite Valley Railroad.


In 1880 the governor of California appointed James Sperry to a seat on the commission that administered Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove. Thus, even Sperry’s attention seemed to be shifting to the more diverse and spectacular attractions of Yosemite.

Top: The Hotel as seen from inside the North Grove. Above: Nine men and a boy reach almost half way around a giant sequoia. 68

Another factor in the gradual shift of attention away from Calaveras Big Trees was the continuing battle by conservationists to give permanent protection to giant sequoia forests of the southern Sierra Nevada. John Muir was one of the leading spokesmen in this crusade against unregulated grazing, logging, and use of fire in the forests and, as time went on, an ever larger and more diverse coalition of interests began to form on behalf of forest preservation. As Muir so eloquently pointed out, the forest of the Sierra Nevada was the “mother of the fountain,” the single most important factor affecting the San Joaquin Valley’s water supplies. And since the great valley was then supplying a large part of the world’s wheat and other grain products, the permanent well-being of the Sierra Nevada forest was crucial to countless people, not only in California but all over North America and Europe. The economic implications were immense and, during the 1880s as those and other factors gradually became better known, public pressure for adequate forest protection measures became irresistible.

and lasting protection to several giant sequoia areas. Later these parks were both enlarged, and the General Grant area was incorporated into the much larger Kings Canyon National Park. At Yosemite, the same kind of protection was provided by the establishment of a national park surrounding the valley and the relatively small state park that the federal government had established and ceded to the State of California in 1864. (In 1906, John Muir and William E. Colby of the Sierra Club led a successful campaign to have Yosemite Valley returned to federal ownership so that it might be more carefully protected than was then possible under State control.) These measures were all great victories for conservationists of the time and did give some degree of protection to about 50 percent of the surviving giant sequoias. Nevertheless, logging continued to take a heavy toll of giant sequoias that were outside the national parks. Nor did Congress take any steps toward protecting the Calaveras Big Trees. They were, after all, in the good and trusted hands of James L. Sperry and were not apparently threatened. Sperry, however, was nearing the end of his active business career and, as of 1890, was searching for a suitable buyer for the Calaveras Big Trees property. It was his hope that the property could be purchased by the government and used as either a state or national park. In 1892, a report by the State forester pointed out that a logging syndicate was buying up land in the area of the Calaveras Groves, and that Sperry “would sell to the State under guarantee of preservation for much less than he would expect to realize from the sale to a lumber company.” Sperry’s hopes did not result in immediate governmental action. Perhaps the timing was wrong. The attention of conservationists was focused on big, even spectacular, forest preservation

In 1890, federal legislation was devised by Congress and signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison providing for the creation of forest preserves wherever arid conditions made watershed protection especially important. During the next few years, vast areas of publicly owned forest lands throughout the western states were included in the preserves. Logging, grazing and other activities were still possible within these preserves, but a government permit was required. The government thus had an opportunity to regulate the ways in which these public lands could be used. At the same time, certain forest areas were to be protected from all exploitation. In the Sierra Nevada, for instance, both Sequoia and General Grant National Parks were created in order to give complete


All photos this page: CSP

Clockwise from far left: The Smith Cabin Tree as of 1908; the great fire-scarred base of the Pioneer’s Cabin Tree was hollowed out during the 1880s to keep pace with the smaller but better-advertised Wawona Tree on the road to Yosemite; James L. Sperry.


agreement because he looked upon the Mammoth Grove Hotel as a suitable business situation for certain members of his family. On January 1, 1900, an agreement was signed. Whiteside would pay $100,000 for the hotel and some 2,320 acres of land, provided that lumber surveys and title considerations could be verified and assured. A sizeable deposit bound both men to the terms of their agreement until April 1, 1900.

accomplishments then occurring in the Sequoia, General Grant, and Yosemite National Park areas, where private property did not need to be acquired in order to establish national forests and parks. Thus, despite Sperry’s willingness to sell his property at a bargain price, and despite numerous attempts to interest representatives of both state and national government, the matter continued to drift along without resolution until the fall of 1899. Then, aging and in poor health, Sperry arranged to sell his property to Robert P. Whiteside, a lumberman from Duluth, Minnesota, who had already purchased several thousand acres of forestland in the vicinity of the Calaveras Groves. It is said that the two men had a gentlemen’s agreement that Whiteside would not cut down any of the giant sequoias in either the North or South Groves. Whiteside is likely to have been quite comfortable with such an

A few days later, when private citizens began to learn that the Calaveras Groves were to be sold to a “lumberman,” there was a great public outcry, and a campaign was started to establish a state or national park that would protect the Calaveras Groves. The campaign would go on through thick and thin for more than 50 years. Long before it was over, few would remember when and how it had begun, or how many individuals had participated in the great struggle.


Part III

The Movement to Preserve the Calaveras Groves The First Campaign, 1900 - 1912

On January 5, 1900, word of the Sperry-Whiteside agreement reached P. A. Buell, who was then president of the San Joaquin Valley Commercial Association. He called a meeting of his organization for the next day and got things rolling immediately. A committee was appointed to gather more detailed information about the impending sale, and a resolution was passed calling upon the United States Congress to establish a Calaveras Big Trees National Park. Letters advising of this action and calling for support were sent to the Sierra Club and other organizations that seemed likely to help. Notice of the Sperry-Whiteside transaction appeared in the San Francisco newspapers on January 12, and shortly afterward newspapers throughout the State began to report the rapidly developing story. Speaking before a large audience on January 22, the president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, made a very dramatic and impassioned appeal for the preservation of forests and for Calaveras Big Trees in particular. He described the area of the North and South Groves as “the noblest forest in the world,” declaring that it was “more the duty of the nation to preserve its forests than to foster commerce.”


Mr. and Mrs. C. M. Goethe in the South Grove, 1952. Ponderosa and sugar pine are ready-marked for cutting.


After the speech, a number of organizations began to work on petitions asking congressional leaders for federal intervention on behalf of the Calaveras Big Trees. The women of the California Club were particularly busy and effective in this way. They obtained thousands of signatures on petitions and launched an active letter-writing and personal contact campaign. Their activities, including numerous interviews with public officials, were amply reported by the newspapers of the time. Then, still moving with admirable dispatch and directness, a delegation of club members left for Washington, D.C., to meet personally with congressmen and other officials in a position to help save the trees.

Both images: CSP

John Muir was astounded by the amount of public interest shown in the Calaveras Big Trees. He pointed out that “probably more than three times as many sequoias as are contained in the whole Calaveras Grove have been cut into lumber every year for the last twenty-six years without let or hindrance, and with scarce a word of protest on the part of the public. While at the first whisper of the bonding of the Calaveras Grove to lumbermen, most everyone rose in alarm. This righteous and lively indignation on the part of Californians after the long period of death-like apathy in which they had witnessed the destruction of other groves unmoved, seemed strange. The rapid growth of public opinion for saving the Big Trees is reflective of the peculiar interest attached to the Calaveras giants. They were the first discovered and are the best known. Thousands of travelers from every country have come to pay them tribute of admiration and praise. Their reputation is world-wide and the names of great men have long been associated with them: Humboldt, Torrey, and Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and others. These kings of the forest, the noblest of a noble race, rightly


belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape the responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately, the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it.”

title to the property passed into Whiteside’s hands. When contacted by the Secretary of the Interior’s office, he announced that he did not want to sell the property and would not willingly sell it for less than about one million dollars. The press and the public were outraged. This was ten times more than he had just paid for the property. Whiteside should be forced to sell his newly acquired property for something closer to its fair market value. Condemnation was the answer!

Other experienced observers of the time agreed with Muir that more public concern had been aroused by the sale of the Calaveras Big Trees than had ever been evident in any other forest protection issue in California history.

Whiteside’s resistance put the issue in a new light. Most congressmen were willing to go along with the California delegation and with the outspoken, hard-working women of the California Club, but condemnation of private property, the idea of forcing an unwilling owner to sell his property for park purposes, was an unprecedented step — one that some congressmen felt had vast, far-ranging economic implications for the entire nation. Suddenly the Calaveras Big Trees National Park legislation was in trouble. Most observers still agreed that President McKinley, and later, President Theodore Roosevelt, would sign the legislation if it reached the President’s desk. Most observers also agreed that the legislation would receive congressional approval if it ever came up for a vote. But time after time, the issue was bottled up in one committee or another and effectively killed. Weeks, months, and even years went by and still the debate continued. Different tactics were tried. One bill provided $200,000, double Whiteside’s original investment, as a generous upper limit for purchasing the Big Trees area. But, like all the others, this bill died in committee.

On February 12, 1900, a resolution was submitted to the Senate and the House of Representatives calling for the Secretary of the Interior to “open negotiations for, and if possible, procure a bond upon, the lands occupied by the North and South groves, with sufficient adjacent lands for their preservation, management, and control, and submit the same to Congress for action thereupon.” This resolution moved rapidly through various committees of both houses, was passed without a dissenting vote by the House on March 3 and, again without dissent, by the Senate on March 7. On March 8, it was signed by President William McKinley. The newspapers continued to report new developments. One writer expressed the feelings of many people when he said he hoped that Congress would decide to immediately buy up all “8,000 Whiteside acres, and thus expedite that capitalist’s return to Duluth, if such a thing is possible.” Meanwhile, Whiteside’s deposit continued to bind both men to the terms of their agreement and, on April 1, 1900, full legal

In 1923, Elmer Reynolds and a number of other Stockton area leaders launched a campaign to have the Calaveras Groves included in the National Park System. In March 1924, Stephen T. Mather, first director of the Park Service, visited both groves and came away convinced they should be publicly owned. Later he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Robert Whiteside to sell them to the federal government for park purposes. Photo courtesy of CSP. 75

In 1909 a new approach was taken. Legislation calling for establishment of Calaveras Big Tree National Forest was written, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Roosevelt. No appropriation was needed. The bill simply made it possible to exchange other national forest timber for the Calaveras Big Trees timber owned by Whiteside. Whiteside, however, was not very interested in other timber, and no reasonable exchange agreement could be worked out. In 1912, still another approach was proposed in a piece of legislation that would have made it possible for the state and federal governments to share equally the acquisition cost of the North and South Groves. This approach still did not get around the basic legislative problem, which was that certain crucial legislators continued to be unalterably opposed to using condemnation procedures for park acquisition purposes. As the years went by, it became obvious that there was no hope of establishing a national park at Calaveras as long as Whiteside would not willingly sell or trade his property. Twelve years of work by literally thousands of people had come to nothing. As a practical reality, the concept of a Calaveras Big Trees National Park was dead. The Second Campaign, 1926-1931

Suddenly, during the summer of 1926, the Calaveras Groves rushed back into focus as a public issue when it was learned that Whiteside was thinking about selling his property to the most active local lumber companies!

Both images: CSP

As early as 1870, the forest around Calaveras Big Trees had seen the activity of “shakemakers,” individuals or small independent companies who cut sugar pine and incense cedars and split them into shingles for roofing and siding material. But never had major logging operations been undertaken near the Big Trees. National alarm had been set off by Sperry’s sale to a lumberman, but for 26 years Whiteside had owned the groves without destroying them or even beginning to cut the surrounding forest of pines and firs. Now it looked as if time had at last run out. Top left: This cartoon appeared in the Oakland Tribune, the Stockton Record, and elsewhere in 1923. Left: Harriet West Jackson of Stockton was president of the new organization. Thomas F. Baxter, J. C. Sperry, and Désiré Fricot were vice presidents. Winfield Scott was secretary manager. 76

individuals and organizations was calling for the establishment of a comprehensive, statewide system of parks. One of the leading figures in the Save the Redwoods League at this time was James Clarence Sperry, the son of James L. Sperry, who had owned the Calaveras Groves for so long. J. C. Sperry had always regretted that his father had sold the Big Trees property, and now he persuaded the League and others to include the groves in their statewide park plans. When Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to do a statewide survey of park needs and opportunities, he wholeheartedly concurred with Sperry’s estimation of the Calaveras Groves. In his report, Olmsted gave the Calaveras area a high acquisition priority, stating that the North Grove should continue to be easily accessible while the relatively remote South Grove should be maintained as a wilderness area.

The W. R. Pickering Lumber Company was negotiating for some 12,000 Whiteside acres south of the Stanislaus River. This area included and surrounded the 1,300-acre South Grove. Both Pickering and the Standard Lumber Company were rumored to be interested in the 1,760 acres that Whiteside owned north of the Stanislaus, an area that included the North Grove as well as the Big Trees Hotel. Once again conservationists set aside their personal affairs in order to pursue the selfless task of “saving” the world-famous giant sequoia groves of Calaveras. The man who stepped forward to start this second major campaign was Désiré Fricot, a banker and businessman, then serving as president of the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, and widely known as a public-spirited citizen of the Calaveras area. Reacting swiftly and decisively, Fricot obtained an option to buy the 1,760 acres that Whiteside held north of the Stanislaus. The option was good for 90 days or until September 1, 1926. With option in hand, he set out to raise the money to buy the land outright. Once he or an appropriate organization could obtain legal title to the land, the plan was to turn around and sell to the state or national government. At the very least, they hoped to exercise the timber-trade provisions of the Calaveras Big Tree National Forest legislation that had long lain dormant. Either way, Fricot’s plan offered a direct and logical solution to a long unresolved problem. In the short time that was available to him, however, he found it difficult and finally impossible to raise the necessary capital. But even as he worked, an entirely new approach to the problem was evolving from another quarter.

On September 1, 1926, Fricot’s option on the North Grove ran out, but his efforts were not entirely in vain. The movement to establish a statewide system of parks had been given added momentum and was continuing to develop new and stronger support. Fricot and a number of other people, including representatives of the Save the Redwoods League, were able to persuade Whiteside not to sell the North Grove acreage immediately and to hold it instead for eventual purchase as a state park. At the same time a new organization was put together for the sole purpose of promoting state or national park status for the Calaveras Big Trees. The legal and operating framework of the new organization, the Calaveras Grove Association, was patterned after the Save the Redwoods League. The membership consisted primarily of civic leaders from Stockton and from Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties. The urgency of

With inspirational leadership from the Sierra Club and the Save the Redwoods League, a broad-based alliance of


the task that faced this group was dramatized early in September 1926, when Whiteside sold some 12,000 acres of timberland south of the Stanislaus, including the South Grove, to the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company. Unlike Whiteside, Pickering was actively engaged in logging off his forest holdings and was operating a large lumber mill near Sonora. When representatives of the Calaveras Grove Association met with Mr. Pickering, however, they were somewhat reassured

seemed extremely ominous to the public in general. More than one newspaper reported that the giant sequoias were about to be unceremoniously destroyed. According to The American Weekly, the nationally distributed and widely read magazine section of the New York American newspaper, the most important thing was “to have the lumbermen delay the cutting at South Grove” until some kind of park arrangement could be made. “Meanwhile,” the article claimed, the Pickering Lumber

Despite these reassurances and the hopeful optimism of the newly formed Calaveras Grove Association, the situation seemed extremely ominous to the public in general, and more than one newspaper reported that the giant sequoias were about to be unceremoniously destroyed. Company “is making its preparations for felling and cutting up the trees. Machinery is being hauled into the grove, and groups of surveyors are busy planning just how the work shall be approached. Quarters for the mechanics and axemen, and paths for hauling out the cut lumber are being constructed.”

by his attitude toward the South Grove. They described him as “a lover of trees, just like all the rest of us who have been most anxious to preserve the giant sequoias of South Grove and the other beautiful timber which offers a protecting fringe to the sequoias.” According to one Calaveras Grove Association spokesman, Pickering went so far as to express a “willingness and desire to cooperate with us (the Calaveras Grove Association) in bringing about the ends which we seek.” Many years later, a Pickering Corporation spokesman claimed that at about this time Pickering was seriously considering the idea of giving the South Grove to the state park system as a memorial to his mother.

Whether the threat to the South Grove was this extreme or not, there can be no doubt that widespread public concern for the Calaveras Groves was a strong factor in the movement not only to establish a state park at Calaveras, but to establish a statewide system of state parks. By 1928 this movement had broadened out to include many business and industrial interests. It was a strong, wellpublicized, extremely enthusiastic movement whose idealistic

Despite these reassurances and the hopeful optimism of the newly-formed Calaveras Grove Association, the situation



objectives had been clearly spelled out, refined, and placed on the ballot as a referendum issue. In November 1928, the people of the state voted overwhelmingly in favor of the state park concept, and for the six-million-dollar bond issue that would make park acquisition possible. After this was accomplished, the role of the Calaveras Grove Association shifted to the very different task of raising private funds to match state park bond funds as prescribed by the new law. That job did not seem overly difficult in 1928 when the state park legislation was approved. Following the stock market crash of October - November 1929, however, and still later as the Great Depression deepened and persisted, it became apparent that matching funds from private sources were going to be extremely difficult to find. In desperation, the Calaveras Grove Association decided to give up the South Grove and concentrate on acquiring the North Grove. But even after this heartbreaking decision, and even though Whiteside’s asking price for the North Grove had come tumbling down from its pre-depression heights, the Calaveras Grove Association was nearly overwhelmed by despair. Month after month went by and only minor progress could be made toward accumulating the necessary funds. To break this seeming stalemate, Whiteside put a time limit on his willingness to sell the North Grove to the State: March 15, 1931.

Manzanita is part of the rich and diverse plant community of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. however, matching funds for the Calaveras North Grove project were extremely difficult to locate. The March 15 deadline began to loom ominously on the horizon. At the last minute, the Calaveras Grove Association asked for and was granted a two-week extension and finally, on April 1, 1931, using a $7,000 loan from J. C. Sperry, the Association met its portion of Whiteside’s $235,000 asking price. On June 24, 1931, the State took title to 1,490 acres of Whiteside land in and around the North Grove, and at the same time acquired 461 acres from other owners, thus bringing the total

In 1929, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had given two million dollars to the Save the Redwoods League for its various redwood park projects. Half of this amount was an outright gift. The other half was to be used for matching purposes. This enabled the League to announce that every dollar given to it for park acquisition purposes would be matched by a dollar from the Rockefeller fund and by two dollars of State money. Even with this added support and encouragement,



acquisition to 1,951 acres for a total of $265,149.50. Half of the money came from the state park bond issue, and the remaining half was contributed by the Save the Redwoods League and the Calaveras Grove Association. The largest private donors were Rockefeller and Mrs. William H. Crocker. On July 5, 1931, Calaveras Big Trees State Park was ceremoniously dedicated to the long-term pleasure, inspiration and education of the people.

and around the South Grove. Based on the price paid for the North Grove, this area was worth $450,000, but Pickering was willing to donate $150,000 of the total value as a step toward raising the private funds needed to match state park bond funds. This would leave just $75,000 to come from other private sources to match a total of $225,000 of bond funds. Drury considered the offer and the general financial picture of the moment and concluded that it was impossible to proceed “both because of the condition of the state park bond fund, and because of the difficulty in raising private gifts.” By letter he explained his feelings and asked for advice from William E. Colby, Chairman of the State Park Commission, and also President of the Sierra Club. These two men were among the most active, creative and well-informed conservation leaders in the State, and they reluctantly agreed that the situation was hopeless. Colby penciled a note in answer to Drury’s letter, “Cannot see how we can finance this — much as we would like to.” It was a painful decision and, though it was undoubtedly correct, it would haunt many people in the years to come.

From the vantage point of history, it can be seen that Whiteside made a handsome profit by holding the grove for some thirty years. However, it is also apparent and ironic that he eventually sold the grove for a small fraction of the price he had insisted on between 1900 and 1912, when widespread public attention was focused on the desirability of establishing a national park at Calaveras. Now that the North Grove was in a state park, however, another painfully ironic situation began to develop with regard to the South Grove. Shortly after purchase of the North Grove, a representative of the Pickering Lumber Company contacted Newton B. Drury, who was then on leave from the Save the Redwoods League and acting as Land Acquisition Officer for the California Division of Beaches and Parks. Hard hit by the depression, W. R. Pickering was no longer able to consider donating the South Grove to the State, but the Pickering Lumber Company was willing, even eager, to sell the grove to the State for somewhat less than its full market value. There were indications that the company would settle for a net cash payment of $300,000 for 2,630 acres of forestland in

The Interim Years

The campaign to acquire the North Grove left the Calaveras Grove Association exhausted. Depressed economic conditions in the early 1930s made it impossible to seriously consider a new public subscription, fundraising campaign on behalf of the South Grove. At the same time, however, the Great Depression at least temporarily ended the threat of logging in


and around the South Grove. W. R. Pickering found himself bankrupt and unable to complete the transaction that he had entered into with Whiteside. Soon the matter resulted in legal proceedings that continued to drag through the courts year after year without resolution. Meanwhile, the demand for lumber was at an all-time low and, because of this, the value of the South Grove was also depressed.

decade unsettled conditions leading to World War II began to make park acquisition less and less likely. In 1940 Newton Drury left California to become Director of the National Park Service. He continued to be interested in the South Grove situation, and his brother Aubrey Drury of the Save the Redwoods League kept him well informed about California state park developments, including those that might affect Calaveras. As a result, there were significant conversations about Calaveras South Grove in both the west and the east throughout the next few years.

From time to time representatives of Pickering approached state park and Save the Redwoods League officials about the possibility of selling the grove at prices that ranged downward to as little as $225,000. Still faced with its own financial difficulties, the State Park Commission nevertheless decided to open tentative negotiations with Pickering. In 1939 an investigating officer was sent to the South Grove to look the situation over and put together a comprehensive report. The investigating officer was Newton Drury and, although his report to the Commission did not result in immediate action, his familiarity with the region would prove important in the long campaign that lay ahead.

During the summer of 1941, an element of controversy entered these conversations after Dr. Willard G. Van Name of the American Museum of Natural History in New York visited the South Grove. He was deeply impressed, not only with the unspoiled beauty of the grove, but also with what he felt was a renewed threat of logging in the area brought about by rising prices and increased demand for lumber. With photographs and other help from Aubrey Drury, he assembled a well-illustrated brochure about the South Grove in which he called for the federal government to trade federally owned timber for the private lands needed to establish a park that would include and surround the South Grove. Along with the giant sequoias, Van Name was especially concerned about the magnificent pine forest in and around the South Grove. “The representation of fine and large examples of the sugar pine and yellow pine in the present state or national parks cannot be considered as adequate. The national parks consist, for the most part, of land too high in altitude for the best development of these two trees.”

Action by the State Park Commission had come at the urging of Winfield Scott, the executive director of the Calaveras Grove Association. Scott was also pressing for transfer of the so called “corridor lands” as promised in the congressional legislation of 1928. These lands belonged to the National Forest Service and were earmarked for conveyance to the State as a connecting link between the North and South Groves. The regional office of the Forest Service in San Francisco refused to proceed with the land transfer, however, until such time as the South Grove was acquired. Scott, therefore, began to search for a diplomatic way to bring pressure on the regional office from higher executives and political figures in Washington. But despite his best efforts, the status of the South Grove remained unchanged. Toward the end of the


The brochure appeared in June 1942 as publication number 86 of the Emergency Conservation Committee, Mrs. C. N. Edge, Chairman. World War II had broken out by this time, and many people felt that no sacrifice was too great to make on behalf of “the defense effort.” The brochure pointed out, however, that the great old giant sequoias and pines of the South Grove area were not necessary even to a prolonged war

supporters had failed, and before long their dire predictions of new logging activity proved accurate. Early in 1944 the R.F.C. (Reconstruction Finance Corporation) enabled a thoroughly reorganized Pickering Lumber Company to reach a legal and financial settlement with the Whiteside interests and to begin construction of a new lumber mill and logging railroad system. Just prior to this

“… The Calaveras sequoias have stood through all the wars of the last 2,000 years. Let us keep and enjoy them through the coming years of peace.” effort. They should be saved for their unique scientific and inspirational qualities. “We must not, in the excitement of war, neglect this important duty to the present and future generations of Americans. The Calaveras sequoias have stood through all the wars of the last 2,000 years. Let us keep and enjoy them through the coming years of peace.”

development, Pickering representatives had indicated that the company might be willing to sell the South Grove area for about $400,000, up substantially from the 1938 price of $225,000. But now, suddenly, they were not interested in selling any of their forestland at any price. The stage was set for the third major campaign to “Save the South Grove.”

The brochure was widely distributed, and it resulted in a rush of letters to the President and other high-ranking political and administrative figures. Finally, in 1943, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes went to President Roosevelt with the Van Name proposal to create a 6,000- to 10,000-acre park surrounding the South Grove, the whole project to be financed by an exchange of federally owned timber. Roosevelt referred the project to the National Park Service and, after an investigation, the Park Service recommended that the South Grove be acquired by the State of California as an addition to the existing Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Van Name and his



South Grove, 1946 - 1954

The third major campaign to save the Calaveras Big Trees —  in this case the South Grove — began to pick up steam in 1945 as World War II approached a conclusion. A new state park acquisition program was approved by the legislature in that year and signed into law by Governor Earl Warren. Frederick Law Olmsted was once again commissioned to do a statewide survey of park needs and opportunities and, once again, he gave the South Grove area high priority. This time he described the giant sequoia forest alongside Big Trees Creek 82

as “one of the most important and beautiful examples of the great primeval forest of California yet remaining unspoiled.” He was especially impressed by the “wilderness quietude” of the area. He pointed out that silence, solitude, and other qualities of wildness were rapidly becoming more difficult to find and enjoy in the forests of the Sierra Nevada. Olmsted also reported that, as of June 1945, logging crews were at work just south of the South Grove and that Pickering was planning to construct a logging railroad right through the middle of the grove within the next year. The State Park Commission requested Olmsted to negotiate these matters with Pickering and, after several meetings and much soul-searching among themselves, Pickering executives agreed to postpone logging operations inside the South Grove itself for one year, and to reroute the mainline of the railroad so that it would cross Big Trees Creek outside and to the west of the giant sequoia grove.

In recognition of this dark financial picture, Olmsted worked out a unit-by-unit acquisition plan that gave highest priority to “unit one,” the giant sequoia grove. “Unit two” was needed in order to provide access to the South Grove from the rest of the state park to the north. “Unit three” included the magnificent Beaver Creek sugar pine forest that Van Name and the Emergency Conservation Committee felt was so important. Olmsted was also deeply impressed with this pine forest, but he made it clear that “unit one,” the giant sequoia grove, deserved top priority — with surrounding forestland to be included in the proposed park as money permitted. 83


Due to this decision and to the Pickering Company’s generally sympathetic attitude toward preserving the giant sequoias, the South Grove was safe for the moment. However, the postwar building boom was resulting in ever-higher lumber prices and, while this factor was rapidly increasing the value of forestland, the difficulty of raising matching funds as required by state law continued to forestall action by the State Park Commission. As the months went by, preliminary surveys of the area were begun and tentative park boundaries were laid out, but the problem of coming up with matching funds began to seem more difficult than ever. The Save the Redwoods League could make some matching funds available, but other sources of support were almost entirely lacking.

In a report to the Save the Redwoods League, he pointed out that Pickering executives considered “unit three,” the Beaver Creek pine forest, so important to the economic integrity of the company as a whole, including its mills, that “they would not voluntarily sell this land and its standing timber at any price.” In short, Olmsted concluded, the only way to acquire “unit three” for park purposes would be by condemnation, “and the company would oppose such condemnation to the utmost.”

Pickering executives made plans to resume logging operations in Beaver Creek, as workmen surveyed a railroad spur line that would reach into the heart of the South Grove, and as logging activities advanced all the way to the top of the ridge along the south side of the South Grove. The Resurgence


Popular Interest

In July 1947, Mr. and Mrs. Owen Bradley of Modesto visited friends who were spending part of their vacation at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. While there they heard about the threat to the South Grove and decided to go see for themselves “what all the fuss was about.” The trip was made over rough, unpaved backwoods roads, but the Bradleys were outdoor people with a feeling for wild country. Owen Bradley had grown up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the same general area where A. T. Dowd, the old bear hunter, had chosen to spend the last twenty years of his life. Like Dowd, the Bradleys cared more for good, unspoiled country than for any kind of “get rich quick” activity. Together the Bradleys had traveled widely on foot and horseback in the Sierra Nevada, and they did not need anyone to explain to them just how special the South Grove was. As soon as they saw it they were in love with the majestic, flower-filled wildness of the great, old giant sequoia forest. It would be a lifetime affair.

Logging operations in the Beaver Creek pine forest were expected to get underway during the summer of 1946. But at this point fate once again intervened on behalf of the preservationist cause. In July 1946, the Pickering Company’s mill at Standard, California, burned to the ground. Logging in Beaver Creek was delayed at least one full year. Because of this, Pickering agreed to extend its deadline on negotiations for park acquisition of the South Grove. In January 1947, Aubrey Drury of the Save the Redwoods League proposed that the federal government buy the South Grove and dedicate it as a National Monument to the memory of the recently-deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Legislation was proposed but did not get far. Meanwhile, Van Name and his associates in the east were still trying to persuade the Forest Service to trade other federally owned timber for the 6,000- to 10,000-acre park that they felt was needed. The Forest Service was not enthusiastic about this plan, and neither was the Pickering Lumber Company.

Back in the North Grove, the Bradleys began to ask questions. What would it take to save the South Grove? Who owned it? How much money did they want for it? What was the park department doing about it? Was there still hope? The park rangers answered these questions as best they could and referred the Bradleys to a number of other people and institutions for further information. But the idea the Bradleys

With no real solution in sight, the situation continued to drift along in this manner throughout the early months of 1947. An atmosphere of gloom and desperation began to prevail as


continually returned to was the basic point that, of course, the South Grove could be saved if enough people wanted to save it.

understanding and enthusiasm had all been important to the original Calaveras Grove Association. Now it appeared that the organization could not be revived but would have to be reconstructed from scratch, and time was short.

The Bradleys went home to Modesto and began to talk to their friends and neighbors and other conservationists about the South Grove situation. They also talked with state park officials in Stockton and Sacramento. They made repeated trips to the South Grove in order to enjoy it themselves and learn how to tell other people what was so special about the area. Friends contributed photographic transparencies (slides)

Despair was followed by renewed faith some time later when Mrs. Bradley learned that Winfield Scott was living in San Francisco. As the one-time executive director of the Calaveras Grove Association, Scott still had the official papers of the organization in his possession. His age and health would not

As soon as they (the Bradleys) saw it they were in love with the majestic, flower-filled wildness of the great, old giant sequoia forest. It would be a lifetime affair. that the Bradleys could use, and soon they had launched a fundraising drive of their own, with the Lodi Kiwanis Club acting as depository of funds intended to “save the South Grove.”

permit him to take an active role in the campaign, but he gladly turned over the charter and other papers and pointed out that the organization was still legally in existence and could be reactivated simply by holding a meeting and electing new officers.

Mrs. Bradley contacted Aubrey Drury at the Save the Redwoods League, who advised her to locate and, if possible, revive the Calaveras Grove Association. Acting immediately on this advice, Mrs. Bradley set out to contact the Association’s one-time president, Mrs. Harriet West Jackson of Stockton. To the sorrow of many, Mrs. Jackson had died only days before, and her funeral was being held the same day that Mrs. Bradley arrived in Stockton hoping to discuss the South Grove situation with her. Mrs. Jackson’s death was a serious blow to the South Grove movement, for she had been more than a figurehead in the North Grove campaign. Her energy,

Reviving the organization was a time-consuming job, but little by little the seats on the board of directors were filled with well-qualified people and, in July 1948, Stuart Gibbons stepped forward to serve as president and chief administrator of the organization. A resident of Stockton, Gibbons had known about the South Grove as early as 1911, when Pickering executives were first considering purchase of the area from Whiteside. In later years, he had continued to be aware of the South Grove situation, and had contributed to the Calaveras Grove Association’s fundraising drive of the 1930s.


He had long been active in service and civic organizations in the Stockton area, and was Chairman of the Metropolitan Recreation Commission. His experience and point of view, his sense of humor and broad concern for people were all qualities that would help present the case for preserving the Calaveras South Grove. In the months and years that followed, the Calaveras Grove Association carried on a vigorous fundraising and educational program. As president of the association, Gibbons provided administrative direction, office space and countless hours of his personal time. As executive secretary, Mrs. Bradley travelled throughout California presenting her slide program to groups of many kinds. Her sense of moral and spiritual urgency about the need to save the grove was contagious. Wherever she went she created new enthusiasm for the South Grove’s unique scenic, scientific, and inspirational qualities. Hundreds of people became members of the Calaveras Grove Association and thousands made donations to the acquisition fund. Later the association produced a 28-minute color movie that was distributed throughout the United States and shown in France. Other fundraising activities included the publication and sale of a 44 -page paperback book about giant sequoias. However, as the months turned into years and as the first rush of easy optimism was replaced by patient, unwavering determination and stubborn faith, the funds held by the association mounted steadily, but all too slowly. Gifts and pledges together did not even begin to approach the vast sum that was needed to match state park acquisition funds. At least part of the reason was that Willard Van Name had once again succeeded in making the Beaver Creek sugar pine forest into a hotly controversial issue that threatened to completely scuttle the South Grove campaign.


The Great Sugar Pine Controversy

In February 1948, an article by Van Name appeared in Natural History magazine entitled “An Impending Forest Disaster.” In the article, Van


to concentrate on the possibility of state acquisition by direct appropriation of the full purchase price, thus eliminating the need for private matching funds. Soon his organization, the California War Memorial Park Association, claimed some 1,500 members. A lively publicity campaign was mounted, and the public was encouraged to support the concept of immediate state or federal intervention in the sugar pine matter as the only way of moving fast enough to save the pines.

Name once again described the great sugar and yellow pine forest of Beaver Creek as the finest pine forest in the world. From his point of view, the South Grove was in no immediate danger. “… there has been enough publicity about this grove to create a demand that it be saved. But hardly anybody even knows of the existence of the Sugar Pines, whose preservation is even more important, as few large ones are being saved anywhere.” He advised his readers that time was short and that only a direct appeal to Governor Warren might bring action soon enough to save the pines. The result was a flood of letters from many parts of the nation directed to Governor Warren and to others in state and federal government.

In April 1948, Congressman Clair Engle submitted legislation that would have made it possible for the federal government to provide one quarter of the total price (up to $350,000) of the South Grove. Meanwhile, state officials were trying to reassure the public that everything reasonably possible was being done to save the South Grove. But these activities only served to further infuriate a number of extremely vocal easterners, including Van Name and former Secretary of the Interior Harold H. Ickes, who was now writing a syndicated newspaper column. The editors of Natural History magazine decided to write a follow-up story pointing out that the Beaver Creek sugar pines were still being ignored in favor of the “less threatened” giant sequoias in the South Grove. Ickes, Van Name and a few others went so far as to accuse the Sierra Club and the Save the Redwoods League of participating in a “conspiracy of silence” about the sugar pines, and secretly allying themselves with the lumber company that wanted to “destroy the sugar pine forest to the very last stick” and then turn around and sell the commercially “worthless” giant sequoias at a great premium to the state park system. For a time this kind of rhetoric made it difficult to argue persuasively about the need to save the South Grove. Meanwhile, the idea

The sugar pine issue would not have become so important had it not attracted the attention of John B. Elliott, a newspaper executive and man-about-politics in southern California. Elliott wrote a series of letters in response to the Van Name article, made a personal tour of the sugar pine and giant sequoia forests of the South Grove area, and then set out to establish a new special purpose organization. Its stated purpose was to lobby with the federal government on behalf of a 10,000-acre “War Memorial Forest Park” surrounding and including the South Grove. The park was to include some 3,000 acres of virgin pine forest in the Beaver Creek watershed and was to be paid for by direct federal appropriation. Condemnation proceedings were to be used, if necessary, to force the sale and to bring about a “fair price.” Some estimates of a fair price ran as high as eight million dollars and this, plus the old specter of condemnation and other political problems, combined to make the concept totally unrealistic. When this became apparent to Elliott, he scaled down the number of acres in his proposal and began


of direct acquisition without matching funds made potential private donors hesitate, even though there was almost no real possibility of passing legislation that would do away with the matching fund requirement. Bills of this kind were nevertheless introduced in both houses of the legislature and were widely endorsed by individuals and groups, including the California War Memorial Park Association, the Sierra Club, the Save the Redwoods League, and the Calaveras Grove Association.

While the great sugar pine controversy was largely an exercise in futility, it did focus the intense glare of public scrutiny on the Calaveras Grove park situation and caused the Pickering Lumber Company to proceed more carefully on the issue of the Beaver Creek sugar pines. The controversy also brought about a review of the long, complicated, and almostforgotten congressional activity with regard to the Calaveras Groves dating from the turn of the century. Much of this old

…another idea was taking shape that held larger and more immediate promise. This was the so-called “Forest Highway” concept, which involved a federal grant of about one million dollars to build a highway between the North and South Groves. Meanwhile, lumbermen and a number of congressmen and legislators claimed that taking the sugar pines off the tax rolls by preserving them in a public park would be disastrous to Tuolumne County, particularly its school system. Some claimed that the loss in tax revenue would amount to half a million dollars at the rate of $80,000 per year. Gene Wilbur of the California War Memorial Park Association argued that the loss would be no more than $150,000 over a 60-year cutting cycle, or about $2,500 per year. Both sides said that their conclusions were based on Forest Service statistics. In Congress, the California delegation was split and could not reach a compromise position. In the end, as veteran conservationists had predicted, both state and federal legislation was bottled up in committee and, in effect, killed.

legislation was now irrelevant, but the 1909 law signed by Theodore Roosevelt was extremely interesting! This legislation made it possible for the Forest Service to trade other federally owned timberland in and around the Calaveras Groves in order to establish a “Calaveras Bigtree National Forest.” Further legislation to save the Beaver Creek sugar pines was not really necessary. All that was needed was administrative action and Pickering Lumber Company approval of an appropriate trade. Quickly, both the California legislature and the California delegation in Washington unanimously passed resolutions urging President Harry S. Truman and his Secretary of Agriculture, Charles F. Brannan, to do everything in their power to expedite Forest Service action on a suitable trade.




The project advanced rapidly. Surveys were run. Plans were drawn. Contracts were prepared. And then in 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War brought a freeze on certain kinds of federal spending. Suddenly the “Forest Highway” was dead, at least for the duration of the war.

South Grove Campaign Back Together

Toward the end of 1949, state park officials were at work on two new ideas that were intended to solve the problem of finding matching funds for acquisition of the South Grove. One of these ideas involved somehow overcoming Forest Service inertia regarding the so-called corridor lands lying between the North and South Groves. According to the legislation devised by Senator Hiram Johnson and signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge in 1928, these lands were to be transferred to the State in order to provide access between the North and South Groves if either grove was acquired for use as a state park. Now it was thought, and Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, then State Attorney General, concurred in the opinion, that the value of these corridor lands could be used to match state park bond funds. The 200 acres of land and timber were thought to be worth two to three hundred thousand dollars.

In desperation, Aubrey Drury proposed to the State Park Commission that the state proceed with acquisition of the South Grove on a “pay as you go” basis. This approach was admittedly difficult, but it had been successfully used in acquiring the Mill Creek area of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The Pickering Lumber Company was unwilling to proceed in this manner, however, and after all the ingenious, idealistic, alternative approaches to the problem had been tried, there remained only the original hope for the South Grove, and the bulk of the matching funds would still have to come from private sources. At about this time, the Save the Redwoods League announced that it would match every dollar up to $250,000 given by other private sources toward the South Grove fund. Thus every dollar given to the Calaveras Grove Association, or any other organization, would be matched by one dollar from the Save the Redwoods League and by two dollars from the state park bond fund. This was the formula that had proved successful in the North Grove campaign but, throughout 1950 and on into 1951, the total matching funds available for the South Grove project continued to mount with discouraging slowness.

While this idea languished in the hands of the Forest Service, another idea was taking shape that held larger and more immediate promise. This was the so-called “Forest Highway” concept, which involved a federal grant of about one million dollars to build a highway between the North and South Groves. This federal investment in the park could then be used as a matching credit to free state bond funds. The only worry was that such a highway might provide too easy an access to large numbers of visitors who might care very little about the primary and unique values of the South Grove. Despite this reservation, even the most outspoken wilderness enthusiasts, including Frederick Law Olmsted, were willing to see the highway constructed if that was the only way to save the South Grove.

The Role


Newton Drury

Throughout this entire campaign, Aubrey Drury had kept his brother Newton well informed both about California state park matters in general, and about the Calaveras South Grove


made acquisition of the North Grove possible. Over the years he had sponsored many conservation projects, including many National Park issues on which he had cooperated closely with Newton Drury. In California alone he had provided millions of dollars in support of redwood and other park projects. Two million dollars had gone toward the acquisition of the incomparable coast redwood forests of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, notably Bull Creek Flat, which is now generally referred to as the Rockefeller Forest. Close to another two million dollars had been given to help acquire the magnificent sugar pine forests of the Carl Inn addition at Yosemite National Park. In the case of Calaveras, however, Rockefeller felt he had done enough already, and that others should share the responsibility of saving the South Grove. He was sympathetic. He understood the problem. He was impressed with Drury’s strong appeal on behalf of the South Grove. Nevertheless he continued to believe that the federal government or the wellto-do State of California could, and should, solve the problem.

in particular. For his part, Newton Drury had helped South Grove matters along as best he could in his role as Director of the National Park Service. The broad range of his personal and official relationships made him an especially valuable ally. In November 1950, for instance, Drury discussed the South Grove situation with Gilbert Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society and editor of National Geographic magazine. During the 1920s and even earlier, the Society had contributed substantial sums of money toward acquisition of the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, and the Society still looked upon this accomplishment with considerable pride. As of 1950, the Society was not in a position to launch another large fundraising effort, but Grosvenor was willing, even eager, to have the magazine include an up-todate story about giant sequoias and to have the story feature the Calaveras South Grove situation. The season was already late, but with the help of Aubrey Drury in San Francisco, an expedition was organized. Raymond Moulin, an outstanding West Coast photographer, was persuaded to join the National Geographic writer and a number of state park and Calaveras Grove Association representatives for the trip. Fighting their way in over the rain-softened roads of late December, the group managed to get into the heart of the South Grove, take pictures, and otherwise help with development of the story.

Drury Returns



In May 1951, Newton Drury left his position as Director of the National Park Service in order to return to California and become chief of the California Division of Beaches and Parks. His appointment to this position was made by Governor Earl Warren, who had known Drury since their student days at the University of California in Berkeley. Curiously enough, still another member of the same graduating class of 1912 would also play a major role in saving the South Grove. A lifelong conservation activist, Horace M. Albright had served as field director of the National Park Service under Stephen Mather, and then as director of that agency. In 1933 he left government service and returned to private business.

A few months later, in April 1951, Newton Drury was able to borrow pre-publication samples of the beautiful, fullcolor South Grove illustrations and show them to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in New York. Rockefeller had long been interested in the Calaveras Big Trees and, as we have seen, contributed a major portion of the private matching funds that


Newton Drury (left) and Fred Meyer on a field trip to the South Grove.



Memorial Grove is one of several such memorials within the South Grove.

He continued to be extremely active in conservation and park affairs, and was one of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s most trusted advisors in such matters. Through Albright’s periodic reports, Rockefeller was able to keep abreast on a wide range of park issues, including that of the Calaveras South Grove. As we shall see, this was a vital factor in the South Grove story.


A sense of renewed purpose and idealism was also evident within the State Park System, apparently as a direct result of Newton Drury’s return. His public appearances as chief of the Division of Beaches and Parks were invariably successful, and his personal charm, vision At about the same time, Newton and warmth of feeling for both Drury was assuming his new people and issues recruited new responsibilities in California, the friends for the park system. National Geographic article was Within the Division, his leadership published  —  as was still another as well as his irrepressible idealism article on the same subject in the inspired confidence and tended Kaiser Steel Company’s magazine to bring out the best qualities Westward. Both of these articles in those who worked with him. served to remind people of the On a trip to the South Grove, Newton Drury One observer of state park affairs, very real threat that continued to found this old marble tablet on the ground hang over the South Grove. When C. M. Goethe of Sacramento, beside the trail. With Pickering Company the Westward article caught the became so enthusiastic about permission, Drury had the tablet sent to Mrs. attention of the United Steel Drury’s influence that he wrote J. P. Cudahy, Morton’s daughter and the founder Workers’ Union, representatives to Governor Warren: “Have you of the Morton Arboretum near Chicago. Morton contacted the Calaveras Grove ever made an appointment that served as Secretary of Agriculture and was the Association and arranged to have a gives you better satisfaction than originator of Arbor Day. copy made of the movie Save Our your bringing Director Drury Sequoias. The movie was then from Washington to be Chief of distributed to local chapters of the Steel Workers’ Union, and our State Parks?” In a related letter, Goethe went on in the a $25,000 memorial fund was raised to honor the memory of same tone: “Already one feels the electric thrill of the Drury Phillip Murray, the recently-deceased president of the union. energy all through the California State Park System. I notice The fund was turned over to the Calaveras Grove Association it everywhere. I only regret he could not be twins. We need to help acquire the South Grove. Today the Phillip Murray him in Washington, as well as here.”


But even with this surge of renewed enthusiasm, the South Grove situation remained difficult and full of complications. Drury concentrated heavily on completing the Forest Service exchange agreements covering the 1,200 acres of corridor lands. At the same time he was also pressing for completion of the surveys and appraisals that would make it possible to put precise values on the corridor lands for matching purposes and on the entire South Grove so that meaningful negotiations could be opened with the Pickering Lumber Company.

by Pickering that would have reduced the price of the South Grove area by allowing selective cutting of pine trees both around and inside the grove. An admirable attempt to clarify the state’s reaction to these proposals was written up by Frederick A. Meyer of the Division of Beaches and Parks. As the Division’s forest technician, Meyer was deeply involved in the South Grove negotiations and had earlier served as a special assistant to Frederick Law Olmsted in his 1945 park survey work at Calaveras and elsewhere throughout the State. In his report, Meyer pointed out that there was a very basic difference between “sustained-yield management” of forest lands for lumber production and the park objective which, in the case of the South Grove, was an attempt to preserve “an impressive natural feature” in its wild and primeval condition. Meyer explained that selective logging of pines in the valley of Big Trees Creek would have numerous undesirable side effects on the giant sequoias and on the general ecology of the area. In short, he concluded that within the logical and natural boundaries of the Big Trees Creek watershed, there should be a minimum of human intrusion and certainly no logging operations.

The major difficulty continued to be a lack of private matching funds. With some desperation, Drury went to Pickering with the Save the Redwoods League’s suggestion that the State pay $1.75 million for the South Grove on a year-byyear, unit-by-unit installment basis. But this approach was not at all appealing to Pickering executives, who took this opportunity to announce that not only the manner but also the amount of the offer was totally unacceptable. According to their estimations, the land and timber in the valley of Big Trees Creek were worth nearly five million dollars or, in other words, about three times the amount offered. Some state park officials found this response outrageous. One negotiator was quoted as saying, “It amounted to about five times the value of the timber involved.”

“The contention that the majority of trees in an old-growth forest are a liability is, from the park standpoint, entirely fallacious. Sugar pine trees are mature at about 200 or 250 years; but some of them will live to be 500 or 600 years, and possibly even older under the most favorable conditions. Reference to mature and over-mature trees as dead and dying is an unwarranted anticipation. If we were engaged in forest management, these trees would be an economic liability; they are overripe. But our parks must be neither woodlots nor tree

One underlying problem in this stage of the negotiations was that Pickering executives were unsympathetic to the concept of saving what they termed “old, overripe” sugar pines. These trees were extremely valuable as a source of lumber, but being old they were likely to become infested with pine beetles and be lost from both a lumberman’s point of view and, they insisted, from the park visitor’s point of view. This lumberman’s approach to the project resulted in proposals


farms. We are preserving primeval forests because they are primeval and because the primeval is inspiring.”

Drury concluded his article with another reference to the long history of giant sequoia preservation efforts. “… it is the big tree, the Sequoia gigantea (now Sequoiadendron giganteum) that for one hundred years has been an object of wonder to the entire world. John Muir and the Sierra Club, long before there was a Save the Redwoods League or a National Park Service, concerned themselves about the preservation of the sequoias. Two directors of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright, both Californians, aggressively sought to help acquire them. The writer (Drury) had the privilege of working on the acquisition of the North Grove, and now is glad to be in on this last chapter. It represents probably the most important piece of unfinished nature protection business in America.”

Newton Drury saw to it that Meyer’s analysis of the situation was made available to interested state officials and to the State Park Commission, which was considering a number of South Grove selective cutting proposals put forward by the Pickering Lumber Company. Significantly, at its meeting in December 1951, the Commission decided to withhold approval of the Pickering proposals and reaffirmed its interest in acquiring the South Grove in its fully unspoiled condition. Because the matching fund problem still loomed so large, this action by the Commission amounted to a significant vote of confidence and an expression of continuing faith in Drury and his staff. The Turning Point

As the campaign to save the South Grove moved into its final phase, this last line from Drury’s essay was quoted and paraphrased over and over again until it became the central slogan and rallying cry for the entire effort.

Early in 1952, an article by Newton Drury about the South Grove appeared in National Parks Magazine, entitled “Zero Hour Approaches for Calaveras South Grove.” The article pointed out that giant sequoias had been known to the world for almost exactly 100 years, starting with Dowd’s discovery of the North Grove, and that throughout all those years, a full century of time, people had been struggling to protect giant sequoia forests. In the case of the most famous giant sequoia grove, the Calaveras North Grove, 80 years had elapsed before the Calaveras Grove Association, the Save the Redwoods League, and the State of California had finally managed to give the area protected status as a public park. However, he went on, “the situation of the South Grove has now become far more critical than that of the North Grove twenty years earlier.” Saving the South Grove, he wrote, “is no longer a matter of deliberate, long-range planning, but an immediate emergency that must be met now or never.”

The next substantial step toward acquiring the South Grove came in April 1952, when the Bureau of Land Management transferred ownership of 1,200 acres of forestland in the area between the North and South Groves to the State. After a delay of 24 years, the “corridor land” legislation of 1928 had finally been implemented. This strengthened the State’s position considerably, for it more than doubled the amount of money the State could legally expend in behalf of South Grove acquisition. Shortly after the transfer was announced, another even more vital event took place, one which only three or four people in the country were aware of at the time. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. decided to donate up to one million dollars to the South Grove matching fund campaign. His decision was made after Photo: Muleady-Mecham


In the end, Rockefeller had decided that his help was essential to the success of the South Grove campaign. After years of waiting for the state and federal governments and others to shoulder the responsibility, Rockefeller decided to step in — although the area could have been acquired for one-tenth the amount in earlier years. As of 1952, he was convinced that the South Grove might well be lost. The valiant effort of Adrienne Bradley and the Calaveras Grove Association had

repeated conferences and analysis of detailed reports about the South Grove area and the problems facing the campaign to save it. Rockefeller’s information came from his own staff in part but, in this case, he also relied heavily on his long-time friend and advisor on conservation affairs, Horace Albright. Albright had gathered information about the South Grove situation from many sources. Being a native Californian, he

“ … We are preserving primeval forests because they are primeval and because the primeval is inspiring.” was personally familiar with the South Grove and also knew many of the local people who had been interested in the area over the years. Moreover, in company with Stephen T. Mather and a number of California’s leading conservationists, he had made an official visit to the South Grove in 1924 and participated in an ill-fated but earnest attempt to buy the grove from Whiteside. In later years, Albright had kept up-to-date on the situation through a steady flow of correspondence and meetings with both Aubrey and Newton Drury, as well as other representatives of groups such as the Sierra Club, the Save the Redwoods League, and the Calaveras Grove Association. He was also in touch with a host of other interested people in both business and governmental circles, including Frederick Law Olmsted, J. C. Rassenfoss — president and general manager of the Pickering Lumber Company — and many others.

shown that there was broad and enthusiastic public support for the South Grove issue. But the matching dollars just weren’t coming in fast enough. Rockefeller instructed Albright to notify Newton Drury about the million-dollar commitment, but asked that the gift be kept absolutely secret so that it would not undermine other fundraising efforts or result in still higher price demands by the Pickering Lumber Company. Rockefeller’s decision made it possible for Newton Drury to press more directly for a settlement with Pickering. Now the State had the resources, or almost enough resources, to insist that Pickering set a reasonable price and otherwise come to terms on state park acquisition of the South Grove.



Magnificent giant sequoias in the South Grove are awe-inspiring to those who seek solitude and reflection. In the months that followed Rockefeller’s decision, many conferences were held between Pickering executives and state park officials. In the negotiations, Drury was accompanied by Frederick Meyer and by Everett E. Powell, acquisition officer of the Division of Beaches and Parks. The issues were numerous and complicated. Solution of some problems depended on additional information that had to be developed by professional and, hopefully, neutral surveyors, appraisers and other experts. Boundaries, rights of way, and various other easements or mutual agreements had to be adjusted and refined. Finally, in March 1953, the State offered Pickering $2.25 million for some 2,155 acres in and around the South Grove. When this bid was rejected, the State increased its offer

to $2.5 million, the full amount appraisers had indicated the area was worth. Pickering executives, nevertheless, declined the offer and, to the frustration of many people, refused to make a counter offer or otherwise specify what they now thought an acceptable price might be. To resolve this difficulty and bring Pickering officials to the bargaining table, Newton Drury asked for and received Rockefeller’s permission to tell Governor Warren about the Rockefeller commitment of up to one million dollars. Once Warren realized that the State was now in a position to close the deal, he agreed to use his influence to bring Pickering to the bargaining table.


In February 1954, the State offered Pickering $2.75 million for the South Grove and hinted that they might resort to proceedings in eminent domain rather than offer a higher price. Nevertheless, Pickering executives were not satisfied as yet and, among other things, demanded an increase in the corridor land area that could be selectively logged. Finally, on April 9, an agreement was reached that carried a $2.8 million price tag. The Pickering Lumber Company would selectively log many acres not in the sugar pine or South Grove areas and there were a great many conditions, exceptions, reservations and easements. But in essence, the long campaign — one of the longest and most notable park acquisition stories in history — was over. The State Park Commission meeting in Oakland on April 16, 1954, was a longawaited public celebration. Stuart Gibbons, president of the Calaveras Grove Association, described the history and fundraising efforts of that organization and introduced Mrs. Adrienne Bradley, secretary of the association who, in turn, presented checks totaling $72,661.50 to the Commission for use in acquiring the Calaveras South Grove. Aubrey Drury, representing the Save the Redwoods League, presented a photostatic copy of the one-million-dollar Rockefeller check to Joseph R. Knowland, Chairman of the State Park Commission. The gift had been channeled through Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., to the Save the Redwoods League, and from the League to the California State Department of Finance. For its part, the Commission gave thanks to all those groups and individuals who had participated in the campaign, and then voted unanimously and enthusiastically to conclude the $2.8 million transaction.


The giant sequoias and the surrounding untouched, primeval wilderness of the South Grove had officially become part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This would be part of everyone’s natural heritage, a very special and specially chosen part of the forest that would be forever protected and preserved for the pleasure, education, and inspiration of the people.


The Future

Fire Ecology and Climate Change

It has been a long time

They work to serve the resource, bringing in the conditions that are favorable to the forest ecosystem and, at times, for giant sequoia reproduction. They must balance this with the urban interface that has crept into the forest. Mechanical thinning is one technique to help the actual logging of trees near homes to control fires. However, this does not bring all the benefits of fire to the area. Natural fire burns a mosaic pattern over time, producing open areas and leaving other forested areas intact, the views and vistas we love to view from afar. But no one really wants the mechanism that brought these incredible natural areas loose in their back yard.

since the connection between giant sequoia ecology and fire was made. Certainly stream undercutting, a fallen tree exposing mineral soil, and the work of a beetle or chickaree can combine to help bring a new baby giant into the world. The odds, however, are steep. Only fire brings all of the favored conditions together. Fire burns out other trees, opening up the forest canopy so sun may come in; the rising heat of a fire dries out a multitude of cones, allowing seeds to tumble to the soil, now exposed because fire has burned off the litter and duff; the burning of the forest cover recycles nutrients and makes a more wettable soil; and fire buys the seedling time by temporarily eliminating predators that could eat or destroy the seedling, NPS including fungus and insects. Managers of our fire ecology natural areas now know the importance of fire, not just to giant sequoia reproduction, but for the health and variety of the entire forest. Researchers study and learn the past frequency of natural fires in an area and with fire managers, work to reproduce these conditions or to guide nature’s ignitions.

Climate change is another threat to the future of the giant sequoias. “There is no serious doubt that average global temperature has been rising in recent decades,” says Dr. Nate Stephenson, a giant sequoia ecologist with the U.S. Biological Survey. Increasing temperatures can prolong summer, decrease available moisture and add drought stress to the challenges these trees must face. Continuing research combined with public education is vital to saving these incredible trees.

But there is an obstacle­­­­… civilization. Urbanization of forested areas has brought humanity closer to wild areas. Residents object to smoke from forest fires in their vicinity, do not want to see the blackened, albeit natural condition of the forest, and certainly do not want their homes burned down. Managers of fire in our forests are walking a tightrope of accommodation. 99


the terms set forth in the old legislation, as Calaveras Bigtree National Forest. By administrative order it was designated a scenic area, the first such area in a California National Forest. Because the old 1909 legislation was used to authorize acquisition of this land, the area became the only National Forest within another National Forest, the Stanislaus. The area includes five moderately large giant sequoias and many large pines, some of which are over eight feet in diameter and 200 feet in height. One 40-acre portion of the area is said to support the heaviest volume of sugar pine known to the Forest Service. Maximum future development of the area was explicitly limited to a simple trail system that would facilitate public access and enjoyment of what may well be the world’s most spectacular sugar pine forest. It was thought that ownership and administration of this area could be transferred at some time in the future to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, thus making it officially, as well as physically, part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The Calaveras Bigtree National Forest property was finally added to Calaveras Big Trees State Park on July 17, 1993, with the culmination of a land exchange between the United States Forest Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Owen and Adrienne Bradley worked tirelessly for the South Grove inclusion into Calaveras Big Trees State Park. While working for the park, Owen developed the trail to the Lone Sequoia and along Beaver Creek. In recognition of their efforts, the Bradley Trail was named in their honor.

In November 1959, the federally funded, 5.5-mile-long Forest Parkway through the park was completed from the North Grove area to the Stanislaus River. A modern high-level bridge was built over the river, but available funds did not then permit extension of the road over the steep ridge to Beaver Creek and the South Grove. The roadway included parking areas at scenic overlook points and a river-oriented picnic and parking area. The Oak Hollow campground was also developed at this time.

Epilogue On August 18, 1955, the campaign to preserve a portion of the Beaver Creek sugar pine forest culminated in U.S. Forest Service acquisition of 378 acres of forest land close beside the Calaveras South Grove. Public ownership of this area was made possible by enabling legislation passed by the Congress in 1909. The area was therefore to be known, according to 100


Dedication of the South Grove in 1967. On September 9, 1967, some 300 conservationists gathered to formally dedicate the South Grove as a publicly owned park area, part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The public-use roadway had still not been extended beyond the Stanislaus River (funds were still not available), but the years were passing, and it seemed improper to delay the dedication ceremony any longer. Rough-hewn seats and a temporary platform were erected on the ridge just above the South Grove. The master of ceremonies was Newton B. Drury, retired from state service but active still as executive

secretary of the Save the Redwoods League. He was honored that day by the California State Senate for his lifetime of work in the field of parks and conservation on both the state and national levels. State Senator Stephen Teale made the presentation, one of the highlights of the day and a surprise to Drury, for the event had not been mentioned in the printed programs. Drury himself accurately captured the spirit of the day when he pointed out that the South Grove ceremony was more than an ordinary dedication. It was a reaffirmation of faith in the conservation movement. 101


been given to the South Grove acquisition fund. The plaque also honored those who had made large donations directly to the fund.

Construction of the bridge over the Stanislaus River leading to the South Grove was completed in 1969. Adrienne Bradley described her first visit to the grove twenty years earlier and reviewed the Calaveras Grove Association’s role in the long campaign that finally led to park status for the South Grove. “For twenty years,” she said, “our purpose has been single and constant, to save the South Grove in its natural unspoiled wilderness beauty.”

Keynote speaker was Ralph Chaney, the world-famous University of California paleontologist, whose name is so closely associated with the geologic history of redwoods and with China’s dawn redwood in particular. After briefly reviewing the far-flung history of the redwood family, he pointed out that China had lost its Metasequoia forests by taking a short-range “present only” view of the environment. On the other hand, redwood preservation in the United States — preservation of the South Grove, for example — was a truly American phenomenon, for only in America was it possible to find a broad cross section of the whole population working together for conservation causes. “Thought for the future, for the people who come after us, that is part of our heritage, too. And so, as I stand near these 3,000-year-old trees, fully confident that some of the young trees in this grove may be living 3,000 years hence, it makes me proud and happy to think that people of all kinds, of whatever color, nationality, or religion, people three millenniums in the future, will be able to enjoy some of the same natural benefits we have enjoyed. And this will be true because rather than looking only backward, or only to short-term personal gain, we have looked to the future.” Access to the South Grove continued to be the subject of much debate but little action until the summer of 1969. Then, under the leadership of William Penn Mott, Jr., the new director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, three-and-one-half miles of new road were constructed from the Stanislaus River to Beaver Creek. Despite limited funds, the road was made possible by using

On behalf of the Calaveras Grove Association, Stuart Gibbons formally presented to the State a large bronze plaque bearing the names of those individuals in whose honor gifts had


As keynote speaker for the occasion, Mott explained that the Department of Parks and Recreation was embarking on a major campaign to improve park interpretation. The program would be difficult to develop, he said, “because it is simpler and easier to say we need money for specific, concrete things such as roads, picnic tables, or campgrounds. Nevertheless, we are committed to providing a high-quality park experience for our park visitors, not just overnight camping facilities, but an outdoor experience that will enrich their lives and make their stay in the state parks a much more exciting, invigorating and maybe even inspirational experience.”


parks department employees and leased equipment instead of outside road construction contractors. But even more importantly, it was made possible by application of a philosophy that Mott described in the ribbon-cutting, road-opening ceremony that took place on the bridge over the Stanislaus River on Saturday, August 9, 1969.

Adrienne Bradley with the plaque commemorating the many individuals whose support was given in the effort to save the South Grove. Park interpretation programs could play a vital role in reversing that process, Mott pointed out. And the new road and trail system serving the South Grove was part of the new effort. The road was designed to slow people down. The narrow, one-way portion of the road, for instance, was less expensive to build, less destructive to the natural environment, and purposefully intended to make people stop their cars and take time to enjoy the fascinating lava bluffs and the magnificent forest and river canyon scenery around them. At Beaver Creek, those who wanted to go on into the South Grove could do so only by walking. This approach to park development would work, would be acceptable and meaningful if adequate interpretive information was available for park visitors. Only then would many of them be able to see more than the surface beauty of the scenery, be able to realize

To accomplish this goal, Mott said, it was necessary to slow people down, get them out of their cars, and provide them with good interpretive information. “Eighty percent of our park visitors today live in metropolitan areas. They’re used to being in a hurry and they are therefore very likely to drive in and out of our parks without any real understanding of intrinsic park values, scenic, historic, and natural values that the park system was originally intended to protect and preserve. And that’s unfortunate because with that kind of hurry, that lack of awareness and understanding of natural and historic values, we’re going to find the environmental quality of our parks, and of the whole state, continually eroded, continually made less enjoyable and, in the end, less livable. This is already happening in many of our great metropolitan centers.”



The plaque currently displayed at the trailhead for the South Grove Trail.

that giant sequoias are impressive not only for their size and present appearance, but also because they are members of a unique and significant ecological community that has played an important role in the continuing story of plant evolution. “Only if we can do an adequate job of interpretation — an adequate job of telling the giant sequoia story — will everyone understand why the South Grove was preserved for the people of this State and for all of the world forever. And only if we can develop this kind of understanding by the public will the park system be fulfilling its highest and most important responsibilities within the parks and to society as a whole.”

Since the dedication of the South Grove, visitation to Calaveras Big Trees State Park has averaged 150,000 to 200,000 visitors annually. The Calaveras Big Trees Association helps support Calaveras Big Trees State Park by providing financial assistance for interpretive programs and for training docents who operate visitor center information desks and lead guided walks in all four seasons. Activities include guided hikes during the summers and snowshoe walks during the winter. This continued collaboration between park staff and civilians who love and cherish these groves of giant sequoias serves as the best example of putting the giant sequoias first.


Yellow Star Tulip


Mountain Dogwood


California Wild Rose


Plants and Animals of the Giant Sequoia Forest Community Giant sequoias are a dominant form of life in the fire-adapted forest of which they are a part. That is, they grow larger and taller than the other forms of plant life around them, literally rising above the competition to achieve their stable, uncontested places in the sun. Ironically, if fire or some other circumstance did not interrupt normal plant succession, giant sequoias would eventually be driven out and replaced by the much smaller, shorter-lived white fir. This would happen because white fir can successfully regenerate even in dense shade (in its own shade, for instance) whereas giant sequoia, sugar and ponderosa pine, and even incense cedar must have more sunlight and warmth during their seed and seedling stages.

It is interesting to note that in the North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, western yew occurs along with the sequoias. This seems to be the only giant sequoia grove where the yew grows, for at this point, the yew is near its southernmost limit and the giant sequoia is near its northernmost limit. This is a matter of some interest because the yew’s highly discontinuous pattern of distribution suggests the existence of ecological limitations that may eventually lead to a clearer understanding of the changing climatic and geologic conditions that have influenced giant sequoia survival in the Sierra Nevada. The following plant and animal lists are not a complete inventory of all the living things that can be found in and around Calaveras Big Trees, but they provide a preliminary checklist for interested visitors, suggesting how rich and diverse the area’s community of living things is. Other publications are available for those who wish to learn more about the fauna and flora of the areas, and the park staff is also available to provide information to visitors.

Fire is a normal part of the Sierra Nevada forest world; whereas white fir is relatively vulnerable even to ground fires, pines and especially giant sequoias are fire resistant. As a result, the forest around Calaveras Big Trees does not evolve all the way to full climax conditions ,  but remains a fire-modified or fire-climax forest in which giant sequoias appear along with sugar and ponderosa pines, incense cedars, white firs, and other smaller trees such as alder and dogwood.


Plants TREES


Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) White Fir (Abies concolor) Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) Mountain Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia) Big-Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis) Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Cypress Family – Cupressaceae Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) Pine Family – Pinaceae White Fir (Abies concolor) Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) Yew Family – Taxaceae Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

MAGNOLIIDS Pipevine Family – Aristolochiaceae Wild Ginger (Asarum hartwegii)



Bracken Family – Dennstaedtiaceae Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

Muskroot Family – Adoxaceae Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Wood Fern Family – Dryopteridaceae Wood Fern (Dryopteris arguta) Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Sumac or Cashew Family – Anacardiaceae Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)

Horsetail Family – Equisetaceae Common Scouring Rush (Equisetum hyemale)

Carrot Family – Apiaceae Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza occidentalis)

Brake Family – Pteridaceae Bird’s-foot Fern (Pellaea mucronata) Goldback Fern (Pentagramma triangularis)

Dogbane Family – Apocynaceae Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) Sunflower Family – Asteraceae Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Trail Plant (Adenocaulon bicolor) Sierra Thistle (Cirsium occidentale)

Cliff Fern Family – Woodsiaceae Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) Fragile Fern (Cystopteris fragilis)


Bigelow’s Sneezeweed or Snakeweed (Helenium bigelovii) White Hawkweed (Hieracium albiflorum) Purple Aster (Oreostemma alpigenum)

Oak Family – Fagaceae Bush Chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens) Canyon Live or Maul Oak (Quercus chrysolepis) California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)

Birch Family – Betulaceae White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia) Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)

Geranium Family – Geraniaceae Wild Geranium (Geranium californicum)

Borage or Waterleaf Family – Boraginaceae Fivespot (Nemophila maculata)

Gooseberry Family – Grossulariaceae Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum) Sierran Gooseberry (Ribes roezlii)

Mustard Family – Brassicaceae Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) Mountain Jewelflower (Streptanthus tortuosus)

Hydrangea Family – Hydrangeaceae Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)

Honeysuckle Family – Caprifoliaceae Creeping Snowberry or Trip Vine (Symphoricarpos mollis)

St. John’s Wort Family – Hypericaceae Tinker’s Penny (Hypericum anagalloides) Mint Family – Lamiaceae Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia) Western Pennyroyal or Mustang Mint (Monardella breweri) Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) Western Hedge-nettle (Stachys ajugoides)

Dogwood Family – Cornaceae Mountain Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) Stonecrop Family – Crassulaceae Sierra Stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum) Heath Family – Ericaceae Green Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) Fringed Pine-sap (Pleuricospora fimbriolata) Pine Drops (Pterospora andromedea) White-veined Wintergreen or Shin-leaf (Pyrola picta) California Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea)

Mallow Family – Malvaceae Checkerbloom or Checker Mallow (Sidalcea malviflora) Miner’s Lettuce Family – Montiaceae Pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum) Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) Myrsine Family – Myrsinaceae Starflower (Trientalis latifolia)

Legume Family – Fabaceae Broad-leaved Lupine (Lupinus latifolius) Harlequin Lupine (Lupinus stiversii) Brewer’s Clover (Trifolium breweri) American Vetch (Vicia americana)

Evening Primrose Family – Onagraceae Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea alpina) Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia amoena)


Willow Herb (Epilobium glaberrimum) Subalpine Fireweed (Epilobum howellii) Geophytes (Gayophytum diffusum) Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata)

Mountain Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum) Buttercup (Ranunculus hebecarpus) Trautvetteria (Trautvetteria caroliniensis) Buckthorn Family – Rhamnaceae Mountain Whitethorn (Ceanothus cordulatus) Deer Brush (Ceanothus integerrimus) Small-leaved Ceanothus (Ceanothus parvifolius) California Coffee Berry (Frangula californica)

Broomrape Family – Orobanchaceae Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) Poppy Family – Papaveraceae Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)

Rose Family – Rosaceae Service-Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia) Mountain Misery (Chamaebatia foliolosa) Cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa) Mountain Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) California Rose (Rosa californica) Cluster Rose (Rosa pisocarpa) Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) Spiraea (Spiraea douglasii)

Lopseed Family – Phrymaceae Yellow and White Monkeyflower (Mimulus bicolor) Scarlet Monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) Common Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) Musk Monkeyflower (Mimulus moschatus) Dwarf Monkeyflower (Mimulus torreyi) Plantain Family – Plantaginaceae Bush Penstemon (Keckiella breviflora) Phlox Family – Polemoniaceae Large-flowered Collomia (Collomia grandiflora) Whisker Brush (Leptosiphon ciliatus) Bridges’ Gilia (Navarretia leptalea)

Madder Family – Rubiaceae Sweet-scented Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) Kelloggia (Kelloggia galioides) Willow Family - Salicaceae Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) Strap-leafed Willow (Salix ligulifolia)

Buckwheat Family – Polygonaceae Nude Buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) Bitter Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)

Soapberry Family – Sapindaceae Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)

Primrose Family – Primulaceae Sierra Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)

Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae Mountain Boykinia (Boykinia major) Indian Rhubarb or Umbrella Plant (Darmera peltata)

Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae Baneberry (Actaea rubra) Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)




Sierra Shooting Star


Mountain Misery


Washington Lily (Lilium washingtonianum) Green Fairy Bells (Prosartes hookeri)

Violet Family – Violaceae Stream Violet (Viola glabella) Yellow Wood Violet (Viola lobata) Mountain Violet (Viola purpurea)

False-Hellebore Family – Melanthiaceae Wakerobin (Trillium angustipetalum) Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum)

Mistletoe Family – Viscaceae Western Mistletoe (Arceuthobium campylopodum) Mistletoe (Phoradendron bolleanum)

Orchid Family – Orchidaceae Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata) Rattlesnake-Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) Broad-leaved Twayblade (Listera convallarioides) Rein Orchid (Piperia elegans)

MONOCOTS Century Plant Family – Agavaceae Soap Plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) Iris Family – Iridaceae Sierra Iris (Iris hartwegii) Western Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Butcher’s-Broom Family – Ruscaceae False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum) Brodiaea Family – Themidaceae Garland Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) Golden Brodiaea (Triteleia ixioides)

Lily Family – Liliaceae Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus) Bride’s Bonnet (Clintonia uniflora) Alpine or Sierra Tiger Lily (Lilium parvum)



Corn Lily

Snow Plant

Pine Drops

Chaparral Currant


Blue Elderberry


Western Azalea




Wild Ginger




Sierra Gooseberry 110


Sierra Rein Orchid


Muleady-Mecham Muleady-Mecham





Dwarf Mistletoe



Bleeding Heart



Coral Root Orchid





Cup Fungus 111







Lungless Salamanders – Plethodontidae Sierra Nevada Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzi platensis)

Ducks – Anseriformes Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

True Toads – Butonidae California Toad (Bufo boreas halophilus)

Quail – Galliformes Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus)

Treefrogs – Hylidae Pacific Chorus Treefrog (Pseudocris regilla)


Hawks, Vultures – Accipitriformes Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Spiny Lizards – Phrynosomatidae Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis taylori)

Shorebirds – Charadriiformes Spotted Sandpiper (Acttitis macularius)

Skinks – Scincidae Greater Brown Skink (Plestiodon “gilberti” gilberti)

Pigeons – Columbiformes Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata)

Alligator Lizards – Anguidae Sierra Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea palmeri)

Owls – Strigiformes Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii) Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

True Frogs – Ranidae Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii)

Boas – Boidae Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) Colubrid Snakes – Colubridae California Mountain King Snake (Lampropeltis zonata) Mountain Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans elegans) Sierra Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchii)

Hummingbirds – Apodiformes Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) Kingfishers – Coraciiformes Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Rattlesnakes – Viperidae Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus orgeanus orgeanus)


American Robin


Common Raven


Spotted Owl

Red-tailed Hawk




Mountain Chickadee

Western Tanager



Brewer’s Blackbird


White-headed Woodpecker



Steller’s Jay


Junco Nest



Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) Black-throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens) Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla) Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus) Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena) Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

Woodpeckers – Piciformes Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber) Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) White-headed Woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) Perching Birds – Passeriformes Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) Western Wood Peewee (Contopus sordidulus) Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis) Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii) Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) Common Raven (Corvus corax) Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina) Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus) American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) American Robin (Turdus migratorius) Nashville Warbler (Oreothypis ruficapilla) MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei)

MAMMALS Many animals that were once numerous in the Calaveras area have recently become either very rare or actually extinct in California. Grizzly bears are perhaps the best known examples, but many other animals and birds have also been greatly affected by human activities that either kill the animals directly or disrupt habitat conditions necessary for their survival. Grizzly bears have not been seen anywhere in California since 1924. Several kinds of birds, including the southern bald eagle and the peregrine falcon, were in serious danger of extinction throughout California. Conservation measures over the last decades have successfully increased the populations of these iconic species. Golden eagles and prairie falcons are less numerous now than they were throughout the many hundreds of years when they were so greatly admired by Indian residents of the area.



On the other hand, the coyote has survived even the most concerted efforts of professional exterminators and other hunters and trappers, and is today making a comeback throughout many parts of California. In the central part of the Sierra Nevada, two kinds of coyote are sometimes distinguished. The mountain coyote is taller, heavier, and grayer, and tends to range higher in the mountains. The coyote of the foothills is more reddish in coloring, more like the still smaller and redder coyote of the San Joaquin Valley.

Contemporary visitors to the Calaveras Big Trees area are unlikely to have such a richly developed set of beliefs and attitudes toward wild animals as the Miwok or Washoe Indians had. Nevertheless, it is almost always exciting and profoundly satisfying to see wild animals going about their normal activities in a free and natural setting. Luckily, despite all of the environmental changes that have taken place in California in the last 150 years, it is still possible during various seasons to see the following kinds of wildlife within Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

These animals were greatly admired by the Miwok Indians of the central Sierra Nevada, who thought of them as living representatives of the very intelligent, clever, and sometimes mischievous Oh-Ie-te, or Coyote-man, of Miwok myth and legend. Many other animals and birds were also thought of as symbolic representatives of legendary figures, but Oh-Ie-te and one other figure, Wek-wek or prairie falcon (swift, courageous, indomitable), were probably the most important of the many characters in Miwok mythology.

Invertebrate eaters – Soricomorpha Vagrant Shrew (Sorex vagrans) American Water Shrew (Sorex palustris) Broad-footed Mole (Scapanus latimanus) Bats – Chiroptera California Myotis (Myotis californicus) Yuma Myotis (Myotis yumanensis) Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)


Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis) Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus) Western Red Bat (Lasiurus blossevillii)

Marten (Martes americana) Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

The hoary bat and the red bat are tree dwelling; the rest are cave dwellers. All the bats are insect eaters. Some of them are year-round residents that hibernate in winter. Others are warm weather visitors that migrate into the central valley or southward with the onset of cold weather.

Deer – Artiodactyla Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)


Rabbits – Lagomorpha Snowshoe Rabbit (Lepus americanus) Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

Throughout the past few years, an ongoing research program sponsored by the National Park Service has revealed a great deal of new information on giant sequoia ecology. This research has included the systematic observation of insect life high in the uppermost parts of the giant sequoia. As a result, we now know that as many as 140 species of insects may be found in and around the sequoias at various times, and that more than 80 species of insects and 30 species of arachnids (spiders, mites, etc.) are dependent on giant sequoias during some part of their life cycles. It has been discovered that more than 100,000 insects are likely to be active in a single tree at a given moment, including perhaps 50,000 to 75,000 aphids feeding on the juices that flow in green leaf tissue throughout the crown of the tree.

Squirrels, Mice, Gophers – Rodentia North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) White-footed Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) Brush Mouse (Peromyscus boylii) Dusky-footed Wood Rat (Neotoma fuscipes) California Vole (Microtus californicus) Long-eared Chipmunk (Tamias quadrimaculatus) Beechey or California Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus) Douglas Squirrel or Sierra Chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii) Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Although research is still proceeding and information is far from complete, it is now possible to describe some of the overall patterns of bird and insect activity in giant sequoias. One basic food chain revolves around the tens of thousands of aphids (Masonaphis sp.) that live in each mature giant sequoia. The aphids feed on the tree’s vital juices and are extremely prolific. A single adult typically gives birth to

Foxes, Coyotes, Weasels, Bears, Cats – Carnivora Coyote (Canis latrans) Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) Raccoon (Procyon lotor)


Deer Mouse

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service




Ladybird Beetle

Ensatina Salamander



Mountain Lion


Raccoon 117


California Ground Squirrel

Long-horned Beetle



Northern Alligator Lizard

American Black Bear

Long-eared Chipmunk





Tarantula Wasp and Tarantula


Douglas Squirrel or Sierra Chickaree 118


Mule Deer




about a dozen aphids each day. Within two weeks, these young aphids mature and in turn begin to produce young.

the sapsucker eats the sap and, at the same time, devours insects trapped in the sticky substance. This kind of drilling by birds can be very ambitious—and can slow the growth of a tree or even result in die-back near the top of the crown.

In their mature stage, aphids are eaten in great number by the larvae of the syrphid fly (Syrphidae). This fly cannot see during its worm-like larval stage and can only randomly probe the air with its mouth parts. Despite this seemingly severe handicap, it is able to catch and devour aphids at the rate of one per minute. In its adult form, the syrphid fly is an important source of food for three different parasitic wasps and a number of birds including the Steller’s Jay and the mountain bluebird. Other birds known to feed on insects in the giant sequoia forests include the Pacific-slope flycatcher, wood peewees, wrens, finches, juncos, nuthatches, creepers, and sapsuckers.

Inchworms have been found near the ground and nearly 300 feet above it in the tops of large sequoias. Wood-boring beetles (Phymatodes nitidus) are now thought to play an important role in the reproduction of giant sequoias. When mature, they feed on pollen, but in their larval stages, Phymatodes feed on giant sequoia cones, causing the cones to dry, shrink, and crack open so that, one by one, the seeds will loosen from the scales of the cone and float away on the wind. This brief sketch of insect and bird activity relative to giant sequoias is far from a complete statement. It is intended only to indicate that there have been many recent discoveries in this field. Much more will be learned as research continues and as presently available information is more thoroughly analyzed and published.

As its name implies, the sapsucker also relies on the sap of trees for part of its food supply. In the case of the giant sequoia, the bird drills holes near the top of the tree where the bark is relatively thin. When these holes are full of sap,


Selected Bibliography “Gymnosperm Database: Sequoia sempervirens” Retrieved 2007-06-10. Hyperion, Redwood National Park, CA, 115.55 m.”

Giant Sequoia Background

Axelrod, Daniel I., “Late Cenozoic Evolution of the Sierran Bigtree Forest,” Evolution, Vol. 9, No. 23, March 1959. Baldwin, Bruce G., Douglas H. Goldman, David J. Keil, Robert Patterson, Thomas Rosatti, and Dieter H. Wilken, The Jepson Manual, Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition, University of California Press, 2012.

“Gymnosperm Database: Sequoiadendron giganteum” Retrieved 2007-06-10. “The tallest known giant sequoia is a specimen 94.9 m tall, first measured August 1998 in the Redwood Mountain Grove, California.­­”

Chaney, Ralph W., “A Revision of Fossil Sequoias and Taxodium in Western North America Based on the Recent Discovery of Metasequoia,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 40, Part 3, 1950.

Harrison, R. Wayne, Giant Sequoias: State of Knowledge, Current Status, and Management Concerns, 2011, Save the Redwoods League, 108pp. Hartesveldt, R. J., H. T. Harvey, H. S. Shellhammer, and R. E. Stecker, Giant Sequoias, 2002, Sequoia Natural History Association, 77pp.

Chaney, Ralph W., “Redwoods Around the Pacific Basin,” Pacific Discovery, October, 1948.

Hartesveldt, R. J., H. T. Harvey, H.S. Shellhammer, and R. E. Stecker, The Giant Sequoia of the Sierra Nevada, 1975, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 180pp.

Ellsworth, Rodney Sydes, The Giant Sequoia, J. D. Berger, Oakland, 1924. Engbeck, Joseph, Jr., The Enduring Giants, The Epic Story of Giant Sequoia and the Big Trees of Calaveras, The California Department of Parks and Recreation, 1973.

Muir, John, The Mountains of California, Doubleday & Company, 1961. Muleady-Mecham, N. E., Out of Thin Air: A Story of Big Trees, 2009, Vishnu Temple Press, 43pp.

Florin, Rudolf, “The Distribution of Conifer and Taxad Genera in Time and Space,” Acta Horti Bergiani, Vol. 20, No.4, Uppsala, 1963.

Stark, Nellie M., “The Environmental Tolerance of the Seedling Stage of Sequoia Gigantea,” American Midland Naturalist, No. 80: pp84-95.

Fry, Walter, and John R. White, Big Trees, Stanford University Press, 1930.

Taylor, Norman, The Ageless Relics, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1962. 120

Silverberg, Robert, The Challenge of Climate, Meredith Press, New York, 1969.


Barrett, S. A, and E. W. Gifford, Miwok Material Culture, Yosemite Natural History Association, 1933.

Natural History

Brewer, William H., Up and Down California in 1860-1864, edited by Francis Farquhar, University of California Press, 1966., Checklist of North American Birds, 7th Edition and its Supplements, The American Ornithologists Union, 2010.

Burrows, Jack, “The Vanished Miwoks of California,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Volume XXI, Number 1, Winter 1971, pp28-39.

Downs, James F., The Two Worlds of the Washo, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.

Laws, John Muir, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, Heyday Books, 2007.

Farquhar, Francis, History of the Sierra Nevada, University of California Press, 1965.

Munz, Philip, California Mountain Wildflowers, University of California Press, 1969.

Wood, R. Coke, The Land of Skulls, The Mother Lode Press, Sonora, 1955.

Parsons, Mary Elizabeth, The Wildflowers of California, Dover Publications, 1966.

Wood, R. Coke, Murphys, Queen of the Sierra, Calaveras California, Angels Camp.

Robbins, Bruun, and Zim, Birds of North America, The Golden Press, 1966.

Climatology – Paleontology

Storer, Tracy I., and Robert L. Usinger, Sierra Nevada Natural History, University of California Press, 1971.

Brooks, C. E. P., Climate Through the Ages, Dover Publications, 1970.

Storer, Tracy I., Robert L. Usinger, and David Lukas, Sierra Nevada Natural History, Revised Edition, University of California Press, 2007.

Carrington, Richard, The Story of Our Earth, Harper and Brothers, 1956.

Sudworth, George B. J., Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope, Dover Publications, 1967.

Mathews, William H., Fossils: An Introduction to Prehistoric Life, Barnes and Noble, 1962. Noss, R. F., ed., The Redwood Forest: History, Ecology and Conservation of the Coast Redwoods, Island Press, 1999, 366pp.


Glossary altithermal – a dry post-glacial period from 5,000 to 6,000 years ago

eudicot – a member of the larger main subgroup of flowering plants; generally having two cotyledons

annual – plants that complete their life cycle in one year

germination – the growth of the embryonic plant in the seed that becomes the seedling

B.C.E. – before the common era (replaces B.C.)

hypocotyl – the stem of a germinating seedling below the first leaves

cambium – the living layer of a woody plant (i.e., tree) outside of the dead outer wood and inside of the dead inner bark. It serves as a transport system for chemicals, water and products of photosynthesis

hypsithermal – synonym for altithermal; a dry post-glacial period from 5,000 to 6,000 years ago

canopy – the tops of trees; the highest part of a forest

litter – the accumulated plant debris on the forest floor that can be identified (i.e., twig, seed, cone, etc.)

climax – when the process of succession receives no disturbance and the only species successfully reproducing is the one at the end of the line of succession. It can result in lessened diversity and a monotypic forest community

mechanical thinning – the use of tools such as saws and axes to remove trees as well as the accumulation of burn piles in an effort to decrease burnable material, especially in an urban interface

C.E. – common era (replaces A.D.) cotyledon – the embryonic first leaves of a seedling

monocot – a member of the smaller main group of flowering plants; generally having one cotyledon

dbh – diameter at breast height – the measurement of a tree is standard at DBH, 4.5 feet above the forest floor on the uphill side of a tree

orographic clouds – when rising warm air and moisture are lifted because of the topography of the land (such as mountains) and become clouds

duff – the accumulated plant debris on the forest floor that cannot be identified to a particular object that lies beneath the forest litter

ovulate cone – the female cone of a tree that makes seeds perennial – plants living more than two years or growing seasons



peripheral pressure ridge – the raising of soil around the base of a giant sequoia, a possible adaptation to prevent flammable materials from accumulating next to the tree

through a disturbance (i.e., fire), which assists in achieving diversity of species in a community staminate cone – the male cone of a tree located at the ends of the foliage that produces pollen

phenols – chemical compounds found in trees that can be aromatic and natural insecticides and fungicides

tannins – bitter chemicals in trees; tannins in oaks were used to prepare leather – hence the term ‘tanning’

prescribed fire – a fire that is allowed to burn under acceptable conditions of temperature, humidity, fuel moisture and fuel load that was started naturally or by land managers

transpiration – the loss of water from plants as it flows from the roots, through the stem and out of the leaves understory – the plant matter below trees that include flowers, grasses, shrubs and seedlings

rancheria – the Spanish word rancheria refers to a small, rural settlement. In the Americas, the term is applied to native villages

urban interface – often called the wildland/urban interface when structures are built adjacent to or in a forest community with a fire ecology

scale – the section of a cone that encloses the seed. It opens to receive pollen and opens again later to release the seed succession – the process of one organism (i.e., plants) succeeding another as environmental conditions change





Preface to the First Edition Half a dozen presidents of the United States and several governors of California have had a hand in trying to save the Calaveras Groves. Many legislators on the state and federal levels have worked on the problem as have thousands of citizens. Today, after years of effort, it can be said, cautiously, that the Calaveras Big Trees have been saved. They belong to the people of California and are being tended and protected by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. But one job at Calaveras Big Trees remains unfinished, and must always remain unfinished, and that is the job of interpretation. We must be sure that present and future generations know why so many people went to so much trouble to save these magnificent sequoia groves. If people forget, or do not learn, why the park was created then to that extent we have failed in our stewardship of America’s wilderness heritage. I am gratified that the University of California, in this instance University Extension, has given this task a high priority. Publication of The Enduring Giants will keep the giant sequoia story alive and in perspective as a fascinating and dramatic chapter in the overall story of life on this ever changing planet.

As we move into the last quarter of the twentieth century, it is increasingly evident that human well-being and­­­the even more basic question of human survival are directly dependent upon a solid understanding of the natural environment and of Man’s place in the natural scheme of things. The redwood story, stretching back as it does over many millions of years, helps put the preoccupations of mankind in perspective. But more than that, it brings an element of extraordinary beauty and drama to the long, complexly interwoven story of evolution. Graceful giants of the plant world, redwoods are in a very literal sense experts at survival, and worthy of study for that reason alone. Like the giant reptiles of the Mesozoic Era, redwoods played an unusually important role in evolutionary history. But unlike the dinosaurs, redwoods have survived into our time, and today possess qualities of strength, beauty, dignity, and serenity that human beings admire and would have in their own lives. Because of this, thoughtful people care very much about redwoods and take a special interest in the great old veterans that dominate the primeval forests that still remain intact in places like Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The redwood story is therefore a kind of key to Earth history, especially to the history of life. Redwoods also serve as an excellent focal point for studies of ongoing ecological processes. That is why the Calaveras Big Trees are important. That is why they have been protected — have been given park status.

Sacramento, 1973 William Penn Mott, Jr., Former Director California State Parks


Foreword to the First Edition It is appropriate that the University of California and the Department of Parks and Recreation should join in creating this publication. During the institution’s hundred year history, many faculty members have expressed the University’s public service interest in the environment, and the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada have been a special concern. As long ago as 1876, Professor Joseph LeConte and others worked with John Muir in the first attempt at public acquisition of the Calaveras Groves. Throughout the next seventyeight years, several generations of U.C. faculty and graduates took leadership roles in the preservation effort that culminated in 1954 when the State of California acquired the South Grove. Those of us who enjoy the fruits of these labors also owe a debt to the Save the Redwoods League and Calaveras Grove Association, both of which played crucial roles in creating the park. These organizations also shared in the work that has resulted in this handsome volume; they have supplied information, encouragement, and financial support to help make the book available to a broad public. We are proud to be a part of this consortium. We think of University Extension as a “school for optimists.” In the past decade the growth of our Natural Environment Studies program at Berkeley has shown that the people of California are eager to know their environment better, to live in it more fully, and to learn how to use and protect it. This book, then, serves as an expression of the mutual beliefs and hopes of many individuals and groups.


Berkeley, 1973 Milton R. Stern, Dean University Extension University of California, Berkeley



Foreword to the Third Edition This third edition of The Enduring Giants marks another milestone in the ongoing story of Calaveras Big Trees State Park and the public interest in those matchless and magnificent trees that have come to be known as giant sequoias. Demand for the book continues to be strong both at Calaveras and other places including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. This is as it should be, for the book is beautifully written and designed and, moreover, as John Muir pointed out, the Calaveras Big Trees were the first discovered and for many years the most famous grove of giant sequoias in the world.

The association itself has grown, prospered, and accomplished mightily. Dedicated volunteers have expanded and improved the visitor center near park headquarters, and raised the funds for a new footbridge over Beaver Creek that can be left in place and used year round. Some 15,000 hours of time have been donated each year to light construction jobs or trail work. Staffing the visitor center, and giving talks or leading interpretive walks. The “Three Senses Trail” makes it possible for handicapped people to tour a portion of the stately old giant sequoia filled North Grove even if one is blind, or near blind, or deaf, or unable to get around without a wheelchair. Moreover, the text of The Enduring Giants and the printed trail guide to the North Grove have been transcribed into Braille and are available in the park’s interpretive center.

The effort to preserve and interpret the Big Trees is, of course, an endless process. This book is intended to facilitate that process by making the story of giant sequoia easily available not just to historians and other academic experts, but to everyone. The fact that a new edition is needed indicates that the book is doing its job.

It is wonderful that so much has been accomplished at little or no cost to the State through the volunteer efforts of private citizens. I thank them, and I am sure that the people of California thank them for all that they have done. I am pleased that republication of this book will continue to make it available to the public, and I am very proud to be part of the continuing, cooperative program of interpretation that is making the Big Trees of Calaveras a meaningful part of everyone’s natural heritage.

In the fifteen years since The Enduring Giants was first published, many things have been done to make both the scenery and the story behind the scenery more understandable and more enjoyable to the public. The park staff has carried out a high quality, model program of prescribed fire management. Much of this activity has been accomplished in the South Grove where giant sequoia seedling survival is especially pleasing to observe. The grove is now far more attractive and accessible, and the danger of disastrous wildfire has been greatly reduced. The staff has also done outstanding work with volunteers, most of them associated with the Calaveras Big Trees Association.

Sacramento, 1988 Henry R. Agonia, Director California Department of Parks and Recreation


e Photo Credits A special thanks and acknowledgement to all who contributed to the visual narrative of The Enduring Giants:

California State Parks (CSP) Mary Anne Carlton English Heritage, National Monuments Record Nancy E. Muleady-Mecham, Ph.D. National Park Service (NPS) Bruce Thomsen U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



Nicole Ver

intentionally Blank Inside Back Cover

“Let us be reverent a little as we stand here in the hush of these leafy sanctuaries — be reverent a little, if reverence in this age is possible. These great trees belong to the silences and the millenniums. Many of them have seen more than a hundred of our human generations rise, and give out their little clamors and perish. They chide our pettiness, they rebuke our impiety. They seem, indeed, to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time.” — Edwin Markham, California the Wonderful, 1914

U.S. $19.95

­­ Front & Back Cover Photos: California State Parks Cover & Book Design: Sandra Kim Muleady

The Enduring Giants Book FinalProof_10-18-13  

The Epic Story of Giant Sequoia and the Big Trees of Calaveras

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