9 Awe Inspiring Facts – Pioneer Cabin Tree

Here at the Calaveras Visitors Bureau we were shocked and saddened by the loss of the iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Before falling on Sunday January 9th at 2pm, this statuesque giant sequoia—the largest living species on earth–touched the lives of millions of people from all around the world. In the days following this incident we have received an outpouring of support and grief from locals and visitors and inquiries from reporters from all around the world.

In honor of this iconic member of the Calaveras community, we would like to tell its story.

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    1. Though there are many remaining tunnel trees around the world, the Pioneer Cabin Tree could hardly be called one of many. Well over 2000 years old, it stood in the first grove of giant sequoias ever encountered by Westerners.

R.I.P. Pioneer Cabin Tree: a winter storm in California has felled this famous sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The tree was so massive that an automobile could pass through the tunnel at its base. This photograph of the tree dates from circa 1870, before the tunnel was carved out in the 1880s. It comes from an album of photographs of California presented by Edward Vischer to John Prince-Smith [WA Photos 245]. … #pioneercabintree #calaverasbigtrees #calaverasbigtreesstatepark #treesofinstagram #giantsequoia #giantsequoias #sequoia #sequoiatrees #sierranevada #westernamerica #californiana #westernamericana #19thcenturyphotos #19thcenturyphotography #librariesofinstagram #beineckelibrary #specialcollections #brbl #yalelibrary #rip #restinpeace #requiescatinpace

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2. The Pioneer Cabin Tree was part of the ongoing legacy of preservation-education cultivated by the outstanding staff and volunteers at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  With a tunnel carved through its base, the Pioneer Cabin Tree stood as a pre-historic relic of a bygone era.

3. As the story goes, upon the initial “discovery” of giant sequoias in the Calaveras grove in 1852, they were the largest living thing ever discovered, and in a time of tall tales, the world needed proof. The Pioneer Cabin Tree stood silent witness as men with  dollar signs flashing before their eyes came to peel the bark from one of the largest giant sequoias in the park (The Mother of the Forest Tree) to ship overseas to Europe and the East Coast as proof that these massive behemoths really existed—killing the skinned tree in the process.

4. Eerily, the Pioneer Cabin Tree may have sensed the loss of this very tree through a fungal network below the forest floor.

5. For many years it was believed that the giant sequoias (housed in what is now known as Calaveras Big Trees State Park) were the only living specimens of their kind, attracting visitors from all over the world. As more giant sequoias were discovered, private grove handlers became competitive.

6. Shortly after the Wawona Tree in Yosemite (which fell in 1969) received the first tunnel for vehicles to pass through in 1880, the owner of the Calaveras grove, James Sperry, sought a large enough sequoia to do the same. He settled on the Pioneer Cabin Tree not only due to its vast circumference but in large part due to a cave-like scar it had received from a lightning strike in the distant past.

7. As a testament to the resilience of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, after this further hollowing, it survived for another 137 years as many early visitors passed through in wagons, horse drawn carriages, and (before it was outlawed) cars. The inner walls of the Pioneer Cabin Tree housed the laughter of visitors, somber whispers, and the hands of all who passed through its central corridor.

Photo Credit: Maria Camillo. Calaveras Big Trees State Park Cabin Pioneer Tree 19th century name carvings. The tradition of visitors to carve their name into the inner walls of the tree was outlawed when the State Park was formed in 1931.

Photo Credit: Maria Camillo. Calaveras Big Trees State Park Cabin Pioneer Tree 19th century name carvings. The tradition of visitors to carve their name into the inner walls of the tree was outlawed when the State Park was formed in 1931.

8. Since the founding of the state park in 1931, the giant sequoia which spent the last 150+ years of its life known as the Pioneer Cabin Tree has stood as an icon of one awe-inspiring and humbling question: what does it mean to love an ancient living being?

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9. Even in discussions of its falling in 2017, across every channel, these questions are arising. Fortunately the answer is always close at hand—these trees are a treasure not to be taken lightly. While they remain a rarity in the grand scale of our modern way of living, today we are fortunate to still have thousands of healthy,  thriving giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, as well as the national park system available to inspire us.

Facebook user Selbee Crouch says: " I love this tree so much. My husband and I have so many memories with it, like when he proposed to me ❤ We will forever miss this gorgeous tree."

Facebook user Shelbee Crouch says: ” I love this tree so much. My husband and I have so many memories with it, like when he proposed to me ❤ We will forever miss this gorgeous tree.”

So in honor of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, see them while you still can, while they are here and you are able. Get out there and meet all of the good employees and volunteers in our state and national park systems who are there to hear our questions of “How?” and “Why?” and whose hard work gives us the opportunity to allow our great-great grandchildren the chance to do the same. Let’s do our best to honor the wisdom of our ancestors and replace their folly with change. Here at the Calaveras Visitors Bureau we don’t know about you, but we’re ready to hop lightly, leaving no trace behind.

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  1. Debbie Zachary says:

    Thank you for the article, I would love to see a wonderful memorial for this Grand Ole Tree using some of it as a part of the memorial.

    • Our pleasure Russ! We’re here to inform and inspire :)! If you have any questions about trail openings or other features the park has on offer feel free to give us a call 7 days a week 1-800-225-3764. Have a great day!

  2. Kelly McAfee says:

    It really is sad that we lost this icon. I’m so glad I had the honor of walking underneath this giant before it went down. It really is unfortunate we lost this giant. s old as this tree is, I’m surprised it isn’t petrified. Maybe it could be gutted out and sell some of the wood in clear plastic boxes.

    Sincerely, Kelly McAfee

    • Thanks for sharing your feelings, Kelly, we’re definitely feeling the same way! This massive beauty was a part of so many of our families traditions and lives. It will certainly be greatly missed!

      Part of what makes this grove of ancient giant sequoias so awe-inspiring is the fact that these pre-historic trees are alive and well–some of them living to the ripe old age of 3000+ years. In order to be petrified, the tree would have to have been buried under sediment or volcanic ash. Fascinating stuff!

      If you’d ever like help planning a visit to the park, feel free to contact us 7 days a week at 1-800-225-3764.

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