August 7th, 1964: The Day a Man Killed the Oldest Living Organism

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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This Day In History:

On August 7th, 1964, geographer Donal Rusk Currey cut down a tree. Currey was doing his work on ice age glaciology when he got his tree corer stuck in a bristlecone pine. A park ranger in Wheeler Park, Eastern Nevada, then helped Currey cut this tree down. 

What the two men didn’t realize was that the tree they had cut down, named Prometheus, was almost 5,000 years old. At the time, it was the oldest tree ever recorded. Indeed, it was the world’s oldest living recorded organism of the time. 

At many levels, this is just the story of an accident. But, cutting down trees is a part of American history, like the myth of George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree

Now, trees and many other parts of Nevada are burning. Ninety percent of the American West is in drought conditions, including Prometheus’ Nevada. The recent Tamarack Fire, now mostly contained, burned almost 70,000 acres of Nevada and California. 

I often find it hard to put large numbers and concepts in scope. How should I visualize 70,000 acres, think of 5,000 years, or contextualize historical events in a realistic way? But, this story of Currey and Prometheus helps me in seeing both the forest for the trees as well as the (extremely old) tree within the forest. I hope this day in history meets you wherever you are--impacted by the wildfires or not. 

What days in history do you want to learn about next? Have you done “This Day in History” assignments with your students? Share in the comments!