Many years of low growth identified in a western USA regional chronology of upper forest border bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva and Pinus aristata) over the last 5000 yr coincide with known large explosive volcanic eruptions and/or ice core signals of past eruptions. Over the last millennium the agreement between the tree-ring data and volcano/ice-core data is high: years of ring-width minima can be matched with known volcanic eruptions or ice-core volcanic signals in 86% of cases. In previous millennia, while there is substantial concurrence, the agreement decreases with increasing antiquity. Many of the bristlecone pine ring-width minima occurred at the same time as ring-width minima in high latitude trees from northwestern Siberia and/or northern Finland over the past 4000–5000 yr, suggesting climatically-effective events of at least hemispheric scale. In contrast with the ice-core records, the agreement between widely separated tree-ring records does not decrease with increasing antiquity. These data suggest specific intervals when the climate system was or was not particularly sensitive enough to volcanic forcing to affect the trees, and they augment the ice core record in a number of ways: by providing confirmation from an alternative proxy record for volcanic signals, by suggesting alternative dates for eruptions, and by adding to the list of years when volcanic events of global significance were likely, including the mid-2nd-millennium BC eruption of Thera.