Big trees and historic cabins were 2020 Castle Fire casualties in Sequoia’s Dillonwood Grove.

By Sarah Elliott and Laile Di Silvestro for 3RNews, 6 November 2020.

An aerial view of the aftermath of the Castle Fire in the Freeman Creek Grove of giant sequoias. (USDA photo by Curtis Kvamme)

The Dillonwood Grove of giant sequoias, at one time the largest privately owned stand of giant sequoia trees, is located 32 miles from Highway 198’s intersection with Yokohl Valley Road and 6 miles north of Balch Park. Although within an easy day trip of Three Rivers, the grove is the least visited area of Sequoia National Park that is accessible by road. A high-clearance vehicle is necessary to traverse the severely rutted, previously overgrown (but now the vegetation has burned), narrow access road, then it’s several more miles of hiking once the locked entrance gate is reached.

From logging to preservation

Logging started on the lower fringes of Dillonwood around 1865 and continued sporadically until about 1990. In 2001, Save the Redwoods League donated the 1,540-acre grove containing multi-generational giant sequoias to Sequoia National Park after a massive fundraising campaign to purchase the privately held grove. Big Trees and historic cabins

The nonprofit organization brokered a deal to purchase the grove to remove it from private hands and the threat of logging. The purchase price was $10 million. The League raised $5 million to match a $5 million grant approved by Congress that came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

At the time, Dillonwood Grove was owned by siblings David Reed and Susan Matthews, who inherited the land in the mid 1980s. Their parents, Forrest Reed, a professional forester, and Ruth Moore Reed, whose father worked for Pacific Lumber Company in Humboldt County, bought the land in 1960.

The Dillonwood logging settlement in 1904. Note what remains of a stand of large sequoias at top-center. The road to the left of the giant sequoias that curves down toward the center of the photo is a logging skid path. A “steam donkey engine” would drag cut trees along the skid to the sawmill. There’s a flume running from the sawmill (building at lower right) that was used to transport cut trees down the steep mountainside to Springville. (Photograph by A.R. Moore, Terry Ommen collection)

Giant sequoias and their nemeses

During a century or more of logging in the grove, many old-growth sequoias were felled. All but about 100 large giant sequoias were cut. But it was currently a thriving grove with subsequent generations of sequoias growing where their ancestors were cut and hauled away. And while logging will never occur again in the remote Dillonwood Grove, these Big Trees were recently confronted with another threat: high-severity fire. Big Trees and historic cabins

Even the oldest, largest giant sequoias are vulnerable to intense fire. Most of these ancient trees — at the headwaters of the North Fork of Tule River and bounded on three sides by Giant Sequoia National Monument — have lived through hundreds of fires since before the birth of Jesus Christ, yet modern wildfires are killing them. And while some giant sequoia seedlings will germinate after the fire, new seedlings will have difficulty competing with the shrubs that flourish in response to high-severity fire.

Historic structures decimated 

Left over from the Dillonwood logging days were some wooden structures that are now gone. Click on the before-and-after photos below to witness the destruction.

Two other historic cabins in other areas of the Golden Trout Wilderness were destroyed. The Mountain Home Guard Station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, ca. 1937-1938, and was in use recently as a recreational rental. The Grey Meadow Guard Station was completed in 1916 for a total construction cost of $90.

Dillonwood’s namesake

Nathaniel Dillon

Nathaniel Patrick Dillon (1820-1903) was one of the earliest Euro-American settlers in Tulare County. He arrived in 1853 with a few siblings, his wife Zylpha, and three children, one of whom was born en route. They initially entered into the incipient livestock industry and grew grain.

At some point in the 1860s, however, Nathan got into the milling business. His initial mills were gristmills, which converted the area’s corn and wheat into flour and made him one of the most wealthy men in the area.

Zylpha and Nathan had at least 12 children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. They also cared for Elliott and Mary Jane Dillon, the children of Nathan’s younger brother Peter Ewell, who were orphaned in 1866. After Zylpha died in 1886, Nathan remarried and had one more child before his second wife died after being thrown from a wagon while descending the mountain from Dillonwood.

Dillonwood was Nathan’s pinery, which he established in 1875. It is believed to have been his second lumber mill, the first having been established the prior year in Mineral King in the area now known as Faculty Flat. Nathan did not engage in mining in Mineral King, but instead panned for gold in the White River area, founded in 1856 as a gold camp. Originally called Dogtown, then Tailholt, the unincorporated Tulare County community is known today as White River. It is located about 10 miles east of Delano.

Nathaniel Dillon

Members of the Dillon family did stake Mineral King mine claims, however, and Dillonwood served as a wayside during the 1870s and 1880s for miners and adventurers traveling from the Tule River country to Mineral King. At one time, there were plans for the route from Dillonwood to be the main route to Mineral King.

One of the Mineral King miners was Nathan’s adopted niece Mary Jane Dillon, who staked a claim with Anna Mills shortly before Mary Jane was to marry Samuel Miles Gilliam (brother-in-law of Mineral King resort owner Arthur Crowley). Anna Mills was one of the most famous people to camp at Dillonwood. She did so in 1878 while on her way to climb Mount Whitney with the first party of women to reach the summit.

By the end of his life, Nathan was blind. However, his children tended him as well as his land.

Laile Di Silvestro of Three Rivers, historical archaeologist, provided the background on Nathaniel Dillon.

Castle Fire and the sequoia groves in its path

The 2020 Castle Fire burned an estimated 13,600 acres in 10 giant sequoia groves that are located within the Giant Sequoia National Monument of the Sequoia National Forest. Sequoia National Forest has 33 groves total within its boundaries. The Forest Service groves impacted were Alder Creek (shared with private landowner), Mountain Home (shared with State of California), Belknap Complex (McIntyre, Wheel Meadow, Belknap; shared with private landowner), Dillonwood (shared with National Park Service), Middle Tule (shared with State of California), Burro Creek, Freeman Creek, Silver Creek, Upper Tule, and Wishon groves.

Approximately 9,800 acres (35%) burned out of the 27,830 acres of giant sequoia groves in the Monument, with approximately 6,000 acres (61%) burning at high-severity. Where fire burned at lower-severity, or where high-severity patches were small, the fire is expected to have restorative effects on the groves by activating sequoia seedling growth, reducing fuel loads that could fuel future fires, and clearing out small trees leaving more water and light available for remaining plants and sequoia seedlings.
Giant sequoias are a fire-adapted species and need fire to regenerate. Forest fuels in many groves have dramatically changed from fire exclusion and the presence of drought-killed trees of other species, which influences how severely wildfire moves through them. Patches of high-severity fire in the 2020 Castle Fire were likely much larger than they would have been historically, and this could mean an uncertain future for portions of the groves.
The Forest Service will not be able to assess grove impacts until a thorough survey can be conducted. Preliminary satellite data indicate the highest losses of mature giant sequoia trees are in the Belknap Complex and the Freeman Creek groves. Of the recently burned groves, the U.S. Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response Team found that Alder Creek, Belknap Complex, Dillonwood, and Freeman Creek groves burned at the highest severity, which implies there were also higher losses of trees in those groves.

Note: This article does not include an assessment of the impacts of the Castle Fire on giant sequoia groves within Sequoia National Park. In addition to Dillonwood, nine other sequoia groves in the park are within the Castle Fire’s perimeter: Garfield, Devils Canyon, Forgotten, Clough Cave, Putnam-Francis, South Fork, Cedar Flat, Board Camp, and Homers Nose groves.

Mature sequoias in the Freeman Creek Grove that were severely burned during the Castle Fire. (USDA photo by Curtis Kvamme)


The historic entrance sign where nearly every visitor on a Sequoia Park adventure stops and takes the first park photograph of the day has been restored.

A compilation of two articles by John Elliott and The Kaweah Commonwealth staff, January and May 2018.

Nearly every visitor who enters Sequoia National Park via the Ash Mountain entrance for the first time pulls off at the turnout a quarter-mile beyond the gate to take a photo of Sequoia’s most-oft seen and photographed landmark: the historic Indian head sign. The iconic sign conjures wonderful memories for returning visitors and begins new memories for first-timers.

Carved in 1935, the mammoth sign was chiseled from a fallen giant sequoia that easily could have been 2,000 years old. The sculptor was George Muno, who was serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps at the time.

The image of the “Indian chief” was based upon the Native American profile depicted on the Buffalo nickel, first minted in 1913. The iconic sign evokes many aspects of American history from a famous American Indian to the visual stereotyping of American Indians, from Depression-era hard times to booms in tourism, from using the wood of a giant sequoia to the preservation of the Big Trees, to name a few of the more obvious contrasts that come to mind.

But even giant sequoias don’t last forever, especially ones that have been carved and painted.

In late November 2017, the 4′ high, 10’wide, 450-pound sign was taken down from its post and transported to the sign shop at Ash Mountain headquarters just up the road. For the next six months, until its remounting Wednesday, May 16, the sign’s restoration became the priority project for Bill Schenher, sign painter for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

In nearly every step along the way, Schenher had to overcome obstacles and come up with some creative problem-solving. First, he had to file a restoration plan with the office of the keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. In 1978, the huge carving was officially listed as a historic landmark.

Its cultural and historical significance is obvious, not the least of which is that it was carved and installed in 1935 during the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) tenure in Sequoia National Park. In those days, Kings Canyon National Park had yet to be created, and the Grant Grove area was still called by its original name: General Grant National Park.

Schenher began the restoration by painstakingly stripping off the paint, numerous coats of veneer, and patching a number of places that had rotted away.

“The toughest part of the entire process was doing the reverse engineering to ensure the preservation of the sign’s historical composition and appearance,” Schenher said.

Next came the making of the new post that supports the sign.

“I don’t know how the old one was still standing,” Schenher said. “It was structurally unsound.”

A sequoia log was selected from the Moro Rock-Crescent Meadow Road area and fashioned into a post that now measures 38 inches in diameter and 10 feet tall. Schenher said he counted the rings on the log he used and the post piece was approximately 400 years old.

The last post stood for 50 years and the new one should last even longer, Schenher said. On Thursday, May 17, 2018, the cones and flagging were removed from along the highway that was keeping the turnout off limits until the sign work was completed.

Within minutes a procession of vehicles began to pull in and park visitors resumed doing what they have been doing for the past 83 years — snapping photos of the landmark entrance sign and making new Sequoia Park memories to last a lifetime.

The Road to Sequoia.

This multi-part series was first published in The Kaweah Commonwealth in tribute to African-American History Month, beginning with the February 16, 1996 issue.

By Jay O’Connell, Febuary 1996,  Kaweah Commonwealth

Portrait of Charles Young in 1903 (courtesy of the United States Army)

In 1903, Charles Young was military superintendent of Sequoia National Park and General Grant National Park (the predecessor to Kings Canyon National Park), where one of his several major achievements was completing the road the Kaweah Colony had started to Giant Forest.

During his brief time in Kaweah Country, Charles Young had as great an impact on local history as anyone before or since.

The third African-American ever to graduate from West Point Military Academy, Young faced numerous difficulties due to racial prejudices that, while time has eased, are still prevalent today.

In upcoming installments, we will look at Charles Young and his remarkable military career, examine the impact he had on this area’s history, and share some of the local anecdotes that have been handed down generation to generation about this great American.


Troops I and M (colored) of the 9th U.S. Cavalry arrived in Visalia this morning en route to the Sequoia National Park. The two troops are under the command of Captain Charles Young… a colored man and the only officer in the United States Army of his color and rank. He is a graduate of West Point and is a man of brilliant parts. His career has been one of hard struggle against prejudice of race. He has, however, risen above all these difficulties by force of character and inherent ability. —Tulare County Times, June 4, 1903

Charles Young was born in Mayslick, Kentucky, on March 12, 1864, to Gabriel and Arminta Young. His parents, both former slaves, moved the family north to Ripley, Ohio, after the Civil War.

Charles graduated from the formerly all-white Ripley High School at 16 years of age. In 1883, having become a teacher there, Young was encouraged by the principal to apply for examinations to West Point.

Earning a high application score, Young was invited to take the preliminary examination. He placed 22nd out of 100 candidates and in June 1884 arrived at the famed military academy.

Things soon proved difficult for the cadet who was accustomed to excelling scholastically. In 1885, he was turned back to the fourth class due to a deficiency in mathematics. When Young graduated from West Point in 1889, he was ranked 49th out of 49.

John Grunigen, Three Rivers pioneer and among the first Sequoia Park rangers, revealed that Charles Young once told him that the worst thing someone could wish on a person was to “make him black and send him to West Point.”

Nonetheless, Young did graduate West Point — only the third African-American to do so — and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Later in life, Young admitted to Phil Winser, former Kaweah colonist and local apple rancher, that he “went through hell to get his commission and so had no fear for future life.”

After an initial appointment to the 10th Cavalry and reassignment to the 25th Colored Infantry Regiment, Young finally reported to a preferred assignment with the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in November 1889. According to post records, Young’s time at Fort Robinson was not without blemishes.

His file contains a complaint of “tactical errors” as officer of the guard. A reprimand for neglect of stable duty also mars Young’s record.

In October 1890, Lt. Young’s troop was assigned to Fort Duchesne, Utah. It was there that he was again able to utilize his talent as an educator.

Young served as officer-in-charge and teacher of the post school until March 1894, when he was called upon to fill the shoes of a fellow graduate of West Point. Lt. John Hanks Alexander had been the second African-American to graduate the U.S. military academy, and when he died at just 30 years of age, he was serving as military instructor at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

Young’s career was already tracing Alexander’s, who had graduated West Point two years before Young and also served at Forts Robinson and Duchesne. After Alexander’s death, the head of Wilberforce wrote President Cleveland requesting the appointment of Young to the University. In May 1894, Charles Young assumed duties as Military Instructor at Wilberforce.

In December 1896, the Cleveland Gazette reported that Young had passed the examination for promotion to first lieutenant and “would now be paid $1,800 per year, has a handsomely furnished home free, and is only 32 years old.” The newspaper failed to mention that when Lt. Young was in Leavenworth, Kansas, for the examination proceedings, he could not get accommodations in town due to his race and had to stay in Kansas City.

The Spanish-American War brought further distinction to Charles Young. In May 1989, he was granted a leave of absence from the regular U.S. Army to accept appointment in the 9th Ohio Battalion National Guard as a field officer with rank of major.

According to the Richmond Planet newspaper, this was the first instance “in which a colored officer has commanded a battalion.” Robert Greene’s book, Black Defenders of America, notes that the 9th Battalion was assigned to the 2nd Army Corps at Camp Russell, Virginia, then Camp George G. Mean in Pennsylvania, and finally in Summerville, South Carolina. “Young did not see service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War,” it was stated.

But this claim has been disputed. During the Spanish-American War, he was in command of a segregated squadron of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba. 

It has been written that Young charged San Juan Hill (Cuba) alongside Teddy Roosevelt and his famed Rough Riders. Phil Winser of Kaweah, who became good friends with Young in 1903 when he was stationed in Sequoia and corresponded for years afterward with him, wrote in his memoirs that Young was “promoted to a captaincy for conspicuous bravery at San Juan Hill.”

Many Buffalo Soldiers did see service alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and African-American troops from the 9th and 10th Cavalry later paraded with President Roosevelt. 

In 1899, Young rejoined his unit at Fort Duchesne. There he was involved in disputes between Native Americans and local sheepherders and demonstrated a talent for diplomacy.

In 1901, Young was assigned to the recently acquired Philippines. Young commanded troops at Samar and participated in numerous engagements against insurgents. It was during this time that he received his promotion to captain.

On December 27, 1902, the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper reported the following:

The colored officer of the 9th Cavalry, who will in the future be stationed at the Presidio, was a great favorite on the Sheridan coming from Manila to San Francisco and was in great demand. His skin is of the darkest hue of the race, but he is exceedingly clever, a West Point graduate, and a pianist of rare ability.

On May 20, 1903, Captain Charles Young was appointed acting superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks. In the days before the National Park Service was created (1916), the management of national parks was the responsibility of the U.S. Army, which had very little Congressional funding for the task.

The giant sequoia named in honor of the accomplishments of then-Captain Charles Young in Sequoia National Park is located along the Crescent Meadow Road in the famed Giant Forest.


In 1903, Captain Charles Young, stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, could already boast of an accomplished military career. He was described in the Visalia Delta as “a man of medium build, very erect, well preserved and though he says he is 39 years old, he looks scarcely 25.”

Young received orders to report to Sequoia, and on May 20, 1903, departed San Francisco with Troops I and M, Ninth Cavalry, consisting of three officers and 93 enlisted men. After a 16-day journey, they arrived at Kaweah.

“A general supply camp was established and maintained there throughout the year, as it is centrally located,” Young recalled. “The ground for this camp was kindly offered to the troops by Mr. Ralph Hopping.”

The first order of business was an inspection tour with Ranger Ernest Britten, who had served in Sequoia since 1900. He had already begun repair work on the existing road, which continued the Kaweah Colony road toward Giant Forest (pre-Generals Highway).

The route of extension, still several miles shy of completion, was also viewed with construction engineer George Welch, who had worked on the road for several of the previous summers.

It was imperative they begin road work right away. George Stewart, an original agitator for Sequoia’s establishment, wrote to the Secretary of the Interior on April 14, 1903, explaining that “a large number of people will visit Giant Forest this year, and it is desirable that the road building [commence] at an early date.”

On June 4, Young telegraphed the Secretary, requesting permission to begin work immediately.

“Laborers are on the grounds now,” he explained, and claimed that hundreds of dollars would be saved by beginning work before the ground became hard and dry.

Work commenced June 11, 1903, and on June 20 the Visalia Delta boasted that Captain Young would have the road “smooth enough for automobiles and bicycles.”

The Delta also noted Young’s admiration for his inherited ranger staff, quoting him as saying, “The people who rely upon Ranger Britten to prepare and build trails do not realize his ability to do that work to perfection.”

Ernest Britten also displayed administrative skills appreciated by Captain Young. Writing the Secretary of the Interior, Britten suggested a system of vouchers to guarantee payment to suppliers and asked that money to pay the laborers be entrusted to the officer in charge. Young heartily recommended this request be approved, reasoning that it would greatly facilitate matters, as keeping vendors and workers promptly paid would avoid delays in completing the road.

Most of these men earned two dollars a day as laborers, with foremen earning three dollars per day. George Welch, the civil engineer overseeing the project, earned an impressive $150 per month.

In addition to starting early in the season and keeping men and suppliers promptly paid, one factor was key to the success of the 1903 road-building crew. Captain L.W. Cornish, Young’s eventual replacement, considered it “largely due to the strict personal supervision given by Captain Young, who continually spurred on the men under his employ.”

Young had long before earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. His Ninth Ohio Battalion had been considered “one of the best drilled in the volunteer army.”

Captain Young was also a fair and generous leader who knew the importance of rewarding a job well done. Examining National Park Service archives, one finds a letter he wrote to his superior explaining a 10-day absence by Ranger L.L. Davis. Young had insisted Davis take the time off, with pay, after he had supervised the blasting on road construction.

“I ordered him away from duty for rest because of the ill effects of close contact and long use of dynamite,” Young informed Secretary Hitchcock. “If the exigencies of ranger service will not permit him to have those days so richly deserved by him, I shall be glad to refund the money paid him by the department.”

The best example of Young’s rewarding hard work was a well-publicized event in Sequoia National Park’s early history. On September 1, the Visalia Delta offered this report:

The great feast that was given last Sunday at Giant Forest by Captain Young, and the splendid road that has been perfected into the forest are themes of conservation among Visalians who attended…

The elegant feast was put upon the table and some hundred or so guests sat down to honor the completion of the road. The menu consisted of roasted chicken, roast pork, beef, and all the delicious dishes that are served to make them all the more palatable.

Those from this city who sat about the festal board speak in glowing terms of the hospitality of Captain Young and his ability to entertain.

The celebration was the talk of Kaweah Country for a long time. Young had encouraged the workmen by promising this feast upon completion of the road. Everyone who worked on the road, as well as Visalia dignitaries, were invited. The banquet was set out on a huge log and Young, acting as head waiter and assisted by his non-commissioned officers, served the guests from blasting powder boxes attached to shovels.

One account mentions Young’s truly appreciated grand finale. When they were about finished, he announced that this wasn’t all. He had beer — store-bought! — for everyone.

Young was well liked in Three Rivers. He purchased local rancher Marion Griffes’s house during that summer, so it is apparent he was fond of the area and hoped to stay. After completing the road, Young concentrated his efforts on obtaining options for the government to purchase privately owned land in Sequoia. Sequoia National Park seemed to be in Captain Young’s future.

Even Captain Cornish, who technically replaced Young as park superintendent in September due to seniority, stated in his official report, “Owing to the good work performed by Captain Young, Ninth Cavalry, during the present season, I recommend his permanent detail on this duty as long as he is available.”

The design by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point for a Buffalo Soldier Monument on the campus.


From the Visalia Delta (October 13, 1903)— In an interview, Captain Young said that he with the other proper officials have seen, or corresponded, with, all of the people who own property within the park lines and have secured their consent as to the sale of the land to the government. As will be remembered, nearly every captain that has been here on duty has made an effort to purchase the private land within the boundaries and convert it into the park.

* * *

Acquiring options on all the privately held land in Sequoia National Park was an impressive feat. Reading the promissory letters in the Park files, it is apparent that Young received help in obtaining them. Several of the notes are addressed to Ranger Ernest Britten, and in one case, George Stewart acted as liaison.

Unfortunately, Congress failed to act on Young’s recommendation and would not appropriate the necessary monies to buy the land. The problem of dealing with privately owned land within Sequoia would haunt the national park for many years to come.

Still, just obtaining the options was further evidence of Captain Young’s effectiveness as superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1903. It is testimony to his ability to utilize Britten’s talents and local connections, as well as his own considerable, and somewhat legendary, charms in convincing settlers to sell their land.

That Captain Young charm is best exemplified, perhaps, in the following local anecdote.

Once, while on patrol near Oriole Lake (8 miles up the present-day Mineral King Road), Young and a number of his Buffalo Soldiers (a complimentary term for the African-American troopers) stopped at the Grunigen’s Lake Canyon house on the Mineral King Road. (The Grunigens were the parents of John Grunigen who had worked on the road for Young.)

It was getting late and Young asked Mrs. Grunigen if she would feed his men. She prepared a meal and invited the soldiers to eat.

Young told her he would have his men file through the kitchen, pick up their plates of food, and take them outside. Mrs. Grunigen informed him that they would do no such thing. They would eat under her roof or not at all.

As Mrs. Grunigen was from Alsace, she was fluent in German and French, but her English was shaky. After dinner, as the soldiers set up camp for the night. Mrs. Grunigen and Captain Young sat out on the front porch and conversed in French until well past midnight.

Young also became good friends with the Winsers. Phil Winser had come from England to join the Kaweah Colony and subsequently started at apple orchard with Fred Savage on the North Fork. Young had once told Winser that he had “come to Kaweah with his heart full of bitterness and left it a different man with a better outlook.”\

In one letter, dated January 6, 1904, Young wrote:

“Oh beautiful valley! You are right, Mr. Winser, when you speak of the charms, due in large measure to the people living there. It will likely be impossible for me to get down now, even though we pull free of the Panama Muddle.”

Despite his desires and others’ recommendations, Young did not return to service at Sequoia. On May 13, 1904, he assumed duties as military attache to Haiti. It was undoubtedly upon learning of this assignment that Young sold Marion Griffes’s Three Rivers house back to him and prepared to relocate to Haiti with his new bride.

Young’s career after Sequoia included several years in Haiti. He later served, at the personal urging of Booker T. Washington, as military attache to Liberie. In September 1915, Major Charles Young was officially assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment.

On February 22, 1916, he received the Spingarn Medal for outstanding service in Liberia and, in 1916, Young served in Mexico as part of the Punitive Expedition with General John Pershing. He led a fight against Pancho Villa at Aguas Calientes and his 10th Cavalry came to the rescue of the 13th Cavalry at Santa Cruz de Villegas.

It was written that Major Tompkins of the 13th, upon their rescue, exclaimed, “By God, Young, I could kiss every black face out there.”

In July 1916, Young was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. As Young earned a higher and higher rank, racial prejudice became more of a problem for the Army due to resentment from other officers.

In 1917, Young was ordered before a retirement board. Young had battled malaria in Liberia, and the lingering effects were justification for his retirement.

In 1918, after America had joined the “war to end all wars,” the patriotic Young rode on horseback from his home in Ohio, 500 miles to Washington, D.C., to prove he was still fit for active duty. He was recalled to service and assigned to Camp Grant, Illinois. In 1919, he returned to Liberia as military attache.

Young’s ride to Washington was just one more example of the determination that defined his career. He refused to let the difficulties connected with the racial temperaments of his America get to him. While he could not ignore them, he was able to deal with them in whatever manner most effective. 

One example turns up again and again in Charles Young’s life. The episode is reported to have taken place in Virginia, San Francisco, and in Three Rivers.

The local version recounts how Captain Young’s troop was all “Negro except for one white doctor and two white Lieutenants.” Once, at the old Three Rivers Store, the two lieutenants deliberately walked by the Captain without saluting.

Young whipped off his shirt and hung it on a fence post, brought the boys back, and said, “You don’t have to salute me but, by God, you’re going to salute the bars!”

And they did.

On January 8, 1922, Colonel Charles Young, on duty in Lagos, Nigeria, died from an acute exacerbation of an old-standing illness. His body was brought back to the United States, and he was given a hero’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.


Jay O’Connell was raised in Three Rivers and currently lives in Southern California. He is the author of several acclaimed historical works, including TRAIN ROBBER’S DAUGHTER: THE MELODRAMATIC LIFE OF EVA EVANS, 1876-1970. His first book–CO-OPERATIVE DREAMS: A HISTORY OF THE KAWEAH COLONY–is considered the definitive study of that late 19th-century utopian community in present-day Sequoia National Park. He is also the co-author of A STRENGTH BORN OF GIANTS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DR. FOREST GRUNIGEN, the biography of an accomplished California osteopathic physician.  When not researching and writing about California history, Jay O’Connell works in the television industry as a producer and production manager for Warner Bros. Television. Some of the television series he has worked on include THE BIG BANG THEORY (CBS), 2 BROKE GIRLS (CBS), GOOD MORNING, MIAMI (NBC), and $#*! MY DAD SAYS (CBS) with William Shatner.

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.”