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Big Trees: Pictures & Politics

  From Sacred Symbol to Industrial Stumpage Big Trees as Recreation
  Big Trees as Natural Monuments   Big Trees as Curiosities
  Big Trees as Cathedrals of Nature   Big Trees as Commercial Products  
  Big Trees as Trophies   On the Wrong Side of Environmental History  
  Big Trees as Objects of Science Greenwashing Weyerhaeuser

Big Trees as Trophies

In the traditional masculine culture of big game hunting and trophy display big means best. The larger the creature that is slain, the greater the self pride of the hunter and the greater the public admiration bestowed on him. This rule applies not just to the display of animals but also to plants, more particularly to big trees, the most common motif being the victor and the vanquished. A characteristic format is the postcard. Right: an early colour chromolith postcard dated c. 1900. Two lumber jacks, called fellers, display their deadly weapon of assault while standing bravely in the undercut of an about to collapse redwood tree. The postcard caption states that the crosscut saw they hold is 28 ft in length. Rather than the tragic impending death of the ancient tree being marked, a rite of masculine prowess is celebrated.


Big tree felled by 28 ft crosscut saw
Old postcard


Man with axe on redwood stump.
Photo: Bancroft Library (C. Watkins)

The conquest of big trees by cutting them down is portrayed with the same triumphalist iconographic idiom as the slaying of wild beasts. In one case the victorious feller poses on top of a cut off giant (above), in the other the hunter poses next to a shot big game quarry (right). In both instances, the weapon that led to the demise of the "prey" or victim is prominently displayed, be it a rifle, axe or cross saw.

Right: Environment and History, August 2005.

"The iconography of game trophies contributed to a celebration of conquest by Europeans and Euro-americans. Big game of domination, an emblem of the conquest of territories and, increasingly toward the end of the nineteenth century, a form of administration when big game hunting became connected to preservation"

Karen Wonders, "Hunting Narratives of the Age of Empire: a Gender Reading of Their Iconography."


A variation on the trophy tree motif is the chopper's axe embedded in the disembodied remains of the giant tree (left). The unrepentant celebration of the choppers' triumph and the dominance over ancient big trees is not only an expression of the American conquest of nature in the West but an unqualified endorsement of the lumber value of big timber.

American hunter with grizzly, BC.
Wm. Hornaday, Campfires, 1906

The motif 'victory over vanquished' is illustrated in a BC grizzly trophy photo that was published in a 1906 hunting narrative (above). In 2005 the photo was featured on the cover of a European environmental history journal (left). Big game and big tree trophy display came into popular usage during the Age of Empire (1875 - 1914), especially during the colonization of the North American West. Thus trophy tree photos fill the university and local archives (below) while museums are stuffed with animal trophies, especially those in empire centres like London and New York.


Falling a Big Douglas Fir, 1900
Vancouver, BC

Falling a Big Douglas Fir, c. 1910
Weyerhaeuser Co., Washington

Falling a Big Cedar, c. 1920
Comox, Vancouver Island

Falling a Big Sitka Spruce, 1946
Holberg, Vancouver Island

Falling a Big Douglas Fir, 1950
Cowichan Lake, Vancouver Island

Falling a Big Sitka Spruce, 1964
MacMillan Bloedel, Haida Gwaii


"Falling Trees BC West Coast," BC big tree trophy, 2007.
Screenshot: YouTube

Promoting the wood products industry is the big tree trophy display photo of an ancient cedar by Darius Kinsey, taken in 1906 in Washington State (right). Two loggers, their axes embedded in trunk, stand on springboards on either side of the enormous tree trunk while a third man sits in the deep undercut of the mortally wounded ancient cedar. The tools that doomed her, the crosscut saw and the falling axe, are prominently displayed in the centre of the carefully posed scene. The Kinsey photograph was included in volume five, entitled "The Epic of Industry," of the 15 volume series "The Pageant of America." The caption states that it is the largest tree in Washington, with a circumference of 76 ft. Published to commemorate the nation's sesquicentennial in 1926, the Pageant was an unadulterated endorsement of resource exploitation and the only value given to the ancient big trees of the Northwest was as a lucrative natural asset to be freely slaughtered for industrial progress. As big trees were commodified, recognition of their true value vanished.


Sadly, big tree trophy display continues today, glorifying the industrial exploitation of ancient forests. Redneck jocks killing irreplaceable big trees in BC (left) and destroying forever primaeval forest biodiversity are broadcast on YouTube: Phoney Manliness and Big Tree Felling. With few specimens left in the US, now BC's big trees are suffering a final shameless assault (left) while the international wood products industry spews out greenwash to conceal its immoral deeds.

"Big Tree, Washington."
New York Public Library (D. Kinsey)


"Mammoth Tree." Painting by Isaac W. Baker, 1854.
Collection: Bancroft Library


Mammoth Tree

The Mammoth Tree, known also as the Big Tree, was the namesake of the Mammoth Tree Grove in Calaveras County, California. She measured 302 ft in height and 96 ft in circumference at the time she was chopped down in 1853. A painting done in 1854 by gold miner and amateur painter Isaac W. Baker shows the felled Mammoth Tree (right). Two men are measuring the enormous 25 ft in diameter stump on which a dance floor was later constructed large enough for 40 people. The sign on the butt end of her trunk warns: "All persons are forbid taking any wood from this tree."

The Mammoth Tree Grove was the first grove of ancient Sequoias to be "discovered" in the Sierra Nevadas by Euroamericans in 1852. Although it has been a major tourist attraction ever since, the grove was not protected from logging until 1931 when the Calaveras Big Trees State Park was founded. In 1967 the park was finally expanded to include a second, more southern grove.


An wood engraving by picturing the remains of the Mammoth Tree was printed in 1862 as the frontispiece to the book "Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California" by James M. Hutchings. The author reported that within the grove area there were 103 big trees, 20 of which exceeded about 75 ft in circumference at the base. Hutchings also included in his book an engraving by A. Nahl of the Mammoth Tree prior to her untimely demise at the hand of man (right). Another view of the momentous killing was an engraving published by the English minister and travel writer Samuel Manning, in his 1876 book "American Pictures" (below).

Right: Engraving with caption; "Preparing to Fell Big Tree."

Illustration in Samuel Manning, American Pictures, 1876.

The felling of the Mammoth Tree was described as a "botanical tragedy" and an "act of desecration."

It took five men 22 days to complete using pump augers: "thus this noble monarch of the forest was dethroned, after braving the battle and the breeze for nearly two thousand years."


"Workmen Felling the Mammoth Tree."
Engraving, Scenes of Wonder, 1862

Hutchings described the scene as one of nature desecration: "This tree employed five men for twenty - two days in felling it - not by chopping it down, but by boring it off with pump augers. After the stem was fairly severed from the stump, the uprightness of the tree, and breadth of its base, sustained it in its position. To accomplish the feat of throwing it over, about two and a half days of the twenty two were spent in inserting wedges, and driving them in with the butts of trees, until, at last, the noble monarch of the forest was forced to tremble, and then to fall, after braving 'the battle and the breeze' of nearly three thousand winters. In our estimation, it was a sacrilegious act. . ."


"Auger holes through the Original Big Tree."
Stereoview: E. & H. T. Anthony

Hundreds of trophy stereoviews of the Mammoth Tree were produced showing the bark stripped section of her trunk with the auger marks clearly visable (above). Engravings were executed using the stereoviews as reference (right). The destruction of the Mammoth Tree was not to convert her to lumber but to profit from her display, consequently her bark and a cross section were sent around Cape Horn to New York City. The exhibition was a failure as the viewers did not believe the big tree relics to be authentic.


"Auger-Holes Through the Original Big Tree."
Big Trees and the Yosemite, 1872


The Discovery Stump with sign, 2007
Calaveras Big Trees State Park


The Discovery Stump (from the park sign)

In the Spring of 1852, Augustus T. Dowd, while hunting, discovered a grove of truly immense trees, now known as the Calaveras North Grove. Several stockholders of the Union Water Company (who employed Augustus as a hunter) developed a plan to display in New York and other cities, a piece of the largest of these trees. Many people, however, were outraged at the cutting of the tree, Dowd among them. The tree was felled, sections of bark and a slab was shipped to New York City, and the entire promotion was a failure.

The stump and remaining log became a tourist attraction. The stump was used as a dance floor, and later was the foundation for a pavillion. A bowling alley and bar were constructed on top of the log.

The stump continues to be an attraction to thousands of park visitors annually. It is a testament to the longevity of these redwood trees that the stump and log are still here after more than 150 years.


Relics of the felling of the Mammoth Tree in 1853 remain on view in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park as curiosities: the section of her trunk (above) and her stump (below). The same deeply scarred trunk section photographed above in 2007 is the subject of a stereoview c. 1870 (right).

Stump of the Mammoth Tree, 2007.
Calaveras Big Trees Park, California


"Section of the Original Big Tree."
Stereoview (click to enlarge)

The massive stump of the Mammoth Tree, now called the "Discovery Stump" (left), is shameful evidence of how an ancient living entity was brutally cut down as a trophy tree in 1853. It was from this exceptionally beautiful Sequoia that the the type specimen material was gathered by botanists who waged a battle to be the first to name the world's largest tree species. A lithograph of the Mammoth Tree printed in London c. 1855 notes: "Diameter 31 ft at the base, circum. 96 ft, height 290 ft, 3000 years old."


"The Mammoth Trees," Lithograph, 1854.
Hutchings California Scenes (click to enlarge)

The engraving above was reprinted in Heart of the Sierras (1888) by J. M. Hutchings where her measurements were give as "321 ft in height, 84 ft in circumference, without the bark." The text reads: "Now, alas! the noble Mother of the Forest, dismantled of her once proud beauty, still stands boldly out, a reproving, yet magnificent ruin. Even the elements seemed to have sympathized with her, in the unmerited disgrace, brought to her by the ax; as the snows and storms of recent winters have kept hastening her dismemberment, the sooner to cover up the wrong." A photo taken in 1860 was entitled "The Mother of the Forest, 305 ft high, 63 ft circumference" (right). It shows the 120 ft high scaffold used in 1854 to strip the bark from the trunk of the 2,520 years old tree. The bark was sent by sea from San Francisco to New York and London for the purpose of the profit from its display as a curiosiy and as proof to a disbelieving public of the existence of such giant trees.


Mother of the Forest

Another famous Sequoia inhabitant of the Mammoth Tree Grove in Calaveras County was the "Mother of the Forest," renowned for her graceful form and symmetrical proportions which included "two breast like protuberances." She is seen in the centre of a 1855 lithograph (left) by D. A. Plecker entitled "A Correct View of the Mammoth Tree Grove." Based on a daguerreotype, the scene also shows the stump and trunk section of the Mammoth Tree. The text reads: "There are other trees of the same species in this ever green and ever memorable forest, as large as the one shown in the engraving, but none so beautifully erect and symmetrical in every proportion. The engraving represents the largest perfect standing tree, surrounded by a variety of other large trees of a different species. It is called the 'Mother of the Forest' and has been deprived of its bark to the height of 116 feet and at that height measures 39 feet 6 inches in circumference. . ."

"Mother of the Forest," 1860.
Bancroft Library (Lawrence & Houseworth)


"Mother of the Forest," c. 1870.
Stereoview: California - Big Trees


Many stereoviews were made of the giant Sequoias. One series, "California Big Trees," by Boston photographer John P. Soule, included a stereoview entitled "Mother of the Forest, looking up the Tree, circum. 76 ft, over 306 ft high" (left). For decades after her bark was removed Mother remained a famous landmark, until a fire in 1908. Also her bark, on display for over a decade at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, was destroyed by a fire in 1866. Thus all traces of the big tree, which might have lived for centuries more in her ancient forest home, disappeared within a few short years of her discovery by Euroamerican settlers.


Left: "Calaveras Big Trees, The Mother of the Forest," c. 1870. Photo by Carleton Watkins showing the tree some 20 years after her bark removal. A woman leans against the tree on the left. The photo was used as a visual reference for the engraving (right).

Right: "Big Tree: Mother of the Forest."
Engraving in "Western Wanderings" by John Boddam-Whetham, 1874.

"Some sacrilegious vandals, from the motive of making its exposition 'pay,' removed the bark to the height of thirty feet; and afterwards transported it to England, where it was formed into a room; but was afterwards consumed by fire, with the celebrated Crystal Palace, at Kensington, England. This girdling of the tree very naturally brought death to it; but even then its majestic form must have perpetually taunted the belittled and sordid spirits that caused it."


"The Cross-Cut in the Big Tree," Fresno Grove.
Lawrence & Houseworth, c. 1865


Big Tree at Fresno

Many commercial big tree trophy images were taken of the prostrate giant Sequoia called "Big Tree" which had a circumference of 78 ft. One image, entitled "The Cross Cut in the Big Tree" is by Lawrence & Houseworth (left). Similar images were published as stereoviews (below). The Big Tree was located in the Fresno Grove (later known as the Nelder Grove) in Madera County. When discovered by settlers in 1857, the grove was said to contain about 600 giant Sequoias. Most were destoyed between 1888 and 1892 by the Madera Flume and Trading Company and the Madera Sugar Pine Company. One of the cross sections from the Big Tree was used to illustrate its life of nearly 20 centuries. The display points out events on the time scale of the tree rings such as the jailing of Apostle Paul in 58 AD, when the tree had just sprouted: The Life of a Big Tree.


"Cutting off section of the Big Tree," Fresno Grove

"Cutting off section of the Big Tree," Fresno Grove


Mark Twain Tree, 2008.
Photo: F. Gold


Mark Twain Tree

When "Mark Twain" was cut down in 1891, the giant Sequoia was 1,341 years old and measured 331 ft (100.9 m) high and 90 ft (27.4 m) in circumference at the base. Today a stump is all that remains of the once thriving tree that might have survived another thousand years (left). The ancient tree relic is located in the Big Stump Grove of what is now the Kings Canyon National Park in Fresno and Tulare Counties along with other curiosities of the Sequoia lumbering days including a 150 year old pile of sawdust. Some cross sections of the felled Mark Twain Tree were cut for display purposes and the rest of the tree was milled for grape stakes, fence posts and shingles by the Kings River Lumber Company.


Mark Twain had the misfortune of growing in an area in the high Sierra Nevada mountains called Millwood that was purchased by two lumber barons, Hiram T. Smith and Austin D. Moore, who took possession the 30,000 acres of Sequoia forests in 1888 and founded the Kings River Lumber Company. By 1905 the company had laid waste to some 8,000 giant Sequoias, all over 2,000 years old. Because of the huge size and weight of Mark Twain, his killing by company loggers took eight days. An engraving shows two men after their labour, on the stump just before the tree came crashing down (right). The bed of branches built to prevent its breakage on impact is seen below the tree.


Right: Engraving entitled "The Fall of the Big Tree - It bore the name Mark Twain.

. . Tree undisturbed on its Sierra hillside, what other great men and events in the world's history might it be a contemporary of?"

New York Times, 1891 (click to enlarge)


Cross section from the Mark Twain Tree, 2007.
American Museum of Natural History

While the the largest, 16 ft in diameter basal cross section of Mark Twain ended up at the American Museum of Natural History, a higher second section was sent to London for display at its Natural History Museum which opened in 1881. There it remains today, an iconic display on the second floor of the grand central hall (right). Conceived as a "cathedral of nature," the museum is emblematic of European civilization at the turn of the century. While the rare ancient big tree groves, the real cathedrals of nature, were being exterminated by Euroamericans for wood products, relics of needlessly slaughtered trees were displayed as trophies of manliness and of the triumph of human hegemony. Tragically, this irony continues to decimate big trees today.


Because the Mark Twain Tree was of magnificent symmetrical proportions, "one of the most perfect trees in the grove," he was selected to provide a cross section for display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (left). The curator marked on its annual rings selected events of human history. See: Life History. Its birth in 550 AD made Mark Twain a contemporary of Justinian, Emperor of the Roman Empire. "With these historic contrasts before us," wrote a reporter in the New York Times (12 January 1908), "We can begin to picture in our imagination the span of life that has been enjoyed by this hardy forest Methuselah" A Tree's Life Through Thirteen Centuries.

Cross section from Mark Twain Tree, 2007.
Natural History Museum, London


"Chicago Stump," Sequoia National Forest, 2006.
Photo: W. McGhie

General Noble's ignoble death was recorded in a series of photos by Charles C. Curtis. A 60 ft high platform (right) was erected on the 285 ft high tree to facilitate the loggers. The ancient giant was cut 50 ft from the ground, measuring at this height 17.5 ft in diameter. The falling of General Noble was witnessed by over 100 men from the nearby mills and logging camps. The spectacle was described by Hubert Howe Bancroft in chapter 7 of The Book of the Fair (1893):

The saw was withdrawn, the last wedge driven. The immense tree quivered like one in agony, and with a crushing, raging, deafening sound it fell, the extreme top, with its branches, falling upon an opposite hill and breaking into a million pieces. The larger part split as it fell at the vase of the fifty foot stump, and lay like the hulk of a monster ship - the weight of that part being estimated at over 200 tons.

General Noble cut into sections, 1893
Photo: California State Library, Fresno (C. Curtis)


General Noble Tree

The General Noble Tree was a famous 19th century giant Sequoia who inhabited the Converse Basin area of Tulare County. Named for the Civil War general John Willock Noble, the record sized tree was cut down in 1893 for display at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Today the sorry remains of the venerable big tree, known the "Chicago Stump," can be seen in the Sequoia National Forest (left).

"Felling Tree for Chicago World's Fair," 1893.
Photo: Kings County Library (C. Curtis)

From the 50 ft stump that remained after the fall of General Noble, a 30 ft section above the base was divided into 14 pieces and prepared to be sent to Chicago for display. The interior wood was removed from the tree except a small thickness and the bark which was reconstructed. A photo by Curtis records this process (left). The image includes a game trophy, a black bear displayed by a hunter, standing at its head with his rifle in hand. Curtis provided 18 images which documented the annihilation and conversion of General Noble and proved the authenticity of the monster tree. The images were exhibited on the walls of the two rooms, one above the other, that had been built into the reconstructed trunk and were connected by a inner staircase.


The General Noble Tree trunk was displayed prominently in the central rotunda of the US Government Building, an artifice designed to exemplify the nation. A photo of the trunk display, entitled "Section of Sequoia Gigantea or 'Big Tree,' 23 feet in diameter, from California - Government Building" was published in the 1894 Final Report of the California World's Fair Commission (right). The display emphasized the grand forests of the Northwest as an abundant national resource for material progress.

The human General Noble served as the Secretary of the Interior between 1889 and 1893 and one wonders what his reaction was to the killing and display of the tree that bore his name. By contrast to the Noble Tree, not far from the site of the carnage at Converse Basin, was "General Grant," a beloved Sequoia that had been protected in 1890 by the creation of the four mile square General Grant National Park. Noble is credited with originating section 24 of the Forest Reserve Act, which was passed into law in 1891 and stipulated that the natural resources found on public land were to be "managed for the people." In 1893, the same year that the General Noble tree was cut down on order by the federal govenment, the Converse Basin area became part of the Sierra Forest Reserve, the second national forest reserve designated in California. During this time thousands of acres of timberland in the Sierra Nevadas were grabbed by railroad and lumber barons and the irreplaceable giant trees were massacred for commercial wood products.


General Noble Tree display.
California World's Fair Report, 1894


General Noble Tree, Washington DC, c. 1895.
Photo: Bancroft Library


Also the Forestry Building at the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago, with its commodified remains of big trees, embodied national aspirations that were synonymous with commercial exploitation. Some 40,000,000,000 cubic feet of American forests were being anually converted into lumber at the turn of the century, supporting an powerful industry that symbolized the end of the Western frontier. Following its display in Chicago, the General Noble trunk was shipped to Washington DC, where it stood on the Mall near the Agriculture Department building for three decades (left). It was eventually dismantled and stored in the Department's yards in Arlington, Virginia - where today the Pentagon stands. What then happened to the remains of the once venerated big tree is not known and it is assumed to have been destroyed, perhaps ploughed into the ground during construction of the Pentagon.


World's Fair Big Tree, Mammoth Forest, 1894.
Photo: Bancroft Library (I. W. Taber)


World's Fair Big Tree

The success of Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition prompted the undertaking of a "World's Fair" in San Francisco the following year, called the California Midwinter International Exposition. Two massive tree trunks from California had been displayed in Chicago, one from the General Noble Tree; the other a 40 ft fake, a hollow structure covered with panels of redwood bark. Also in San Francisco a big tree display was undertaken, and a sacrificial Sequoia in the Mammoth Grove in Calaveras County was selected. Photographer Isaiah West Taber recorded the felling and transport of the tree, which was nearly 3,000 years old and measured 99 ft in circumference and 312 ft in height. Taber's 40 folio sized images with captions were displayed alongside the big tree sections to prove its authenticity (left and below).


Sections of the World's Fair Big Tree
being crated for transportation
from Mammoth Forest.

Four sections of the World's Fair
Big Tree, boxed up, on the road from
Mammoth Forest, Porterville.

Mountain Wagon as it was capsized while hauling the World's Fair Big Tree from Mammoth Forest.

The above is a one-foot section, cut in two, of the World's Fair Big Tree, Mammoth Forest, California.

Big Tree, one solid, half cut. This is the largest piece of timber ever taken from California, measuring 20 ft in diameter and weighing 19,728 pounds.

Eye witnesses to the preparation and departure of the World's Fair Big Tree being photographed upon the stump at Mammoth Forest.


"Virgin Redwoods," Garfield, Humboldt County.
Photo: Humboldt State University (A. W. Ericson)


Redwood Corpses

Another form of big tree trophy display are photos of trees prized for their board footage of lumber, most often pictured lying on the ground like corpses waiting to be bucked for the mill. Such images, often enscribed with the board footage, were commissioned by the logging companies as promotional advertising. California archives are full of redwood corpse photos, like those taken by A. W. Erikson in Humboldt County (below). The logging industry also used giant stumps to promote their products. At first glance Ericson's image, entitled "Virgin Redwoods," seems to be the base of a living redwood. But closer inspection reveals deep springboard wounds in the trunk, evidence of how it was lopped off.


Right: "Among the Redwoods" by A. E. Ericson.

Augustus William Ericson (1848 - 1927) was born in Orebro, Sweden and immigrated to the US in 1864. In 1869 be began working for a lumber company in Humboldt County, California and later settled in Arcata where he established himself as a photographer. Ericson was often commissioned by lumber companies such as the John Vance Mill & Lumber Company (right).

Some 200 of the images he produced in the early 1890s were displayed at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Ericson's pictures of the redwood industry were widely published in the US and abroad. Following the World's Fair, the Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce published a promotional book entitled "In the Redwood's Realm" in which 126 of the images were Ericson photos of redwood logging scenes. Although the almost 500 glass plate negatives by Ericson held by the Humboldt State University Library lack dates and documentation, they provide a revealing indictment of the logging industry's killing of ancient trees and the conversion of their corpses to shingle boldts (below).


"10 Ft Log, Scale 13000 ft, Sheldon Wn, 1908."
Photo: University of Washington (G. R. Clark)

Pictures of gigantic logs destined for the mill was a common form of trophy display during the settlement of the Northwest Coast when the old growth forests and their ancient inhabitants were demolished by logging companies. A typical postcard from 1908 (above) features a ten foot Douglas fir log on a railroad car at Shelton, Puget Sound, Washington. Within a few decades the plundering had resulted in the extermination of the grand stands of timber. The exploitative attitude toward the big trees is seen in the engraving of a section from the trunk of a BC cedar (right). The trunk was exhibited at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London where it was described as "A Forest Trophy." Its purpose was to promote the natural abundance of Canada and encourage prospective British immigrants.


Trophy Logs

"BC Cedar, Girth 21 ft, Height 250 ft."
Illustrated London News, 1886


"The Stump House," Eureka, California.
Photo: Humboldt State University

On 14 February 1893, the same year that the General Noble tree was cut down for a "tree room" display in Chicago, an unnamed giant redwood tree growing on the Eel River in Humboldt County, California, was felled and stripped of its bark. Divided into 14 sections, the bark was reconstructed into a room over 70 ft in circumference which was displayed at the Pan American World's Fair in Buffalo, New York in 1901. Following the fair, the trophy became the property of the Niagara Falls Museum where it remains today (right).

Entrance to Redwood Empire, 27 August 1939.
Golden Gate International Exposition

At the Golden Gate International Expostion in San Francisco in 1939, a redwood trophy log with a tunnel was displayed at the entrance (above). In 1959 a similarly large redwood trophy was displayed at the Sonoma County Fair despite there being few surviving big trees in the county (right)


Big tree trophy imagery was appropriated by the logging industry as it exploded with the flood of settlers to the Northwest Coast in the late 19th century. The native redwood forests were the first to be decimated. Trophy logs were displayed at international expositions to promote the lumber industry and as roadside tourist curiosities such as "Stump House" in Eureka, Humboldt County, photographed by A. W. Ericson c. 1900 (left). The slain redwood was converted to a curiosity to advertise for the "Manufacturers of Redwood Burl and Myrtlewood Gifts Wholesale - Retail."

1893 Eel River redwood display.
Niagara Falls Museum, NY

Redwood, Sonoma County Fair, 1959.
Santa Rosa, California


Most redwood trophy logs were displayed as part of the lumber industry's commercial advertising. In Humboldt County A. W. Ericson of Arcata, near Eureka, was the best known photographer to be employed by the industry. He was often called by John Vance to take glass plate negatives of the mammoth trees, some 20 ft in diameter that were felled in the "Vance Woods" before they were transported to the Vance Mill & Lumber Company (right). It is likely that the man in the foreground with his hand on the trophy log is the owner of the company, John Vance himself.

"Some Big Timbers Ready for the Sawmills, Oregon."
Old postcard


Vance Woods logging, c. 1899.
Photo: Humboldt State University

Erickson's photos were widely distributed with no regard for his copyright. An example is the image above, which was used as a promotional postcard, falsely advertising the "big timbers" of Oregon (left). The Vance Mill was bought by the Little River Redwood Company in 1900 and futher sales continued until the 1980s by which time 97 percent of the redwoods had been exterminated.


Eureka businessmen formed the Samoa Land and Improvement Company in 1889. Vance Lumber Company purchased the Humboldt Bay frontage from Samoa Land and Improvement Company for construction of a large sawmill in 1892. Eureka and Klamath River Railroad was chartered in 1893 to connect the Samoa sawmill which was the largest in Humboldt County when purchased by Andrew B. Hammond in 1900. The lumber town of Crannell (known as Bulwinkle prior to 1922) was founded by the Little River Redwood Company which purchased the Humboldt Northern Railway in 1930 and merged with Hammond Lumber Company in 1931. A commercial photo from 1930 shows the standard trophy style motif used to promote the logging industry (right). Note the length of the cross cut saw displayed in the centre.

Georgia Pacific, a pulp and paper corporation, acquired the Hammond Lumber Company in 1956. During the last half century, most of the old growth deforestation in California was the result of three mega companies which held hundreds of acres of redwood timberlands; Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific and Pacific Lumber. In 2005 Georgia Pacific was bought by Koch Industries for $21 billion and in 2008 Pacific Lumber (owned by Maxxam) went bankrupt and was acquired by Mendicino Redwood Company and so the lineage of forest destruction companies continues.


Little River Redwood Company, 1930.
Photo: Humboldt State University


The lumber industry's relentless destruction of the native redwood forests is dramatically documented in promotional photos commissioned by the Little River Redwood Company which operated out of Bullwinkle/ Crannell in Humboldt County.

Left: Company bigshot poses with his wife and an employee, 1930 (far left). Right: Company fellers.

15 foot diameter crosscut, 1911

Sawyer starting backcut, 1924

Choppers finishing cut, 1924

Butt of redwood tree, 1924

Removing bark, cutover lands, 1924

Redwood sections on corduroy road

Peelers removing bark from logs, 1924

Mill plant looking downstream, c. 1924

Logging camp, Bullwinkle, c. 1920


Big tree climbers Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins were the team who discovered the tallest tree in the world, the 378.1 ft "Hyperion" in 2006. According to Mario Vaden, "Hyperion missed teeth of saws by a few hundred feet." See his photos: Hyperion. The precise location of Hyperion in Humboldt Rewoods State Park has not been revealed to spare it from possible root damage due to big tree enthusiastists. Some 135 redwood trees that reach higher than 350 ft including "Helios" (376.3 ft) and "Icarus" (371.2 ft) have recently been discovered in the park, much of which had been clearcut logged prior to its founding in 1983. One 280 ft surviver is climbed by George Koch, a professor of plant ecophysiology at Northern Arizona University (right).

Sadly, the antiquated "macho" hunter ethos of big tree trophies still survives today when modern technology has taken any courage or skill out of the killing and felling of large living things, and such acts amount to little more than the callow destruction of rare, threatened and endangered biological masterworks of evolution.


Tall Trophies

Today, with so few remaining big trees in California, Oregon and Washington, they are no longer cut down for public display, but scaled by extreme tree hunters (left). The fact that the so called "champion trees" are recorded by organizations that greenwash for the forest industry should make one suspicious of this distraction, for it is not the individual tree that matters as much as the habitat of the big tree. Without the protective, surrounding forest, the groves of big trees are prone to windfall, a case in point being Cathedral Grove in BC where its forest buffer continues to be relentlessly logged (in 2008 by Island Timberlands), leaving the tiny protected park vulnerable to wind damage, etc.

George Koch on ascent of a 280 ft tree.
Photo: Sillet-Antoine