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Pipestone Quarry, Pipestone

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Color image of a pipe quarry pit, Pipestone National Monument, 2009. Photograph by the National Park Service.

Pipe quarry pit, Pipestone National Monument, 2009. Photograph by the National Park Service.

From ancient times to the present, a pipestone quarry in southwestern Minnesota has been a sacred gathering place for Indian nations from all over North America. Modern highways following traditional migration routes used by indigenous people intersect at this venerated place, designated a national monument in 1937.

Many roads that run across North America began as the original trade and migration routes frequented by indigenous people. Highway 75 marks the trade corridor that ran southward from Canada to Mexico; Highway 30 runs east to west from Wisconsin to Wyoming. These highways intersect at Pipestone, Minnesota, a place that has come to be known as "the crossroads of the Indian world."

Since the 1700s, the quarry has been particularly important to Dakota people. Oral tradition holds that it was used before that by the Mandan, and, between 1200 and 1300 CE, by the Iowa. These and other groups mined pipestone and traded flint, obsidian, and dried meat for pipestone items.

Pipestone pipes and artifacts have been found across North America, from as far north as Manitoba to archeological dig sites at Tremper Mound in southern Ohio and Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. In 2012, University of Illinois scientists analyzed some of the artifacts, showing that their chemical makeup matched the stone from Pipestone. This proved that trade networks extended for hundreds of miles—or that people traveled an equal distance to quarry and trade pipestone.

Europeans called the soft, red stone at the quarry Catlinite after artist George Catlin, who visited the area and collected samples for analysis. It is commonly known as pipestone because of its traditional use in the creation of sacred ceremonial pipes.

Contemporary indigenous people maintain the tradition of hand-quarrying stone using only sledgehammers and wedges as tools. American Indian artisans carve peace pipes both for prayer rituals and for sale. They are taught to use all the quarried stone, if possible, or return it to Mother Earth.

Pipestone has been a sacred place for millennia. Indian nations agreed that fighting, warfare, and disputes of any kind would not be tolerated there. Because of the site’s cultural significance, the people of Pipestone worried about protecting its resources.

According to the National Park Service, the idea of establishing a national park at the quarry gained traction in 1890, when local advocates petitioned the U.S. Congress to create an Indian school nearby. The bill that created the school, however, did not include language that created a park. Another bill, proposing "The Indian Pipestone National Park," was introduced in Congress in 1895, but died in committee.

The Treaty of 1858 had given the Yankton Sioux rights to use the quarry. In 1899, Congress failed to ratify an agreement between the Yankton and the U.S. government that would have ceded the land around the quarry to the U.S. After the government obtained clear title to the land, it drafted another bill in 1932 that would have created an 81.75-acre park and grant quarrying rights to all Indian nations.

Superintendent James W. Balmer of the Pipestone Indian School took the proposal to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) but met with objections. As a result, the local planning organization, composed of both white and American Indian advocates, was renamed the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association. Its focus shifted to the historical significance of the site and its economic value to Indian people. After receiving a positive response from the BIA, the National Park Service began to consider creating the proposed park.

The Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps–Indian Division, under Superintendent James W. Balmer's direction, improved the quarry and surrounding area in the 1930s. Workers built roads, installed a dam, and planted trees. Senator Henrik Shipstead introduced a bill to establish the area as a National Park in 1934 and again in 1935, but neither effort succeeded.

In 1937, Congress approved a National Park bill with a provision that granted indigenous people exclusive quarrying rights. On August 25, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill to create the 116-acre Pipestone National Monument.

In the 2010s, the quarry continues to be a gathering place. It draws an average of 75,000 visitors from all over the world each year.

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"The C. of C. at Last Determines Upon a Definite Line of Action. St. Paul Daily Globe, February 25, 1890.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1890-02-25/ed-1/seq-2/

Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers. History of Pipestone National Monument.
http://www.pipekeepers.org/uploads/3/1/3/0/31306445/history_of_pipestone_national_monument.pdf

National Park Service. Pipestone: The Rock.
https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/pipestone/rock.htm

Sanders, Tom. “Jeffers Petroglyphs: a Recording of 7,000 Years of North American History.” Typescript, n.d.
http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/sites/sites.mnhs.org.historic-sites/files/docs_pdfs/Jeffers-Petroglyphs-%20history.pdf

Scott, Douglas D. et al. National Park Service. An Archeological Inventory and Overview of Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota. Lincoln, NB: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Midwest Archaeological Center, 2006.
https://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/pipestone.pdf

Yates, Diana. “Study of Pipestone Artifacts Overturns a Century-old Assumption.” Illinois News Bureau, December 18, 2012.
https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204918

Related Images

Color image of a pipe quarry pit, Pipestone National Monument, 2009. Photograph by the National Park Service.
Color image of a pipe quarry pit, Pipestone National Monument, 2009. Photograph by the National Park Service.
The red Pipestone Quarry in Southwestern Minnesota. Pen and ink drawing of Rudolf Daniel Ludwig Cronau, 1881.
The red Pipestone Quarry in Southwestern Minnesota. Pen and ink drawing of Rudolf Daniel Ludwig Cronau, 1881.
Black and white photograph of a temporary camp at the Pipestone quarries, ca. 1890s. Photograph by F.O. Pease.
Black and white photograph of a temporary camp at the Pipestone quarries, ca. 1890s. Photograph by F.O. Pease.
Black and white photograph of Indians at Pipestone quarry, 1893.
Black and white photograph of Indians at Pipestone quarry, 1893.
Color image of Standing Eagle working the Sacred Pipestone in a quarry at the Pipestone National Monument, ca. 1970.
Color image of Standing Eagle working the Sacred Pipestone in a quarry at the Pipestone National Monument, ca. 1970.
Color image of a Pipestone pipe bowl, ca. 1941.
Color image of a Pipestone pipe bowl, ca. 1941.
Color image of a Sioux Quartzite ridge and hiking trail at Pipestone National Monument, 2010. Photograph taken by flicker user Brian Jeffery Beggerly.Sioux Quartzite ridge and hiking trail at Pipestone National Monument, 2010. Photograph taken by flicker user Brian Jeffery Beggerly.
Color image of a Sioux Quartzite ridge and hiking trail at Pipestone National Monument, 2010. Photograph taken by flicker user Brian Jeffery Beggerly.Sioux Quartzite ridge and hiking trail at Pipestone National Monument, 2010. Photograph taken by flicker user Brian Jeffery Beggerly.

Turning Point

On August 25, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the bill that will create the Pipestone National Monument.

Chronology

ca. 200 BCE–400 CE

Indigenous Americans begin to mine soft, red clay stone from the Pipestone quarry.

ca. 1700

The Yankton Dakota become the dominant indigenous people at the quarry site.

1836

George Catlin arrives in the area and collects samples of pipestone for analysis.

1858

The U.S. signs a treaty with the Yankton Dakota granting them the right to mine stone at the Pipestone quarry.

1890

Local advocates make an effort to protect the quarry by petitioning the U.S. government to create a national park in connection with a proposed Indian school.

1891

The U.S. Congress passes legislation that creates the Pipestone Indian Boarding School.

1895

Legislators introduce a bill proposing "The Indian Pipestone National Park" in the U.S. Congress, but it dies in committee.

1928

The federal government receives clear title to the quarry and surrounding land from the Yankton Sioux upon payment of about $328,000.

1929

A bill to create an 81.75-acre park—with the provision that all Indian nations would retain quarrying rights—is rejected by officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The National Park Service begins to consider a revised version of the proposal.

1933

The Civil Works Administration begins to build roads in the area of the quarry.

1934

The Civilian Conservation Corps – Indian Division, under the direction of Indian School Superintendent James W. Balmer, begins building roads, constructing a dam, and planting trees and shrubs.

1934

Minnesota Senator Henrik Shipstead sponsors a bill in the U.S. Congress to create a National Park at Pipestone. It fails to pass both houses.

1935

Senator Shipstead sponsors a second bill for the National Park and again is defeated.

1937

On August 25, a bill to create a 116-acre Pipestone National Monument passes both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs it into law.

1957

164 acres of land are transferred to the National Monument after the closure of the Pipestone Indian Boarding School in 1954.

1996

The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers organization is established to protect the pipestone quarries and educate the public.