In the scenic heart of the Sequoia National Park, the only section of the magnificent 160,000-acre playground situated in California which is at the present time accessible to motor-driven and horse-drawn vehicles, stands a group of trees, the Sequoia washingtoniana, known as the Giant Forest, and in this forest grow the loftiest and most venerable living things that Nature has produced.
The Sequoia National Park was constituted a government preserve to safeguard these very trees, some of which were 2,000 years old when the Christian era dawned. But it was a preservation that did not protect, for the very acres upon which grew the finest specimens of the Sequoia washingtoniana remained in the possession of private parties to whom they had been patented before the park was created.
Some months ago the Department of the Interior, realizing that the constantly increasing value of timber had become a rapidly growing temptation to these owners to convert the trees into lumber, secured from Congress an appropriation of $50,000 to purchase the coveted land. When the effort was made to buy the holdings, however, it was discovered that the owners could not fairly part with their sequoia trees except on condition that adjacent property be purchased also, the supplementary lands bringing the price up to $70,000.
After learning from their expert appraisers that the actual market value of the timber standing on these holdings amounted to $156,000, and that the price of $70,000 was, therefore, most reasonable, showing that the owners wished to coöperate in their preservation, the department secured an option on the land for six months.
With the expiration of the option only three weeks off, and with no prospect of being able to secure the necessary additional appropriation of $20,000 from Congress during its pre-holiday session, the Department of the Interior had practically lost all hope of saving these most highly prized of all trees for the American people.
In this predicament one of the officials of the department recalled the splendid work which has been done for a number of years by the National Geographic Society in stimulating public interest in the preservation of the nation's playgrounds and in safeguarding our song birds and wild life. Why not appeal to this Society, whose more than half a million members represent every State in the Union, and who would be deeply interested, individually as well as collectively, in the preservation of this forest wonderland? The suggestion was adopted and the appeal was submitted to the Society's Board of Managers.
As was so earnestly hoped, the Society's governing body immediately appreciated the exceptional opportunity which was about to be lost to the American people, and at a meeting attended by every member of the Board excepting two, who were out of town, gladly appropriated the necessary $20,000. And thus was accomplished a unique coöperation of a great national scientific society with the national government, whereby one of the country's noblest scenic resources has been presented to the American people for their perpetual enjoyment.
When one recalls that the Giant Forest is the largest intact body of trees of this species in existence, with the General Sherman as its king—a wonderful specimen 103 feet in circumference, 280 feet tall, as high as the dome of the National Capitol—our hearts thrill that these masterpieces of nature have been rescued from the axe.
A thousand years may not bring them to their full stature, but a few days may wipe them out forever. Unafraid of wreck and change, untouched even by “time's remorseless doom,” they have come down to us through centuries—aye, through millenniums; and now will live on through other centuries, a link to bind the future with the past.
Whoever has stood beneath these towering giants of the forest feels a reverent love for these grizzled patriarchs! The oldest living thing! There is not a nation on the face of the earth today but what was born, mayhap, a thousand years after they reached their maturity.
Nations have risen, reached their prime, and passed on to the decay and oblivion that is the ultimate fate of all things temporal, and other nations have succeeded them, in their turn to be followed by still others, since the great trees began their existence. World powers have arisen, run their course, and disappeared—meteors, as it were—in the sky of history, and the big trees still live on!
Who could replace them? Not man, for never yet in all his existence has he had continuity of purpose enough to plan 2,000 years ahead. The mutations of time in twenty centuries leave only here and there a silent monument to speak of the past, and even these have been the prey of generations coming after their builders. Some of the most magnificent marbles in Athens and Rome were burnt into lime for agricultural purposes, and even the Pyramids have served as quarries to the indifferent successors of those who raised them.
Yet when unnumbered thousands of Egyptian slaves were laboriously transporting the stones for Cheops across the Nile Valley and hoisting them into position, these hoary old veterans of the California mountains were sturdy saplings.
The human progress they must have witnessed! In their early youth the children of Israel were wandering through the Wilderness of Sin. When the Star of Bethlehem shone down over that lowly manger in Judea, proclaiming the second deliverance of mankind, who knows but that these monarchs of the California forest which have just been rescued from the woodman's axe joined in singing “Glory to the Highest,” as the winds of the East swept over the West!
The very race that has risen up to save them was perhaps overrunning Europe, wrapped in skins, living by the chase, and using the bow and arrow, when they were taking root. Instead of medicine, men were resorting to amulets and charms. The most complicated piece of machinery that had yet been invented was the handloom. There was not a screw, a bolt, or a nut in existence. There was no printing press, no steam-engine, no microscope, no telescope, no telegraph, no telephone. The tallow dip was the only method of lighting; the caravan, the sail and row boat, and the runner were the only means of international communication.
As a hunter keeps a record of the bears he has killed by the notches in his gunstock, so the big tree keeps an account of the years it has lived by rings concealed within its trunk. Every year that it lives it grows in girth a tiny bit—in youth faster, in age slower, in fat years more and in lean ones less. But it never fails to add its ring with each passing year. Examine the next pine stump you come to and you will see how these rings start out from the center like those on the water of a pond where a pebble falls. Count them and you can know to a certainty the age of the tree.
The purchase was completed and the title to the Big Trees passed to the U. S. Government on January 17, 1917.
By direction of the Board of Managers of the National Geographic Society, the official correspondence on the subject is published below.
National Geographic Society,
November 11, 1916.
Dear Secretary Lane:
I have much pleasure in advising you that the Board of Managers of the National Geographic Society, being informed of your efforts to enable the United States Government to secure possession of the Giant Forest in the Sequoia National Park, and of the urgent necessity of $20,000 being made immediately available for the purchase (in addition to the $50,000 appropriated by Congress for the purpose), at a meeting yesterday unanimously adopted the following resolution:
“Resolved, That the Board of Managers of the National Geographic Society authorizes the expenditure of not exceeding $20,000 for the purchase of private lands in the Sequoia National Park, to be donated to the National Government for park purposes, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of Congress, July 1, 1916, Public 132, 39 Stat., 308, and that this sum shall be paid from the Research Fund of 1916; and that there is given to the President, the Director and Editor, and the Chairman of the Finance Committee, as representatives of the Society, authority to arrange with the Secretary of the Interior the details of the purchase and donation.”
The National Geographic Society has watched with keen interest the rapid development of our national parks by the Department of the Interior and heartily congratulates you upon the work which you have done in safeguarding these great national playgrounds for the coming generations and in making them accessible to visitors.
Assuring you that the National Geographic Society, through its Board of Managers, is very glad to have the privilege of coöperating with the government in preserving these priceless natural treasures to posterity, I am,
Yours very sincerely,
Gilbert H. Grosvenor.
The Secretary of the Interior,
November 20, 1916.
My Dear Mr. Grosvenor:
I beg to acknowledge your favor setting forth the resolution of the National Geographic Society by which it is made possible for us to secure, on behalf of the government, certain of the private lands in the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park.
This act on the part of your Society I know will meet with the highest commendation from its great membership, because thereby you render to the Government of the United States and to all of its people a lasting service and in a sense create a monument to the honor of your Society itself.
The trees which your money, together with that appropriated by Congress, enable us to purchase are the oldest living things upon this continent They are the original pioneers. To have them fall before the axe of the woodman would have been a lasting crime, reflecting seriously upon the people of our country.
It will be many centuries before they die, and throughout their life I hope it may be known that they were kept alive by the generosity and foresight of your people. We will be pleased to have placed on one of the trees of the grove a tablet of commemoration.