By Nancy E. Muleady-Mecham
Giant sequoias must stay upright to survive, and they have mechanisms to chemically and physically maintain their balance. Should one lean too much, down it comes. But the trees are known to live past 2000 years. They are not the oldest, tallest or widest of trees, but they are the largest in volume. The largest, the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park has over 52,500 cubic feet of wood in its trunk alone!
These trees have been known by indigenous people for hundreds of years. There is evidence that Californians saw them in the early 1800s, and members of the Walker Expedition saw these trees in 1833. Calaveras Big Trees are noteworthy in that they were discovered by a Gold Rush-era person 1852, and the word got out world-wide. Within a year the Discovery Tree had been felled. This was private land, and the owners wanted to make money through tourism. When they heard that a giant in Yosemite State Park (not a National park until 1890) had a tunnel carved in it in 1881, the folks at the North Grove did the same a few years later in a tree here.
We don’t have the exact date but it was after 1881. In addition, early archived photos all call it the Pioneer’s Cabin tree, which is why we called it that in the update of The Enduring Giants.
Finally, rot is rarely a reason for falling; the presence of phenols and tannins continue to protect the tree. Cutting the center out to make a tunnel helped to undermine its structural integrity. The tree was leaning due to soil erosion, and then water inundation plus high wind gusts from the storm brought the tree down..
The Enduring Giants, sold in our own Visitor Center has much more on the natural history, ecology and history of these trees.