The Coast Redwood and the Giant Sequoia are related, massive, long-living softwood trees growing on the west coast of North America. Their wood is straight, resistant to pests, and easily splittable, but they take centuries to mature. Specimens may exceed five meters in diameter and a gigagram in mass.

Widespread exploitation of the trees began with Anglo-Americans immigrating and building sawmills around the 1840s. Many of the few remaining specimens are now protected in parks.

Minimal tools and technique are needed to cut down a young redwood, but harvesting a mature one and transporting its wood, even in pieces, is dangerous and technical. Besides gigantic saws, it can take wedges, sledgehammers, drills, platforms, and maybe more.

When did the large trees become possible to harvest and handle? Is it known who was the first to cut down a mature one?

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3 Answers 3


Though there may have been logging smaller trees earlier, It appears that the first well documented felling of one of the giant trees may have been in 1853:

On Monday, 27 June, 1853, a giant sequoia – one of the natural world's most awe-inspiring sights - was brought to the ground by a band of gold-rush speculators in Calaveras county, California. It had taken the men three weeks to cut through the base of the 300ft-tall, 1,244-year-old tree, but finally it fell to the forest floor.

More can be read about these events here : Mother of the Forest enter image description here

This artists view shows the felled 'Mammoth' tree in the foreground, while the scaffolding is seen in the background stripping the bark from the Mother of the Forest, which later is displayed in London

Another image from here shows more detail on the size of the tree which had been cut: enter image description here

The wikipedia article mentions this tree is often called the 'Discovery Tree' for its species (even though it wasn't actually the first):

Much more publicity was given to the "discovery" by Augustus T. Dowd of the Calaveras Grove in 1852, and this is commonly cited as the species' discovery. The tree found by Dowd, christened the 'Discovery Tree', was felled in 1853.

So we discovered this Wonder in 1852, an killed it in 1853. :(

  • 3
    These images are great. So dramatic and sad. Oct 5, 2017 at 4:16

Auguste Duhaut-Cilly visited Fort Ross in 1828. He made a famous drawing of the fort and wrote:

We went with Mr. Shelekhov to view his timber production.... Mr. Shelekhov showed me the trunk of one that had been felled recently; it was twenty feet in diameter measured two feet from the ground and from one burl or buttress to the other; the main trunk was more than thirteen feet in width. I measured two hundred and thirty feet from the stump to to the crown, lying where it had been parted from the bole.

Given its location and size this would have been a mature, if not record-setting, Coast Redwood. Apparently the Russians brought or made more advanced tooling for forestry than the Hispanic immigrants had done.

Likely employing the same source but without saying so, Coast Redwood: A Natural and Cultural History (Evarts and Popper, eds.), says "...Russian craftsmen felled trees up to 20 feet in diameter..."

  • Any indication where this tree was located. I do not find a reference to a stump matching this size in the Fort Ross info, yet the stump of the 'Discovery' tree I mentioned can still be visited today. Perhaps in the ranch days some very ambitious farmers removed it?
    – justCal
    Oct 4, 2017 at 18:27
  • Given its size, it must have been pretty near the fort. Coast redwoods seem less likely than giant sequoias to leave visible stumps. They are prone to regrowth through stump sprouting (the original stump decays in place) and the valuable burls near their base are often stolen. One might find a "fairy ring" or "cathedral" of second-growth redwoods at its location, like this one: mdvaden.com/images/Cathedral_Redwood_600.jpg Oct 5, 2017 at 3:43
  • Interesting Image and formation. Is that from the area, or just for reference?
    – justCal
    Oct 5, 2017 at 3:54
  • @user2448131 I don't know where the photo was from. You can see how the original stump is sort of missing. I grew up near these things and don't remember ever seeing an old-growth stump still intact. Just thought of another reason why: coast redwoods are way, way messier. The young trees will bury their parent in debris! Oct 5, 2017 at 4:12

"Officially," the first known harvesting of redwood trees was after the start of the 1849 gold rush, when white men arrived in large numbers. It may have been "possible" to do this earlier, but we may never know because this was when implement was first put to tree. (There may have been some harvesting by Spanish or Russian settlers that was not recorded.)

Unofficially, the redwood may have been "harvested" by Native American tribes who had been in the region for about 1000 years. These people however, used fire to "fell" large trees, not the advanced methods you mentioned.

  • 2
    But fire is usually not enough to fell a mature redwood. Sep 29, 2017 at 15:48
  • @Aaron Brick - not natural fire.
    – justCal
    Sep 29, 2017 at 16:11
  • @user2448131 i agree, not natural fires, and not deliberately set fires either. using hot tools to burn through a tree's base ("Coast Redwood, a Natural and Cultural History" says the Spanish did this) is another matter, but it's hard to imagine the technique working on large trees. Sep 29, 2017 at 16:40
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    @Aaron Brick I personally doubt the native populations would have tried. I think it would have been sacrilegious. Why take one of these 'forest spirits' when smaller trees would suffice? Most native philosophy was respect, not unnecessary destruction. You should share any references you already have in your question, by the way.
    – justCal
    Sep 29, 2017 at 16:45
  • @user2448131 some Polynesian traditions include offerings of fish and religious invocations in exchange for the cutting of trees; i wouldn't be shocked if the native Californians had a similar idea. as for the source, i didn't have it in hand when i wrote the question, but as you said, it would have been a good idea. Sep 29, 2017 at 16:55

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