The French were trading on the upper Mississippi by
the 1690's, and maintained a number of temporary trading posts within
125 miles of the pipestone quarry by 1750. It seems likely that some of
their men visited the quarries, but no direct record is available.
Territorial Governor Sibley referred to such visits in some of his
Philander Prescott, fur trader to the
Major Taliaferro of the Sioux Agency mentions a visit
by unidentified persons to the quarry in 1831 in his Journal.
Later that same year, the well-known trader, Philander Prescott, visited
the quarry on his way to build a wintering house on the Big Sioux River.
Prescott reported that "We arrived at the famous place called the
pipestone quarry . . . We got out a considerable quantity but a goodeal
of it was shaly and full of seams, so we got only about 20 good pipes
after working all day . . . This quarry was discovered by the Indians
but how and when we have never learnt . . ." He also mentioned his
return by way of the quarries in the spring of 1832.
George Catlin, portrait by William H.
Fiske in 1849.
Joseph LaFramboise, a mixed blood trader for the
American Fur Company, supposedly quarried pipestone here in 1835 for use
Most widely publicized and long believed to be "the
first white visitor" was George Catlin, who visited the quarries in
September 1836. Catlin was the first quarry visitor to "break into
print," and his writings and lectures were popular and widely known. Dr.
C. T. Jackson of Boston, to whom Catlin had given samples of stone,
originated the term "catlinite," still applied to the pipestone from
Pencil sketch of the quarry made in 1836
by George Catlin. Courtesy, (National Archives.)
Less than 2 years later, Catlin's friend and host,
LaFramboise, guided the first truly scientific expedition to the
pipestone quarry. With it the period of Federal contact began.