Friday, February 25, 2011

West Virginia's Big Trees

West Virginia has been home to several legendary "big trees." Here are the stories of a few of them.

Most West Virginia school children are familiar with the story of the Pringle Tree. According to the legend, two brothers Named Samuel and John Pringle deserted the British army during the French and Indian War and made their way to an area just outside of what is now Buckhannon, West Virginia. This was about 1764. They set up housekeeping in a huge, hollow sycamore.

After four years the brothers found that they were down to only two charges of gunpowder.John Pringle left to find the nearest settlement where he could get more powder while Samuel stayed on at the tree, keeping house I suppose. Well, when John reached a settlement he learned that the French and Indian War was over and that he and his brother no longer were fugitives from the British. He returned with some friends and built cabins in the area, starting a settlement. One of those who returned with John Pringle was John Jackson, who was to become the grandfather of Stonewall Jackson.

The original Pringle Tree died long ago, but other sycamores have sprung up on the site to replace it, and the current tree is the third generation.

 The current tree is also hollow in the center, and nowadays there is a fence around the tree to protect it from damage. But you can pick up the seed pods that often fall on the ground around the tree, and maybe you can grow your own Pringle tree. In these economic times, the backup shelter might come in handy. (Photos from flickr and

Then there is the Mingo Oak which sadly succumbed to either a fungus or pollution from mine waste years before I was born. The Mingo Oak, in Mingo County, WV, was once believed to be the largest white oak known in the US. It's circumference was reported at 30 feet 9 inches and it was judged by scientists to be 584 years old. Apparently it was already over 100 years old when Columbus landed on these shores. The tree was cut with great ceremony on September 8, 1938.

In Tucker County, West Virginia there was a white oak that was known to many for its size. The tree measured supposedly measured 13 feet in circumference at 16 feet above the ground. The tree was cut during the logging boom that swept the state in the early 1900's, a time when the state's virgin forests were almost completely obliterated.

Point Pleasant, West Virginia has several claims to historic fame. Besides being the site of a battle of the French and Indian War, and the home of Mothman, Point Pleasant was also the resting place of many items from one of the 49 boxcars of the "Merci Train"  that were donated in gratitude to the US after World War II.  According to this website:

"A collection of perhaps two dozen items from the West Virginia Merci car is located in "Mansion House", a hewn log structure built as a tavern in 1796, but now maintained as a museum by the Colonel Charles Lewis Chapter, N.S. Daughters of the American Revolution. The museum itself is in a small state park called Tu-Endie-Wei within the city of Point Pleasant, WV. The name is Wyandotte Indian for "Point Between Two Waters". Also in the park are four French Oak trees, which came in the Merci boxcar as saplings from France. Russell Burge (see above) started some saplings with acorns gathered from the trees in the park and has planted two saplings near the present site of the boxcar in Welch." 

(You can find out more about the Merci train boxcar that was given to your state by clicking here.)

Seedlings from the French Oaks, as they came to be called, are still being grown in West Virginia at the Clements Tree Nursery in West Columbia, WV. Apparently these seedlings can be requested from the nursery, because the information about the trees and their history concludes with:

"Become part of living history: Plant a seedling from Clements State Tree Nursery today." If you want to find out more, contact Leslie Fitzwater, Public Information Specialist, 304.957.9342 or 304.541.8102,

Although the huge trees of the past are almost all gone, West Virginia still has many large trees very much alive. You can see an online list of other big trees in West Virginia here; all state maintain a "Big Tree" list so you can check out your state's list by clicking here.

Photo 1 from
Photo 2 from
Photo 3 from


Rowan said...

I like the story about the Pringle Tree - it's hard to imagine living inside a hollow tree especially in your cold winters. Interesting about Stonewall Jackson's grandfather, I rather think I've said before that my husband has an ancestor who had 'Stonewall' as his second name though we've not been able to discover just why an Englishman was named after a Confederate general!

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, according to one version of the story the Pringle brothers fought over those last loads and one left. Also according to the legend, they never spoke again. I don't know if that's true or not, but the real story is amazing enough in itself. The sycamores here can grow really large, so it is feasible that they could have lived in one, using it mainly as a sleeping shelter. Our idea of a living space and theirs are probably wildly different!

That is so interesting about your ancestor being named Stonewall. It's possible that his father just admired the Southern general so much that he named his son after him. I once delivered mail to a man whose first name was Aristotle, and to woman named Artemis. Which makes me think their parents were more widely read than the average person today, at least as far as the classics as concerned.

James said...

The Gen 3 Pringle Tree is really quiet unique indeed and a amazing thing to see. I lived within two miles of it for 6 years.

Now The Mingo Oak that tree either had a fungus or was poisoned by a Coal Company. "RUMOR" But a slab from the tree is on display at the visitors center on top of the Hill at Hawks Nest State Park. A large steel band is around it to keep it from splitting.

Granny Sue said...

I have visited the Pringle tree several times, James and always ind it fascinating. Somewhere I have photos of it, but wasn't able to find them last night. I did bring home some of the seed pods once, and used them on my Christmas tree. I need to go back and see it again.

I did not know that about the piece of the Mingo Oak being at Hawk's Nest! Another road trip :) Thanks for letting me know.

Janet, said...

Hi Susanna. There is a large white oak near Pipestem that is supposedly over 800 yrs old and 16ft in circumference. It is where the Oak Supper Club is, we've took many pictures of us standing around it. And, there is a large sycamore tree on Blennerhassette(sp) Island. It is hollow at the bottom and you can sit inside it.

Granny Sue said...

I know that sycamore, Janet--it is beautiful, isn't it? I hope it made it through the winter. I have not seen that oak, though. I think a person could plan a trip around the state, just visiting big trees!

Jai Joshi said...

I love this story! I've always been fascinated with trees and the unselfish shelter they provide.



Granny Sue -- I have some lovely large white oaks on my property. I call one my grandmother tree -- it sits majestically on an incline behind my house.

We have so little virgin timber in this country. Tree farms do not count as woodlands. Tree farms do not replicate authentic environments which ultimately means loss of habitat for many woodland critters -- barbara

-- barbara

Mary said...

testing . . . because NOW it seems to be working.
Hi, Sue!!

Nance said...

I love all big trees . . . and known a few! lol Thanks for the post.

John Triplett said...

Thank you - The Mingo Oak was also called "Grandmother" in Cayuga - we protected it from the Timber men- but nothing could protect it from the "Nothing" as we called it- the Nothing came and took everything ancient and Magical- including the Cayuga- there are a few Mingwe haunting the Forrest still - but no more Grandmothers I know of in Logan-Bone or the Big Ugly. I feel that as long as i can tell our children the truth of the Mingwe mixed tribe that settled Logan and Mingo- a small part of the Grandmothers yet lives. My family spilled blood protecting the Mingo Oak- yet Senator Delegate Gary Howell says there are no people descended from Indians in WV - how the hell would he know about Logan County up there in eastern panhandle? Logan was fprmed from an alliance of Shawnee- Cherokee- Cayuga that knew the Indian removal act was coming- how do you think a County got named after Logan in 1824? So then the Indian removal act came in 1831- they were afraid to bring the fight to Logan and Boone County - so they just lied and said no Indians in WV lol - We also made them afraid to cut down the Mingo Oak - but the Nothing seems to kill everything - hope that changes one day. But the water got poisoned in Charleston- perhaps the white society will stop the Nothing when it starts to kill them?

Granny Sue said...

Thank you for the additional information about the Mingo Oak, John. The Native history is so often neglected or ignored. It is sad that such giant, sacred trees were lost to greed and carelessness. I would be interested to know more about the Mingo in Logan county.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Ming oak was 30 feet & 9 inches at the base. 4.5 feet above ground it was 19 feet & 9 inches in circumference. At the same time it fell in 1938 the Jarrell tree at Peach Tree, Raleigh county was measure at 4.5 feet from the ground at 24 feet in circumference. Bob Wills a staff writer for the Beckley newspaper measured it in 1969 at 24 feet & 1 inch. Its base & height was not measured but Mr. Wills said it was a giant. You could not shoot a squirrel out of it above the two fork. Above there you would have to use a rifle. It was 30 to 40 feet more above the two forks.

Ronnie Scarbro
Fairdale, WV

rscarbro100 said...

Concerning the Jarrell oak of Raleigh Co., WV Mr. wills makde a special trip to measure the Huttonsville oak which won the biggest tree contest in 1963. The Huttonsville was claimed to be 135 inches in diameter at 4.5 feet above ground but Mr. Wills said whoever measured it did a little fudging on the figures. His own measurement at 4.5 feet was 103.3 inches but said that measurement was unfair because it took in the root system at that height. Where the root system disappeared at 6 feet above ground it was 85.3 in diameter & said the Jarrell tree was far & away bigger than the Huttonsville oak.

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