Pipestone Quarry

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Band of Dakota Indians at the Pipestone Quarry, Pipestone County, Minnesota.

This circa 1905 image shows a group of Dakota women and men taking a break from quarrying chanunpa in’yan (pipestone) at what today is Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota. Pipestone, also called catlinite (named after American artist George Catlin, who painted a canvas of the area in 1836,) is a soft red rock that is traditionally used for carving pipe bowls. Like the Anishinaabe tradition of wild ricing, pipestone has religious origins for Dakota people – it’s said to have been made from the flesh and blood of the ancestral Dakota who did not survive a great flood. From the archaeological record, it’s known that Dakota people have quarried the stone since at least 1200 AD. The quarry is presently part of Pipestone National Monument, and the stone protected – only members of Federally-recognized tribes may quarry it.

By the mid-1800s changes could be seen in even the most traditional of Native art forms. While the most common form of catlinite pipe on the eastern Plains is a simple “elbow” shape, there is a long tradition of elaborately carved pipe bowls, particularly those in the form of horses. This circa 1860 pipe is, however, unique in its subject matter – that of a Civil War-era American soldier in a short-brimmed cap, piped jacket and pants, and fitted boots. The ferrule is delicately inlaid with lead in a cross-hatched pattern that is echoed in both the figure’s boots and hat.