History of Native American Pipes


Pipes have been made and used for thousands of years. The earliest bone pipe found in North America was discovered in a Mummy Cave in Wyoming, dating back to 9000 B.C.E. There have been many stone and ceramic pipes that have been found by archaeologists throughout North America dating back to 4000 and 3000 B.C.E. It is still contested among scholars when pipes started being used for ritualistic purposes rather than recreational, but the earliest known European illustration of a Sacred Pipe dates to 1591. This drawing was a depiction created by a Flemish artist named Theodore de Bry, after learning about a 1564 exploration of La Florida by French explorers René de Laudonnière and Jean Ribault. De Bry created engravings as well as this illustration based off French artist Jacques LaMoyne’s drawings of the exploration.

Social Implications

During the 18th and 19th centuries, pipes became a central tool for forming social and economic bonds with European settlers. They were used in trade as well as political and social negotiations. Europeans were captivated with tobacco and smoking. Native Americans and Europeans were able to use smoking as a shared recreational activity as well as a means for exchange. However, many problems came out of this trade system. Native Americans attempted to make social alliances through the shared interest of tobacco, but the European settlers were more interested in the economic benefits. The Europeans started to dominate the tobacco and pipe trading system. This was not the only way the Europeans monopolized the livelihoods of Native Americans. By the 1900s, most Native Americans had been forced onto reservations and the possibility of sustaining a trade relationship had ended.

Pipes in the Upper Midwest

In Southwestern Minnesota there is a red pipestone quarry that has been used by Native Americans for over 3,000 years. The red stone found in the quarries is fairly soft and perfect for pipe making, and has been used by various Native American groups since at least 1200 AD. In the 1700s, the prominent Native American group using the quarry was the Dakota Sioux. It was not until 1836, when George Catlinite “discovered” the quarry, that trade between Natives and European settlers started occurring. Native Americans and American settlers used the quarry together for a time, until European settlers took total control of the quarry during the mid to late 19th century.

In the 19th century, manufacturing and trade steadily increased at the quarry. In the 1860s, catlinite pipes were manufactured by American settlers in order to trade with Native Americans. Between 1864 and 1866, over 7,000 pipes were manufactured for trading purposes by the Northwest Fur Company as well as private investors. It was at this time that Native Americans started being forced onto reservations, and many of the Dakota Sioux were moved west onto reservations in the North and South Dakota areas. One subgroup of the Dakota tribe, called the Yanktons, were pushed to the edge of the pipestone quarry during the mid-19th century. The Yanktons were not allowed to access the quarry which greatly decreased their economic standing, but in 1928, they finally received monetary compensation for their loss from the United States government after a ruling by the Supreme Court. In 1937, the government gave permission for all Native Americans to return to the land and to quarry the pipestone. Today, people are not allowed to quarry the pipestone without a permit from the government. The quarry is currently a national monument and education center for students in the area.

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