THE COTEAU SETTING
The roads of southwestern Minnesota wind their way through endless acres of cultivated fields. This land, once covered with a range of native grasses, has yielded to the insistent technology of the twentieth century. It seems tamed, a part of the ordered world Americans have made. Yet this land has been different, less subservient, only marginally harnessed for humanity. Its historic name, the Couteau des Prairies, the Highland of the Prairies, reflected a different, more unruly past. Given by some unnamed "coureur de bois"the term French officials used for the traders who illegally went westthe name hints at the many cultures and peoples who have interacted in this place. Today, amid the ordered fields of crops and the grazing animals, this historic name seems anachronistic, a relic of a time gone by. Only in a very few places does any remnant of the prehistoric and historic coteau setting persist.
Pipestone National Monument is one of the most important of those places. Its 282 acres are mostly prairie, managed to recreate as much of an historic vista as possible. Its grasses resemble more the tallgrass prairies of historic time than the lands around them, and its cultural significance adds a measure of history to an environment transformed by human action. The quarries there hold one of the largest and most important deposits of Catlinite, the soft red stone used to make the famed calumetpeace pipeof legend. Native Americans from many tribes come to the monument to quarry the stone. They are mandated by National Park Service regulations to use only historic kinds of tools and methods. The presence of American Indians lends authenticity to the park, adding a dimension that the mere static quarries could not alone provide.
The quarries and their prehistoric and historic context are the reason for the existence of the monument. Before the arrival of Europeans and their descendants in what is now Minnesota, these unique natural features had tremendous religious and symbolic importance for Native Americans. The pipes they fashioned from the stone were integral parts of Native American religion and custom. Across the Upper Midwest, every important ceremony involving Native Americans utilized pipes, most made from the stone of the quarries. The area acquired significance as well. Ritual use of the stone from the quarries made the source a place to be revered. Through art and literature, Europeans and Americans attached their own-meaning to the place, adding mythological significance to the activities of Native Americans. Like many such places, the quarries at Pipestone National Monument acquired a meaning that became as much a reflection of the values of the observer as of any historic reality.
Pipestone National Monument sits astride cultural, geographic, and topographic divisions that have influenced the way in which the stone from its quarries has been distributed and used. Geology and natural history created the conditions that formed the layers of the soft rock. The location of the quarry between different types of physyiographic regions added complexity to its prehistory and history. In this setting, natural and human factors have combined to create an area of cultural and natural significance.
The flatiron-shaped plateau that is the Coteau des Prairies stretches across southwestern Minnesota into South Dakota, with the land elevated by the remains of an ancient mountain range. At the eastern edge of the coteau, a series of broad steps descend from the plateau to the Minnesota River Lowland, a southeastern extension of the basin formed by the Red River of the North. As a result of almost continuous cover of glacial sediments, exposures of bedrock are rare in the area. Extensive areas of outcrop are found in the coteau region, with uptilted ridges of Sioux Quartzite of late Precambrian age underneath. 
The Precambrian period encompasses seven-eighths of the history of the earth. It spans time from the formation of the earth nearly 4.5 billion years ago to the development of invertebrate life, about 600 million years ago. During this time, volcanic unrest of the crust of the earth, wind, water, and ice shaped the land. The earth developed a solid crust, continental seas formed and evaporated, and mountain ranges rose and fell.
Continental seas invaded Minnesota during the Paleozoic era, between 600 million and 225 million years ago, and the subsequent Mesozoic era, ending 65 million years ago. The seas laid down what became layer upon layer of sedimentary rock, mostly sandstone, dolomite, shale, and limestone. Near the end of this era, around 100 million years ago, warm Cretaceous seas were an integral component of a tropical environment in Minnesota. At the beginning of the Cenozoic era, about 65 million years ago, mammals first appeared. Some may have inhabited Minnesota. In the most recent increment of geologic time, the Quaternary Period, glaciers transformed the landscape of Minnesota, leaving the contours recognizable today. The massive Laurentide Ice Sheet, centered on Hudson Bay, covered the state four times. The last great expansion of glacial ice, the Wisconsin glaciation, sculpted the many lakes of the state. 
The many periods of glaciation shaped the topography of the state, leaving rolling hills, contours, and the distinctive prairies of southwestern Minnesota. Even the distribution of rock and the depth of soil were influenced by glaciation. When the last glacier to cover the Pipestone area, the Des Moines lobe, pushed southward about 14,000 years ago, it scraped off great quantities of rock and soil. Some of these large boulders were left standing on the glacial plains when the glacier retreated. One example, the Three Maidens at Pipestone National Monument, is typical. Once it was a large glacial boulder, more than fifty feet in diameter. At some point, it fractured along natural seams or joints. The three largest pieces are each about twenty feet long and twelve feet high. They contrast with the landscape around them. 
The Des Moines Lobe, fed by the Laurentide Ice sheet in Canada, had other consequences. The surface deposits it left were loess, the fine textured silt deposited by wind during the final period of glaciation and lying over clay-rich till of pre-Wisconsin, or Kansan, age. The resulting prairie soils became rich and deep, for they developed on these thick deposits of glacial till. 
The vistas of southwestern Minnesota and the Pipestone National Monument area also resulted from the glacial process. The advance and retreat of glaciers defined the modern topography of the coteau region. Throughout the area, more than 700 feet of glacial drift, the loose debris left by advancing and receding glaciers, covers the bedrock. The Sioux Quartzite underneath is highly resistant to erosion, leaving higher elevations and relatively consistent topography in the Coteau des Prairies region. The coteau itself towers 500 to 800 feet above the surrounding plain of till. Its quartzite formation is nearly horizontal, accounting for the plateau-like characteristics of the region. Many exposed areas of Sioux Quartzite bear the marks of glacial abrasion, preserved because the rock is so resistant to weathering. 
As a result, the southwest corner of Minnesota consists of an elevated, lake-free, gently rolling landscape, with a surface composed of older drift material that is covered by wind-blown silt. The Big Sioux River carries water in a well-developed drainage system, with channels formed by glacial process. The occasional outcropping of Sioux quartzite is testimony to the hard rock lying beneath the surface of the coteau region. 
The defining feature of the region is the presence of this hard stone. A Precambrian sandstone, Sioux Quartzite is one of the hardest of the common rocks. It is at or near the surface south and west of Pipestone National Monument. Extensive exposures are found in the vicinities of Pipestone, Jasper, and Luverne. A large area along the southwest border of the state, from west of Lake Benton southward, also shows significant deposits. Sioux Quartzite is classified as a metamorphic rock formed from sandstone, with silicon dioxide as a cement, and recrystallized as a result of heat, pressure, and chemical action. 
The stone was formed early in geologic time. About 1,600 million years ago, erosion began to wear down the Penokean Mountains in the Lake Superior region. The weathering of the gneiss-granite terrace to the south was also under way. This erosion produced quartz sand, which eventually formed into a 1,500-meter-thick layer of Sioux Quartzite in southwest Minnesota. 
Sioux Quartzite is usually pinkish, but can vary from almost white to a reddish-purple color. Much of it is probably about one and one half billion years old. Geologists believe it was formed in shallow water, possibly on the edge of a shallow sea. The presence of the quartzite around Pipestone National Monument indicates the area was quiet and stable during the Precambrian period. 
The unique natural feature of the monument is the pipestone for which it is named. Pipestone is an easily carved, clay-rich rock layer found in the Sioux Quartzite. A red mudstone, it is colored by disseminated hematite. It is a naturally hardened clay, composed largely of aluminum silicate and iron impurities. Generally pipestone is found in shale-like layers sixteen to twenty inches thick that are sandwiched between massive layers of Sioux Quartzite. 
Geologists believe that more than one billion years ago, pipestone was a clay material and quartzite was sand that was deposited at the bottom of a sea. Other sediments buried these beds deep below the surface of the earth, where heat, pressure, and chemical action and reaction transformed the sand into quartzite and the clay into pipestone. Later, pressures beneath the surface caused the beds to fold and uplift. Subsequent erosion wore away underlying beds, until in some areas the pipestone was exposed. 
The region in which this stone predominates lies in the southwestern corner of the state of Minnesota. While Minnesota straddles the transition zone between the eastern woodlands and western prairies of North America, southwestern Minnesota is prairie. The major portion of the region, north of Pipestone County, consisted of slightly contoured or entirely flat sheets of glacial till, ascending with a very gentle slope from east to west and enclosing shallow ponds and lakes. Tallgrass prairie covered the southwestern part of the state, where the common grasses were big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, prairie clover, goldenrod, and pasque flower. 
Pipestone County, in which the monument and the town of Pipestone are located, is different from the rest of the area. It lies on a dividing line. The till of the Bemis Moraine, material deposited at the edge of the Des Moines Lobe, separates it from the surrounding area. The crest of the Coteau des Prairies crosses the northeastern corner of Pipestone County, producing a rough, irregular topography with elevations reaching 1,900 feet. Hills rise abruptly, 100 to 150 feet above the valleys, and are often very stony. The coteau crest forms a divide between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Along with Flandreau Creek and Rock River, which flow to the southwest, Pipestone and Split creeks drain the western half of the county. 
Most of the upland surfaces in Pipestone County remain covered with glacial sediment deposited by several different drift sheets. The sediment varies greatly in thickness. A line drawn diagonally from the northwestern corner of the county to its southeastern corner roughly forms the boundary between the thick and thin deposits. Drifts reaching 700 feet in depth are found northeast of this line. Southwest of the line, such drifts are thin or entirely absent. 
This drift covers the Sioux Quartzite. The quartzite forms a low, west-facing escarpment north of the city of Pipestone, over which Pipestone Creek leaps in a small cataract. At this location, the stone for which the monument is named is found near the surface. Easy access to this stone gave the area a practical and ceremonial significance.
Human beings utilized the soft pipestone they found on the prairies of what became southwestern Minnesota. Archeological surveys reveal that beginning about 1000 B. C. and ending around A. D. 700, artifacts made from pipestone found in the quarries of southwestern Minnesota were traded as far east as modern Ohio, as far south as the Kansas River, and as far west as north central South Dakota. Studies in the Ohio area suggest evidence of the greatest concentration of the stone, with a number of sites clustered along the Oletangy River. During this time, few Indians lived on the Great Plains, offering an explanation for the scant presence of local pipestone in the region. Until after the arrival of Europeans in the New World, Native American permanent presence was limited to a few scattered agricultural villages, such as those of the Mandan, Pawnee, Caddoe, and Wichita, in the various river drainages of the plains. 
More intensive quarrying began around A. D. 700 and certainly before 1200. There appears to have been easy access to the sacred stone for many different groups. As a result, the pipes were traded or carried widely across the North American continent. Examples of stone from what is now Pipestone National Monument have been found in Anasazi and Hohokam sites in the Southwest, in villages located along the Arkansas River, up and down the Missouri River, throughout western Iowa, and as far east as the Ohio River area. The extent of the distribution suggests that more than one group of Native Americans traded raw quarried pipestone or artifacts made from it.
The horse revolutionized the lifestyles of the Native American tribes that surrounded the Great Plains. Introduced by A. D. 1500, horses spread widely as a result of Spanish presence, infiltrating the plains from all directions. Through trade and theft, Indians acquired horses, also utilizing the feral animals that roamed the plains. Horse culture gave Indians a measure of mobility that they previously lacked and allowed the transformation of the economy of some tribes from agriculture to hunting.
A number of Siouian-speaking peoples were among the Indians who used the horse to make the plains their home. Before the horse, few Native Americans lived on the prairies. Most of these people lived in river drainages. But the mobility that horses provided brought tribes from the surrounding area on to the plains. By the early 1600s, Otoes, Omahas, Iowas, and other groups were among them. These Indians quarried pipestone material. Valued for ritual and religious purposes, the stone was an integral part of Native American ceremonial practice.
Before the coming of the Sioux at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Minnesota pipestone was common in southern Arizona, along the Ohio River in northern Kentucky, and along the upper Missouri River. It had become a trade item among the Indians who lived in the Midwest or traveled across it.
Sioux expansion westward from the Great Lakes, beginning in the mid-seventeenth century and continuing in the eighteenth century, had an impact on the distribution of pipestone. One indirect result of the Iroquois-Algonquin wars, which pushed Algonquin people from the East Coast to the Great Lakes region, was the movement of the Sioux peoples into Minnesota and further on to the plains. They were crowded by newcomers from the east and faced greater competition for the economic resources of the Great Lakes. Their motivation was economic in character: they valued the abundant beaver for trade purposes and the American Bison as a ready food supply. The increase in Indian refugees made westward movement the best alternative for some branches of the Sioux. With armed Ojibways and Crees to their east and north and lacking both firearms and the horse, the Sioux pushed westward towards the Missouri River. 
This squeezed the Oto, Omaha, Iowa, and other plains peoples who faced the aggressive expansionist Sioux. The various branches of the Sioux found the beaver trade lucrative. With the acquisition of firearms from the French, they became a formidable opponent for other Native Americans. By the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, Sioux peoples had control of the area east of the Missouri River. While they acquired their first horses as early as 1707, it took longer to integrate the animals into their way of life. By the 1750s, the horse had become an important part of Sioux culture, setting the stage for later expansions westward.  The Oglala branch migrated westward, while the Yankton Sioux established control of the coteau quarries from which the pipestone came.
The western Sioux, of which the Yankton were one branch, developed an economy that existed in uneasy balance with the limits of their physical environment. As long as they could control access to the natural resources of what they considered their domain, life was plentiful. During the summer, they followed the buffalo and in the winters they trapped beaver. In the spring, they traveled to trade fairs. The geographic location of different Sioux groups was reflected in the nature of their economy. Groups adapted to the available resources. The Yanktons in what is now Minnesota valued beaver ahead of buffalo, while the more western branches became buffalo hunters to the near exclusion of beaver trapping.
Trade fairs allowed the Sioux to function as middlemen between western non-Sioux tribes and eastern Santee Sioux, who had trade ties to the French to their north and east. Throughout most of the eighteenth century, the fairs worked successfully for the Yankton and other branches of the western Sioux. But by the early nineteenth century, the middleman role of the western Sioux began to collapse as French, Spanish, and later American traders came up the Missouri River and circumvented the Sioux network.
The trade fairs provide the best explanation for the unwillingness of the Yankton to allow others to quarry. The western Sioux sought to reduce some of the surrounding groups of Native Americans to serf-like status. As a result of the increase in Sioux population and the suffering and depopulation of peoples such as the Mandan from smallpox and other diseases in the nineteenth century, the Sioux were ascendant. They exerted economic control over such groups as the Arikara before 1800. As Sioux hegemony began to break down on the eastern plains in response to the influx of trade goods that followed Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the Yankton sought to retain what they could of the old order. Domination of access to the quarries at Pipestone assured that a valuable trade resource that American, French, and Spanish traders did not have remained exclusively theirs. 
But the potential for economic reward that brought the Sioux to the eastern plains also brought their successorsEuropean-Americans. The Sioux came for what they could derive from westward expansion. Whites followed largely for the same reason. Late in the eighteenth century, French and Spanish traders moved up the Missouri River. The goods they brought to trade to villagers competed with the Sioux trade fairs, a threat to the Sioux economy. The traders had a different interpretation of the status quo. They saw the Sioux drawing off trade to Canada that should have come down the Missouri River. An economic war had begun.
Another consequence of the appearance of the traders affected the balance of power in the region. Epidemic diseases such as smallpox traveled in close concert with the traders, wreaking havoc on the settled villages of people such as the Hidatsas, Arikaras, and Mandans. In 1795, the Arikaras were reduced from 32 villages to two, causing immeasurable social and economic disruption along with the obvious cultural and demographic problems. The Sioux were largely unaffected; their advance to the south and west of the Missouri River put them out of reach of the primary path of the epidemics. Their mobile way of life gave them less contact with whites and fewer opportunities to contract disease. It also meant that they did not add the degree of risk that contact with refuse, fouled water, and other conditions associated with village life created. As a result, the Sioux were the only Native American group on the high plains that apparently increased in population over the course of the nineteenth century. The people who had held Sioux expansion in check were decimated, and the Sioux extended the area of their hegemony across the northern plains. 
While the Sioux were successful in keeping control over their neighbors, white encroachment on the plains caused larger long-term problems. White hunters eliminated the bison south of the Omaha villages before 1820, and by the 1840s, an increasing Native American population hunted far fewer animals. Maintaining economic control of the plains required greater Sioux vigilance, expanded hunting grounds, and gradually an increased recognition of the need to control other material commodities. 
The Yankton Sioux, firmly in control of southwestern Minnesota, dominated the pipestone quarries. Trade associated with the stone was an important component of the Yankton economy. The quarries had an added advantage. They were located far from the rivers that served as the course of white entry to the plains. As a result, throughout the increasing turmoil in the Native American world of the plains during the first half of the nineteenth century, the Yankton maintained uncontested control of this valuable spiritual, cultural, and economic resource.
Whites were aware of pipestone long before they found the source of the stone. French traders reported seeing pipes and other artifacts made from the stone as early as the middle of the seventeenth century. In the 1660s, Miami and Mascouten refugees near Green Bay offered French trader Nicolas Perrot a red stone calumet as part of a welcoming ceremony; in 1683, Father Louis Hennepin wrote of the importance of the pipe to the Sioux who captured him.  But to these early trappers and priests, the source of the material was a mystery barely worth the effort to consider, much less solve. To whites, the source of the stone was an economic question of minimal importance.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were occasional reports of a location from which the stone originated. In 1700, Pierre Charles Le Sueur, a French trader who defied French trading regulations and traveled deep into areas Europeans had not explored, identified the "Hinhanetons" of the "village of the red-stone quarry." Most probably, he reached the vicinity of what today is the monument and found newly arrived Yankton Sioux. Le Sueur's report was the first evidence that anyone lived by the quarries. 
It was also evidence of a changing world around the quarries. Early in the eighteenth century, French trading posts were built within 125 miles of the quarries. Traders may have seen the source of the stone. Some observers at the time remarked about such visits, but if they did, they left little documentation to substantiate their presence. Agents in the employ of the British frequently mentioned the calumet, the famed long-stemmed pipe made from pipestone, but few left any record of the quarries themselves. As much as one hundred years passed with little change in the situation. Traders had no reason to search for the source of the stone. The quarries were of such little significance that when whites began to visit the area more frequently after 1800, the quarries appeared as mere mentions in official French reports.  No other record of such visits was made, nor was the location of the quarries given any special attention.
By 1830, the coteau world had begun to change. More and more whites came to the region in search of economic gain. As the United States expanded, exploring and assessing the land and its resources become an important activity. Some, such as Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, were sent by the government. Others acted in an unofficial capacity. Among them was Philander Prescott, an explorer and frontiersman who left the first written account of a visit to the quarries at Pipestone. 
Prescott, who visited the quarry in 1831 or 1832, found a 100-yard-long quarry, ten feet deep at its south end, with a layer of pipestone one foot thick. Prescott and his party blasted the quartzite layer above the pipestone, collecting enough stone to make about twenty pipes. For the whites, this was a laborious task; they commented that Native Americans seemed to use only hoes and axesalong with a six-pound cannonball that fractured unearthed deposits of the stone. 
Although Prescott and his party stayed only briefly, they were the first of many traders, explorers, and interested observers to come to the site. The number of whites who visited during the 1830s increased, with shorter and shorter time between visits. Some even stayed to quarry the stone for themselves. Joseph LaFramboise, a mixed-blood trader with the American Fur Company, may have done so in 1835. Even the construction of Fort Snelling, the northernmost fort in the chain called the permanent Indian frontier, could not prevent whites from spilling over into Indian land.  By the end of the decade, the steady stream of white visitors had begun to bring the quarry to the attention of the non-Native American world.
But the real popularizer of the quarry first visited in September 1836. George Catlin, on his way to fame although not fortune as an artist and ethnographer, was stopped at Traverse des Sioux, near modern St. Peter, Minnesota, by a band of Native Americans. He thought they sought to stop him from "trespass(ing) on their dearest privilegetheir religion." The Sioux thought Catlin and his party were government explorers, sent to assess the material worth of the quarries as a prelude to seizure. Catlin and his companion explained otherwise and were allowed to continue on their journey. What he found when the party reached the quarries astonished and impressed him. 
Catlin was captivated by the quarries. The people, the stories associated with the pipes made from the stone, and combination of sentience, spirituality, and scenery mirrored Catlin's views of Native Americans. While there, he painted a panoramic view of the quarries that reflected his sensibilities and experiences among Native Americans. Far more sympathetic than most observers of his time, Catlin saw an image of noble savagery in the use of the quarries and the importance of ceremonies involving pipestone. The quarries and their environs confirmed what his experience taught him about the aboriginal inhabitants of the American West.
Even more important for the image of the quarries was the display of his paintings and a series of lectures that he gave throughout the eastern United States. Beginning in the winter of 1836-1837, Catlin prepared his work for public view. On September 25, 1837, his "Indian Gallery" opened at Clinton Hall in New York. It was a rousing success. Catlin tried to sell his portraits to the federal government but was repeatedly rebuffed. In 1839, he took his collection to England, where the popularity of Indian themes and issues far exceeded the level west of the Atlantic Ocean. There Catlin again showed his work to the public and prepared his book, North American Indians: Being Letters and Notes on Their Manners, Customs, and Conditions Written During Eight Years' Travel Amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America, 1832-1839, for publication. While much of Catlin's art had as much ethnographic as artistic value, his prose struck a chord with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 
The quarries at Pipestone had very quickly developed iconographic significance to the people of the United States and Europe. The process of industrialization had begun, and many thought nostalgically about a simpler past. A subsurface tension existed in industrializing societies, for the urbanization and dislocation that occurred as factories and cities grew and spread caused widespread concern. One remedy was a longing for the idealized past, a more natural place devoid of the negative side of progress. 
Native Americans figured greatly in this nostalgic but necessary attempt to understand widespread social change. Books and art with Native American themes expressed many of these sentiments. Authors such as James Fennimore Cooper in the 1820s glorified Native Americans and bemoaned their passing.  Catlin's work, although far closer to reflecting the nature of Indian life, showed similar sympathy and greater understanding of the ways of Native Americans. His work became part of the popular culture of the time. The quarries figured importantly in this process, for major authors began to use them in a symbolic manner.
The most prominent of these was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, first published in 1855, offered a romanticized view of Native American life with the quarries at its center. Building on Catlin's work, Longfellow created a legend as well as an epic. After an introduction, the poem opened "on the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry," where Gitche Manito smoked the calumet as sign to all nations. This deity offered compassion and wisdom, embodied in the location and the sacred pipe, to solve the quarrels of his children.  In Longfellow, the quarries acquired a cultural meaning that equalled even the reverence American Indians felt for the place and its products. In the Romantic cosmology of the middle of the nineteenth century, the Pipestone quarries came to represent the best of human endeavor.
Despite the mythological Native American world that Longfellow's poetry created, the quarries remained a real place. Whites had continued to explore the region since Catlin's visit. One group, an expedition hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers and led by Joseph Nicollet, a French scientist, and John Charles Fremont, headed for fame as an explorer and adventurer, arrived in 1838. Drenched by a sudden thunderstorm, the expedition entered the Pipestone Valley to find Native Americans quarrying. Six members of the party carved their initials in a piece of quartzite near Leaping Rock. Commissioned to survey and map western Minnesota, the Nicollet expedition located the pipestone quarries on survey maps. 
For Native Americans, the Nicollet expedition was the beginning of the end. Between the popularization that followed Catlin's trip east and overseas and the location of the quarry on maps of the region, the Indian presence at the quarries faced genuine threats. The Coteau des Prairies began to fill with Anglo-American settlers. After 1840, the American government compelled Indians to sign treaties relinquishing their lands, usually in exchange for other land farther west and sometimes substantial annuities. The Sisseton and Wahpeton Sioux left after signing the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851; the Yanktons followed seven years later, after a number of Yankton chiefs went to Washington, where they insisted on their right to quarry pipestone. When that right was recognized, a treaty was concluded in April 1858.  With that treaty, Yankton control over southwestern Minnesota endedexcept for the approximately 650 acres that became the reserved area at Pipestone. The disposition of that area in law was theoretically complete; working out an accommodation was a more complicated process.
Last Updated: 21-Aug-2004