c. 1860–1880, before the tunnel was opened further
The Pioneer Cabin Tree got its name from its distinctively hollow trunk, partially burnt by lightning strikes and forest fire. It had small compartments as in a log cabin, the tree's burnt core as a chimney, and a small opening as a backdoor.
In 1857 it was noted that the "top half" of the tree was broken off at about 150 feet, and that the tree was hollow.
image of the Pioneer Cabin with people and horse passing through (c. 1867–1899)
In early 1880s, a tunnel was cut through the compartments by a private land owner at the request of James Sperry, founder of the Murphys Hotel, so that tourists could pass through it. The tree was chosen in part because of the large forest fire scar. The Pioneer Cabin Tree emulated the tunnel carved into Yosemite's Wawona Tree, and was intended to compete with it for tourists.
Since the 1880s and for more than 50 years, visitor graffiti was encouraged, but this practice was prohibited in the 1930s. At first only pedestrians were allowed to pass through the tree. Later, for many years, automobiles drove through it as part of the "Big Trees Trail". It was one of several drive-through trees in California.[B] Subsequently, only hikers were allowed to pass through the tree's tunnel as part of the North Grove Loop hiking trail.