What’s the story behind the second largest giant sequoia and the controversy with its naming myth?

By Sarah Elliott, 16 April 2019, 3RNews; editorial update 31 March 2021

There is no other tree on Earth that has had such attention and honor bestowed upon it by U.S. presidents than the General Grant Tree.

The General Grant Tree is the second largest tree by volume in the world.* It is 268.1 feet in height, almost seven feet shy of the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree.

Named for Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the Union general and 18th president of the United States, it was designated as the Nation’s Christmas Tree by President Calvin Coolidge on April 28, 1926. The General Grant Tree is also a living memorial to the men and women of the United States who have given their lives in service to their country. It was proclaimed a National Shrine on March 29, 1956, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Naming the Tree

General U. S. Grant, City Point, Va., August, 1864 (Library of Congress)

The tree was purportedly discovered by Joseph Hardin Thomas in 1862. According to Park Service lore, it  was reportedly named by Lucretia Baker of Visalia on Aug. 20, 1867, while General Ulysses S. Grant was still in command of the Union armies, however, there is some controversy in my family about who really named the tree.

My great-great-uncle, Hudson Barton (1844-1929), was once quoted as saying: “In 1866, one year before it is claimed that Mrs. Baker named the tree, I myself held a tapeline to my belt and walked around the General Grant Tree. I found it to be 106 feet in circumference. The tree was known as the General Grant Tree at that time. I further state that I was told by Joseph Hardin Thomas, owner of the sawmill in Shingle Flat [now Sequoia Lake] that he himself discovered and named the tree. Thomas made this statement in the presence of men who could have disputed it had they knowledge to the contrary.”

Mrs. Baker did send General Grant a frond from the tree, and Grant responded with a letter recognizing the honor.

Grant is well known for his victorious exploits in the Civil War. But at Shiloh (Tennessee) in April 1862, Grant fought one of the bloodiest battles in the West and came out less well.

For his next major objective, Grant maneuvered and fought skillfully to win Vicksburg, the key city on the Mississippi, and thus cut the Confederacy in two. By the end of 1862, he broke the Confederate hold on Chattanooga. Then, on December 17, 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant expelled all Jewish people from the Department of Tennessee, which included parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, based on anti-Semitic stereotypes and rumors. He gave Jewish people just 24 hours to leave their homes, businesses, and lives behind. When Lincoln heard of the order, he was so shocked that he asked his staff for confirmation. Once they confirmed that it was real, he revoked it.

Annual Trek to the Tree

The first Christmas service at the base of the tree was inspired by the late Charles Lee of Sanger. In 1924, as he was gazing in awe at the huge tree, a small girl approached. “What a lovely Christmas Tree that would be,” she said, then turned and ran off.

The idea stayed with Lee and on Dec. 25, 1925, he organized the first Christmas program at the tree. Upon returning home, Lee wrote a letter to President Coolidge, who adopted Lee’s suggestion.

Christmas services have been held each year since, except during World War II when travel was restricted. The ceremony is sponsored by the Sanger Chamber of Commerce.

At the annual event, the National Park Service places a wreath at the base of the tree in honor of our fallen heroes.

Getting there

It is located just inside the Kings Canyon National Park entrance in the Grant Grove. Turn left off of Highway 180 one-quarter mile past Grant Grove Village. Travel 1.2 miles past Azalea Campground and Columbine Picnic Area. It is an easy, quarter-mile walk to the General Grant Tree from the parking lot, where also seen will be the Fallen Monarch, which has been historically used as both living quarters and a stable; the Gamlin Cabin, home to brothers Israel and Thomas Gamlin in the 1800s while they worked their 160-acre timber claim in the Grant Grove; and the Centennial Stump, all that’s left of a Big Tree that was cut down in 1875 for display at the World Exposition in Philadelphia.

*NOTE: The General Grant was not always deemed the second largest tree. The Washington Tree held that honor untl the summer of 2003.

2003 was a tough fire year. The Dinely Fire in Three Rivers, Calif., created many tense moments for homeowners. Antelope Mountain in Woodlake burned.

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, fire crews were busy balancing prescribed fires and several lightning-caused blazes, including a particularly destructive one in the Giant Forest. Although orders were given to create a perimeter around the Washington Tree and protect it from the approaching fire, something went horribly wrong. Word slowly trickled out that the second largest tree in the world had caught fire.

The Washington Tree, located in a remote corner of the Giant Forest Grove, is these days a shell of itself; its defining branch, bigger than most mature trees, is on the ground in a charcoal heap. As of this writing, the Washington Tree has been removed from this list of the “Biggest of The Big Trees.” It no longer holds the distinction of #2.

The planet’s 4th largest tree by volume was dedicated Aug. 10, 1923, in honor of President Warren G. Harding, at the hour of his funeral.

By Sarah Elliott, 16 April 2019, 3RNews

The President Tree is the fourth largest tree in the world. It is easily accessed via the Congress Trail in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest.

The Congress Trail is a paved loop trail that begins and ends at the General Sherman Tree parking lot. It is a self-guiding trail and, although the most famous of the named trees are also graced with carved, wooden signs, there are pamphlets available at the trailhead that correspond with numbered markers along the trail that discuss various natural features of the forest.

The Congress Trail leads in many different directions as it meanders through the Giant Forest.

It is also advised to travel in this area with a map in hand (available at park visitor centers). There is a network of trails criss-crossing the Giant Forest plateau and though most junctions are marked, it’s easy to become confused.

To reach the President Tree, take the Congress Trail — which is marked with a sign just east of the Sherman Tree — into the forest past the Leaning Tree, where the route then turns south.

In less than a tenth of a mile, the trail crosses Sherman Creek. Although above the return loop portion of the trail, it can be intermittently seen below.

The trail climbs gently, and in just over one-quarter of a mile, crosses another tributary of Sherman Creek. A trail junction is reached in under a half-mile that connects with the return loop.

Stay left here and continue to gradually ascend on the Congress Trail south. At just over three-quarters of a mile, the trail meets the Alta Trail.

This is where a slight detour will allow a glimpse of the beautiful Chief Sequoyah Tree. Instead of turning right on the short portion of the Congress/Alta trails just before they again go their separate ways, continue instead straight, crossing the Alta Trail.

This one-tenth of a mile segment is part of the Trail of the Sequoias, a six-mile loop trail that explores the highest reaches of the Giant Forest plateau, as well as Log, Crescent, and Circle meadows, Tharp’s Log, and provides access to several other trails in the area.

About 500 feet south of the Alta Trail on the Trail of the Sequoias, the Chief Sequoyah Tree comes into view. It is reached by a short spur trail that ascends to the left.

The Chief Sequoyah Tree was named in 1928 by Colonel John R. White, park superintendent, for the man who developed an alphabet for the Cherokee people, one of the greatest intellectual feats of all times. German botanist Stephen Endlicher, who originally named the trees sequoia gigantea (the Big Trees are now botanically known as sequoiadendron giganteum) and sequoia sempervirens (coast redwood), did so in Sequoyah’s honor, but changed the spelling to how it appears today.

Back on the trail, the President Tree is in sight on the right side of the trail, an easy jaunt of one-tenth of a mile. The President Tree was dedicated Aug. 10, 1923, in honor of President Warren G. Harding, at the hour of his funeral.

Presidents of the United States well understand the checks and balances provided by their various branches, and for this, the President Tree is aptly named. It’s branches are high up, large, and powerful, keeping the main body of the President, its trunk and lifeline, upright and true despite the species’ shallow roots system.


The planet’s 5th largest tree by volum was named in 1960 for Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862-1965), a college football coach.

By Sarah Elliott, 7 October 2019, 3RNews

The fifth largest tree on the planet is the Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree. It is also the largest tree outside of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and has had the distinction of being the largest tree in the world that is located on private land.  (But, perhaps, not for much longer. The Rouch family sold the Alder Creek Grove to Save the Redwoods League.)

The Stagg Tree is located off Highway 190 east of Springville.

To reach the Stagg Tree, drive east on State Highway 190 for 2.5 miles beyond Camp Nelson. Turn left on Redwood Drive (County Route M216) at the subdivision of Alpine Village and continue about 6 miles to the cabin community of Sequoia Crest. When Redwood Drive turns sharply left to become Alder Drive, drive straight ahead on the unpaved road for less than a half-mile to the locked gate.

From here, it’s less than a one-mile walk to the tree. Continue beyond the gate along an old logging road. Stay on this road as it passes through an old logging camp – with its unmistakable twin towers of giant sequoias – until reaching a short trail that is identified by a handmade sign pointing the way to the tree, which is a short walk downhill.

The land on which the Alder Grove grows is owned by the pioneer Rouch family. It is from this grove that a 25-foot-long block of downed giant sequoia wood was donated to sculptor Carroll Barnes of Three Rivers and during 1941-1942 was transformed into a statue of Paul Bunyan. The 20-foot tall, 13-ton statue has stood sentry at several Three Rivers locales and wandered as far as Porterville in southern Tulare County, but today calls Three Rivers Historical Museum home and greets all passersby on Sierra Drive.

This impressive carving has had several homes over the past 80 years, but today stands along Highway 198 in front of the Three Rivers Historical Museum. The sculpture is 17 feet tall, 9 feet wide, and weighs 13 tons.

The present-day owners of the Alder Creek Grove is the Rouch (pronounced ra-ow) family who are kind enough to grant public access so all may visit this fifth largest of all trees. (Be sure to follow all parking directions and refrain from smoking and littering.) 

The Alder Creek Grove is about 785 acres and contains stands of young and mature sequoias. Although the Rouch family were loggers and developers throughout much of the 20th century, they never cut a giant sequoia.

When my husband, John, and I visited the tree, we were joined by two couples who were visiting from Russia. On our return hike we met other groups on pilgrimages to the tree.

The Stagg snag bears the scars of thousands of years of being pummeled by lightning and winter storms.

The tree was named in 1960 for Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862-1965), immortalized college football coach whose career spanned 70 years. He also coached track, baseball, and basketball.

Stagg helped organize what is today the Big Ten Conference and is credited with many innovations in the game of football, from formations to uniforms and equipment. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.

According to measurements taken by Wendell Flint (To Find the Biggest Tree, 2002), the tree has reached a height of 244 feet and has a ground perimeter of 82.2 feet.

The Stagg Tree is on a steep slope, which makes it difficult to judge its true size. It has several burn scars and extremely thick bark.

Not only are sequoias the largest trees on earth, they are also the most enduring. Big Trees can live to be thousands of years old, mainly because they don’t usually die of natural causes.

The secret to this everlasting life is the giant sequoia’s outer bark, a fibrous, deeply furrowed, almost fur-like reddish-brown cortex. In the oldest of the trees, the outer bark can be up to two feet thick.

The leading cause of death for giant sequoias is fire. And in a complete contradiction, the giant sequoia also depends on fire for survival.

When the fuel of smaller trees such as pine and fir and accompanying forest shrubs build up the understory and encroach upon the Big Trees, a fire will burn with too much intensity, ultimately working through the sequoia’s protective outer bark to its thinner, more vulnerable inner bark.

Giant sequoias: The aging process

In contrast to a conflagration, occasional small fires burn away accumulated fuel. The sequoia seeds then germinate on the bare, mineralized soil.

A sprouting sequoia seed actually grows faster downward during the first several years of life, its taproot growing deep into the ground.

Above ground, through its adolescent years of a hundred years or so, the sequoia tree is conical with gray bark, blue-green foliage, and feathery limbs. A sequoia is fast-growing, adding about six feet per year.

As it ages, the trunk bares itself of branches and the needles turn greener. It’s only after a millennium or more that the tree’s bark turns to a cinnamon color and becomes deeply furrowed.

By then, its upper branches have grown as large as most trees. The largest will have jutted from the tree horizontally, as branches tend to do, but then form an elbow and grow skyward as if declaring their independence from the massive trunk.

The realm of massive trees once covered most of the Northern Hemisphere during an age of gigantic things. Although dinosaurs have long been extinct, the Big Trees continue to survive.

Today, giant sequoias have chosen to grow naturally only in groves located in the mid-elevations along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We must never take these primeval trees for granted. Travelers from across the globe flock to see those that have chosen to grow so close to Three Rivers.


This article was originally published August 2011 in The Kaweah Commonwealth newspaper. Claud “Sonny” Rouch, 92 and then-patriarch of the Rouch family, corresponded upon learning of the feature. Sadly, Sonny died in February 2012 so my email conversations with him abruptly ended. Here are some of his insights from his original email:

Dear Sarah:

I’m told that your paper had a good article about the STAGG TREE. My family owns the land where that tree is located. There is a long  and very interesting story which if you wish I will share it with you.

I have lived in Camp Nelson for over 50 years, My dad bought the land where the Stagg Tree is located in 1945. There was no road there at that time.

In the fall of 1945, coming home from service in the army, my first job was to build 6 miles of road to this full section of land which included the STAGG TREE. This area of Sequoias is named the South Alder Creek Grove.

We had a saw mill in Springville. Fortunately we didn’t cut the redwoods.

We then subdivided about 200 acres. This is now known as Sequoia Crest and there are now over 100 mountain homes built there.

This is enough for now. If you wish in the future I have a story of working for Disney in Mineral King. I worked for the Tulare County Road Dep. when the flood of 1969 took out the Kaweah Northfork road.

Sonny Rouch


With all eyes on Confederate symbols it shouldn’t be lost on the residents of Kaweah Country that there are two living monuments within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee

By Sarah Elliott, 25 June 2020, 3RNews

The Robert E. Lee Tree in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. (FamousRedwoods.com photo)

Monuments have come down throughout the nation during a worldwide wave of protests that began May 25, 2020, with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., by police. Along with the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, these actions have sparked demands for sweeping changes and a nationwide uprising for racial justice. There is a re-energized movement that hasn’t been experienced in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and activists are calling for a just and sustainable future where Black Lives Matter.

With all eyes on Confederate symbols, from its flag to statues, it shouldn’t be lost on the residents of Kaweah Country that there are two living monuments within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807-October 12, 1870).

Robert Edward Lee, Confederate general and slave owner
Lee, who was born in Virginia, attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated second in the class of 1829. Two years later, he married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, a descendant of George Washington’s adopted son, John Parke Custis.

Lee served 17 years as an officer in the Corps of Engineers, supervising and inspecting the construction of the nation’s coastal defenses. He first set foot on a battlefield during the 1846 war with Mexico. He quickly distinguished himself, earning three brevets for gallantry and emerging from the conflict with the rank of colonel.

From 1852 to 1855, Lee served as superintendent of West Point. In 1855, he left the academy to take a position in the Cavalry and in 1859 was called upon to stop abolitionist John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry.

In April 1861, as the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of the federal forces. Lee declined and tendered his resignation from the U.S. Army when the state of Virginia seceded on April 17, arguing that he “could not fight against his own people.” Instead, he accepted a general’s commission in the newly formed Confederate Army, fighting for slavery.

In February 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis named Lee general-in-chief of all Confederate forces. Two months later, on April 9, 1865, Lee and his army surrendered to the Union’s General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the Civil War.

Lee returned home on parole and eventually became the president of Washington College in Virginia (now known as Washington and Lee University). He remained in this position until his death in Lexington, Virginia, at the age of 63.

During the Civil War, Lee was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they were black. And Lee was a slave master himself. In a 2017 article in The Atlantic, Lee was described as cruel and heavy handed. 

Lee was especially vicious because he would separate slave families, which was a fate worse than death. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor creates a portrait of Lee through his writings, and said, “By 1860, he had broken up every family but one on the estate.”

A well-known story of Lee describes when two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured. Lee either beat them himself or ordered the overseer to “lay it on well.” Wesley Norris, one of the slaves who was whipped, recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, General Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with [salt] brine, which was done.”

Lee Trees

Robert E. Lee Tree
The most famous of the two Lee trees in the local parks is the Robert E. Lee Tree in Kings Canyon National Park. Located on the trail to the General Grant Tree and adjacent to the Fallen Monarch, this Lee Tree is, at 254.7 feet in height and 40,102 cubic feet in volume (sans burn scars), the 11th largest tree on the planet. It was reportedly named in 1875 by Richard Field, a former Confederate lieutenant, five years after Lee’s death and 15 years before General Grant National Park was established (Kings Canyon’s predecessor). The Lee trees

Currently, hundreds of people walk past this tree each day without knowing that it’s named for the Confederate general or realizing it’s one of the largest trees they will ever see. The tree is in decay, sort of like its namesake’s reputation, and, in July 2006, a limb came crashing down, narrowly missing three international tourists. A year later, tree-climbing scientists entered the tree and confirmed that it was compromised by fungus and rotted material.

At that time, the National Park Service removed the ROBERT E. LEE TREE sign for the reason of safety. Without a sign designating it as a named tree, the visiting public is less likely to pause and gather under the tree for photos. Because of the recent outcry against Confederate monuments, the tree’s moniker will most likely be allowed to fade into obscurity

General Lee Tree
The other Lee Tree is in Sequoia National Park with no superlatives such as “largest” attached to it. It has a sign identifying it, but is not as noticeable as the other trees in the vicinity: President, Sequoyah, Congress Group.

“The one in Giant Forest, the General Lee Tree, still has its sign in place,” reported Sintia-Kawasaki-Yee, parks information officer. “[The Park Service is] having conversations about what the options are for that sign and what policies are involved as we’re getting asked to both remove the sign and also to leave the sign in place. I think this is going to take some public engagement, and we may not have a decision soon.”

“As far as removal of reference to Robert E. Lee, we’ve looked through our website and other materials and found one document that listed the Robert E. Lee Tree,” Sintia continued. “We’ve modified this document and updated the website. We haven’t found anything else yet, but we’re still looking.”


…to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us. —Manifest Destiny

By Sarah Elliott, 1 July 2020, 3RNews

What’s in a name?

Let’s meet the man after which the largest, and arguably most visited and revered, tree in the world is named. However, here we are in the 21st century, and no one can say for certain how, why, or when the General Sherman Tree was named.

In the Sequoia National Park historical archives, it is written that the General Sherman Tree was named “August 7, 1879, by James Wolverton, pioneer cattleman and trapper, in honor of General Sherman, under whom he served as First Lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Cavalry.” But historians have discovered that there is no evidence documenting that any of this statement is true.

“As we will see, there are a few issues with this narrative. Foremost among them is that James Wolverton, as such, never existed…” wrote Laile Di Silvestro in a 2019 series for 3R News entitled J. Wolverton and the Ghastly End. “There are no census, voting, or property records for a James Wolverton in Tulare County between 1874 and 1893.” 

“What we know for certain is that the earliest historic reference to the name is from 1897, when the acting superintendent reported his plan to get a new sign for the tree.”

During the period of 1886 to 1892, the tree was dubbed the Karl Marx Tree by the members of the Kaweah Colony. It’s likely this was the first time the tree was given a name by the early white settlers.

General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman (Wikimedia Commons photo)

The Sherman legacy

General William Tecumseh Sherman (February 8, 1820-February 14, 1891) did as much as any man to ensure Euro-Americans achieved their manifest destiny. The ideology that became known as Manifest Destiny, coined by newspaper editor John O’Sullivan in 1845, was a belief in the inherent superiority of white Americans, as well as the conviction that they were destined by God to conquer the territories of North America, from sea to shining sea. 

Once white settlers were bestowed with the privilege of Manifest Destiny, the indigenous peoples were a mere impediment to progress. And the doctrine inflamed tensions over slavery, ultimately leading to the Civil War.

In California

Originally from Ohio, William Sherman began his military career as a young soldier in California, where he would spend three years, from 1847 to 1850. While he was here, there was the Mexican-American War (he didn’t see action), the Gold Rush, and California was granted statehood. According to biographer James Lee McDonough, “Sherman threw himself into the civic life of the state. He met almost everyone of note, visited missions, unsuccessfully hunted grizzly bears, patronized the local arts, opened a store in Coloma (to supplement his meager Army wages), and spent as much time with the state’s women as possible.”

And Sherman even explored the mountain range where there is now a beautiful giant sequoia named in his honor, although it’s doubtful he ventured this far south in the range. He helped assemble a surveying party to study the Sierra Nevada and find a railroad route through the high mountains.

Civil War

During the U.S. Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman was one of the major architects of Confederate defeat and the final overthrow of American slavery. Yet in his personal attitudes, he was, by his own account, a racist and white supremacist.

Sherman’s attitude toward black people was one of contempt. He was quite comfortable with referring to them in derogatory terms. But he also told Southern slaveholders that they needed to treat their slaves “more near the status of human beings.” Sherman had no issue with keeping black people enslaved, he just thought they should be treated humanely.

This painting entitled “The Peacemakers” depicts a March 1865 meeting with (from left to right) William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln, and David Dixon Porter. (Wikimedia Commons image)

After the Emancipation Proclamation, many former slaves sought to join the Union army. Sherman ordered that any recruiter who enlisted black soldiers would be arrested and possibly imprisoned. President Abraham Lincoln reminded Sherman that there was a law in effect regarding black recruitment into the Union Army, and that because it was a law, all must follow it. Sherman refused to change his mind.

For the Great Warrior Sherman, it was easier to unmake laws than it was for the courts of the land to interpret them. (Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee)

March to the Sea

The Civil War military campaign known as Sherman’s March to the Sea occurred from November 15 until December 21, 1864. It began after the burning of Atlanta with forces traveling from there to the port of Savannah on the Atlantic coast. Everything in the Union troops’ path was destroyed — Sherman’s own controversial “scorched-earth” policy — which left nothing but ruin behind.

An unintended consequence of Sherman’s scorched-earth campaign was that all manner of freed slaves —men, women, children, and the elderly — abandoned the now-demolished plantations and fell in behind him. More than 10,000 black refugees followed Sherman’s March to the Sea. And the Confederate cavalry was closing in from the rear.

A defining moment was when a pontoon bridge had to be quickly erected to cross Ebenezer Creek. Telling the refugees that the troops needed to cross the swollen creek first because of fighting in the front, the soldiers crossed and quickly dismantled the bridge, cutting off the refugees’ only route to freedom.

The Confederates arrived at water’s edge, causing hundreds of stranded liberated slaves to jump into the icy water in an attempt to cross. Many drowned. Those who didn’t were shot on sight or captured and re-enslaved. Any Union troops attempting to help the victims were ordered to continue the march. It was a barbaric slaughter of thousands and thousands of newly freed slaves.

To avoid reprimand, Sherman had to make amends for the Ebenezer Creek massacre. Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton requested that Sherman convene a group of black leaders. Of the 20 men summoned, all were church leaders and 16 were former slaves.

The question was asked: What should the government do for black people?

The answer was land; give them land to work and live on with an opportunity to purchase it.

Four days after the meeting, Sherman issued Field Order No. 15: the “40 acres and a mule” rule, which set aside islands along the Georgia, Florida, and Carolina coasts — nearly 400,000 acres — for black resettlement. Within months, more than 40,000 black Americans had flocked to the Sea Islands area, dubbed “Sherman Land.”

The future looked bright until… soon after the inception of Sherman Land, President Lincoln was assassinated. His successor, Andrew Johnson, a Southern sympathizer, overturned Field Order No. 15 in the fall of 1865.

By the end of the Civil War, Sherman recognized that the South had severely mistreated its black population. But he never denounced the institution or morality of slavery.

American Indian Wars

All we ask is to be allowed to live, and to live in peace. I seek no war with anyone. (Cheyenne chief)

Sherman, now the most senior member of the U.S. Army, was the man for the job of eradicating the natives. The same tactic was used as with the slaves: the government made promises that it did not keep. By 1880, most of the tribes, along with the buffalo that fed and clothed them, were eliminated.

Great Warrior Sherman, as the natives called him, was to secure land for the transcontinental railroad and mining interests in territory inhabited by the indigenous peoples. The plan was to move them onto reservations, where they would no longer be free to move about the country. They were instead confined while the the white man was able to freely settle, explore, build, mine, hunt, and exploit.

The end of the Civil War did not, however, mark the end of General Sherman’s military career. Off he went to cleanse the frontier of the indigenous people who lived on ancestral lands that were now being exploited by white settlers to be dug up, dammed up, and deforested in search a grand fortunes.

Whether on the ground leading troops or from behind a desk in Washington, D.C., Sherman ordered many trials and punishments for native captives. At times, the indigenous peoples were treated as prisoners of war even though the war had been unilaterally initiated by the United States.;

The whites told only one side. Told it to please themselves. Told much that is not true. Only his own best deeds, only the worst deeds of the Indians, has the white man told. (Yellow Wolf of the Nez Perce)

General Sherman (third from right facing camera) and “Indian commissioners” in council with native chiefs at Fort Laramie, Wyoming (1868). (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Sherman was also responsible for the near extinction of the American bison. He knew that the way to subdue the indigenous tribes was to annihilate the buffalo of the Great Plains. Since buffalo were a critical part of the natives’ existence, both physically and spiritually, Sherman went straight for the herds. What’s in a name

“I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England and America… this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt and make one grand sweep of them all,” Sherman wrote.

The U.S. Army offered protection for the hunters while allowing them to kill hundreds of thousands of the animals. While buffalo lay dead and rotting on the plains, Sherman continued to promote the killing of the once vast herds to vanquish the native people. (By the early 20th century, only 325 buffalo were left in America.)

By Sherman’s retirement in 1884, he had succeeded in forcing all the Plains Indians who had survived the many conflicts onto regional reservations.

My opinion is, if fifty Indians are allowed to remain between the Arkansas and the Platte we will have to guard every stage station, every train, and all railroad working parties. In other words, fifty hostile Indians will checkmate three thousand soldiers. Rather get them out as soon as possible, and it makes little difference whether they be coaxed out by Indian commissioners or killed. (General William T. Sherman)

Ironically, Sherman’s middle name, Tecumseh, is after a Shawnee chief and warrior whom his father admired. And while Sherman was most definitely a warrior, the second act in his military career was dedicated to decimating the indigenous culture and life of his namesake.

American hegemony was victorious over the tribal resistance. And this is the “hero” who was foremost in the forced, violent, and deadly removal of the indigenous people off the lands where they and their ancestors were born and for whom the General Sherman Tree is named.

What would Sherman think of having the world’s grandest natural monument named after him? Perhaps he would feel subjugated because that monument is located within the boundaries of a national park that is named in honor of a descendant of the country’s indigenous inhabitants.

To the Kiowas and Comanches the white men seemed to hate everything in nature. (Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee)

Much appreciation to Laile Di Silvestro of Three Rivers, historical archaeologist and researcher extraordinaire, for providing information for this article and answering a lot of questions. Additional sources include Memoirs of William T. Sherman (1875), The 1619 Project (The New York Times Magazine, 2019), and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown, 1970).

Sequoia National Park was created in 1890, named for the tree that it was created to preserve. The end.Or is it?

By Sarah Elliott, 20 July 2020, 3RNews

Sequoia National Park’s namesake is the Sequoiadendron giganteum, known to us laypeople as the giant sequoia, the most massive tree on the planet. But history may not be correct in how the “sequoia” received its name.

The sequence of Sequoia

The species of redwood that today bears the botanical name Sequoiadendron giganteum was identified by Stephan Endlicher (1804-1849), an Austrian botanist who died by suicide at the age of 44. It has been widely written, even by Sequoia National Park representatives, that Endlicher named the largest tree on the planet for Sequoyah (1770-1843) of the Cherokee Nation who created a syllabary of 86 characters that provided thousands of Cherokees the opportunity to read and write.

There is research that debunks this theory, stating that the European scientist never wrote down that he was honoring Sequoyah with the name Sequoia and there is no record of him speaking of this. In the words of one scientist who has written extensively on giant sequoias, it is contended that:

Sequoyah Sillabary
Sequoyah’s syllabary in the order that he arranged the characters. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin word that Endlicher chose to derive the prefix of the name for the coast redwood that established what Lowe (2012) called Endlicher’s sequence of five genera in his Suborder Cunninghamieae is indeed appropriate: ‘I follow, i.e. sequor.’ Since in the verb ‘sequor’ the ‘passive r … was added immediately to the root of the verb,’ then dropping the added ‘r,’ leaves the root verb ‘sequo’ to which is added the Latin suffix ‘ia’ used in the naming of plants, yielding the new word Sequoia as the name for the plant. The Latin suffix ‘ia’ means something derived from, relating to, or belonging to what is conveyed in the prefix. The question then arises: Was Endlicher aware of this specific Latin grammatical nuance in order to derive his prefix? Yes. …” (from the book DEBUNKING THE SEQUOIA honoring SEQUOYAH MYTH, by Gary D. Lowe, 2018).

Sequoyah is remembered kindly by history, and his accomplishments have been honored. Oklahoma gave a statue of Sequoyah to the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1917. Sequoyah’s cabin in Oklahoma, where he lived from 1829 to 1844, is a National Historic Landmark. The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor in 1980. However, as scholars and scientists delve deeper, it’s unlikely that Sequoyah is the namesake of the giant sequoia and, thus, Sequoia National Park.

Here is another citation:

In 1847 Endlicher, a German [sic] botanist, believing that [the tree] was a distinct genus, published it under the name of Sequoia. [Endlicher], contrary to custom, omitted to give the origin of his name, and botanists have conjectured that it was intended to commemorate ‘Sequoyah,’ a … Cherokee Indian, who, all by himself, invented an alphabet and taught it to his tribe by writing it upon leaves. … It seemed fitting that the redwood should be named for the red man, yet Prof. J. G. Lemmon and others consider it to have been derived from sequor (to follow) alluding to the fact that our redwoods are the followers of a vanishing prodigious race, which Prof. Lemmon considers a much more appropriate and pleasing origin for the botanical name of our monster tree.” —George Morris Homans, California State Forester, 1910-1921 (italic added to highlight the cultural racism)

And finally:

… No one has ever found mention in [Endlicher’s] writings of Sequoyah’s name or of his unique Cherokee syllabary. It was apparently assumed that Endlicher, a known philologist, admired the Indian for his linguistic accomplishments. The assumption became widespread, and some botanists, such as Asa Gray, searched the Endlicher papers for confirmation, but in vain. French botanist de Candole agreed with Gray that ‘the supposed origin of Sequoia from Sequoyah is entirely fanciful.’ —The Giant Sequoia of the Sierra Nevada, by R.J. Hartesveldt, H.T. Harvey, H.S. Shellhammer, and R.E. Stecker (1975)

[Article continues below. Click on the images for a slideshow.]

All that’s left today are their markings of millennia in stone…

Native people and Sequoia’s place names

Sequoia National Park set aside wilderness to preserve in perpetuity. This sounds good in theory (if you’re a white person), but the legislation took away yet more ancestral lands from the Native peoples. At that time, a scattering of Indigenous tribes was still living in the region that would become United States’s second national park before the end of the 19th century.

The irony of the national parks, and Sequoia in particular, is that these lands didn’t need protection until the white settlers arrived. They mined the mountains, their stock grazed the meadows, they cut the sequoias, and they displaced the Indigenous caretakers who coexisted with the land and respected the natural world.

By the end of the 19th century, the Native peoples who didn’t assimilate into white society were soon extinct. All that’s left today are their markings of millennia in stone: bedrock mortars scattered along the waterways, the mysterious bathtub-like basins in the sequoia groves, and some pictographs telling an undecipherable story of human occupation.

Contemporary tributes are few to the Native population that called the Sequoia region home for so many generations. There’s the carved “Indian head” sign at the entrance to the park. There are two place names along the highway named for tribes: Potwisha Campground (a Native village site) and Wuksachi Village (named in the 1990s).

Of the ancient Big Trees, dozens of which have commemorative names, only one tree in Sequoia National Park was named for an Indigenous person: Chief Sequoyah Tree. In contrast, there are twice as many trees — two — named for Black Americans: Colonel Charles Young and Booker T. Washington. The rest of the named trees mostly pay tribute to colonizers.

The ‘Indian Head’ sign at the entrance to Sequoia National Park.
Chief Sequoyah Tree
The Chief Sequoyah Tree in the Giant Forest Grove, Sequoia National Park.

The Chief Sequoyah Tree is a deserving tribute to an accomplished man who was greatly admired by the Cherokee people and others, but (1) Sequoyah is most likely not the namesake for the giant sequoia or Sequoia National Park, and (2) Sequoyah was not a chief. His maternal grandfather was a chief, but Sequoyah never held that distinction.

There is the Suwanee Grove of giant sequoias, which is a name derived from a native language. “Suwanee” is a projectile tool made by Native inhabitants of the eastern part of the country but the grove could also be named for a town in Georgia. Or Kentucky.

The trail to the pictographs at Hospital Rock, Sequoia National Park.

Hospital Rock provides visitors with the most visual replica of Indigenous occupation. There was a Native village here and there are prehistoric pictographs and bedrock mortars in the vicinity.

The Kaweah River is derived from the Native language. According to James Barton (1819-1912) of Three Rivers (the author’s great-great-grandfather): “Kaweah is formed from two words… Kawa is the Wutchumna word for crow. Aweah means ‘water’ in the same language. The combination of the two means crow-water and people got to pronouncing it wrong and it now has the name Kaweah.”