Pipestone Pipes

Pipestone Pipes

Pipestone is a special red stone which has been quarried here in Pipestone, MN. for  thousands of years.  The Pipestone quarries are considered sacred ground by many American Indian people. All tribes could come here in peace and quarry this special red stone. Today American Indian people still come here to quarry the stone to make pipes and other articles.

Articles and pipes made from the red pipestone (Catlinite) are eagerly sought after, and have been ever since the white man first knew about the stone. Pipes and artifacts are found all all over the United States, among the ruins of ancient Indian campsites and villages, tending to prove the Indians assertion that the quarry was a common gathering place for all the tribes, or at least, that all Indians knew the veneration attached to the stone

Types of Pipes

 Picture of a Mic-Mac Pipe

There are dozens of pipe types in North America. Many of them, like the Mic-Mac and disc, are well known to collectors. That is, the pipes have a distinctive style that even with minor variations can be easily recognized. This is especially true of those pipes that have a wide geographic distribution or exist in fairly large numbers. 

Below is a Picture of a Disc Pipe

Types and sub-types are important in that often enough study has been done to obtain at least a general idea of what the  pipes were usually made of, where they were used, and how old they are.

Pipes, however, as a family artifact class have the widest number of individual styles, many of then evidently one-of-a-kind. This in fact is one reason pipe collecting is so interesting: One never quite knows what might turn up. Of all the many types of prehistoric Indian pipes in the North America, and in terms of overall sheer numbers, probably half are made up of the tubular and the elbow types with variations.

One of the largest handled disc pipes found was about 9" long, with a disc about 4 2/5th" across. It was made of Minnesota Catlinite and was found in La Crosse County, WI. 

A number of stone pipe examples from along the Atlantic Coast in tubular form with angled bowl were made quite thin, either in bowl thickness alone or in both stem and bowl. Usually made of steatite of chlorite, material thickness in such scarce examples often did not exceed 1/16th".

One Mic-Mac sub-variety had the usual rounded bowl and narrowed middle . The base, however, is cone-shaped and tapers to a point at the bottom. The pipe variety is sometimes called a "bottle stopper."

While discoidals were fairly common on Mississippian sites, a pipe in the shape of a discoidal is quite unusual. Yet, one was found made of close-grained sandstone on the Feurt site (Ft. Ancient) in Scioto County, Ohio. The bowl and stem were drilled at about right angles, and the pipe was both tally marked and incised. 

Some Atlantic Coast pipes had long, narrow tapered stems and a raised, flared bowl at one end. Made in both pottery and stone, some examples care from shell heads in Maryland. A fine dark red chlorite pipe from North Carolina was 11" long with a 9 1/4th" stem. 

T-Bowl style pipe

Large elbow pipes in the Southeastern U.S. made of stone and having a squared cross section may be from the Copena people. The time-period is Woodland for Alabama and Tennessee. 

Pipe form or type distribution can be broadly stated but it is also a complex subject. "It is quite likely that pipes were more generally exchanged among tribes than other artifacts. Possibly, one should except copper, but i am not even sure of that. We find Northern forms south, Eastern types West, and a general indication that aboriginal barter or trade in pipes were extensive." 


Many early pipes of both the plains and elbow styles where decorated with a crest on the shank of the bowl. The crest disappeared from later plain style pipes.

An eagle claw pipe carved out of Alabaster (white pipestone)

Some pipes were highly sacred and because they were sacred elaborately carved and decorated. The Eagle Claw pipes and the Buffalo pipes are some of the modern outgrowths of some of these rarer variations.


The Below Picture is a Traditional Buffalo Pipe.

Pipes are generally referred to as plains pipes. They represent the most common style of pipe in use throughout the period of white contact. This style of pipe was not limited to one group of tribe, but was in general use from the western Ohio Valley to the Rockies and from the Arkansas River to the plains of southern Canada. Large numbers of plains pipes came directly into white hands from the Indians during that widely publicized period in our history marked by the Indian wars and treaties. Because the Indian ceremonial pipe was frequently used to bind a treaty, it became widely known as the "peace pipe".

The "four winds" design, each ring cut into the bowl representing a wind direction, is one of the many decorative motifs used by the early Indians to decorate their pipes.

Not all pipes were the same size or shape and not all were ceremonial. The pipe with the widest distribution other than the elbow pipe is the Mic-Mac. The Mic-Mac pipe has been found as far south as Georgia and from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.


In the late 1700's the British and French, realizing the esteem with which Indians held the pipe, began to manufacture metal trade hatchet pipes. The stone reproductions began to appear early in the 19th century  much earlier than might be expected.

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