The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Treaty of
Ghent in 1814 brought to the United States the ownership of claims once
held by Britain, France, and, for a brief period, Spain to a vast area
in the heart of the continent.
Nicollet inscription at quarry.
(Courtesy, Minnesota State Historical Society.)
The region between the Mississippi and the Missouri,
stretching far down the Red River to the 49th Parallel, was by this time
well known to traders, their employees, and hangers-on. But to reduce
this knowledge to useful, precise scientific terms required many years
and a series of professional expeditions. The most important of these
after that of Lewis and Clark were the Long Expedition of 1823, the
Featherstone-Haugh party of 1835, the private explorations of Joseph
Nicholas Nicollet, and the two Nicollet-Fremont Expeditions of 1838 and
1839. Of these, the Nicollet-Fremont Expeditions truly put the pipestone
quarries "on the map."
In the summer of 1838 these men and their party
traveled from H. H. Sibley's post on the Mississippi, up the Minnesota
River, thence up the Cottonwood River for some distance, overland via
Great Oasis Lake, pipestone quarries and Lake Benton, through the
present South Dakota Lake country on the Coteau, and returning via Big
Stone Lake and the Minnesota River. The party spent from June 30 through
July 6, 1838, at the pipestone quarry. Nicollet's Report, his
Journal, and comments by Fremont in his own Memoirs are
the first detailed descriptions of lands along their route, except for
the Minnesota River valley.
"The idea of the young Indians, who are very fond of
the marvellous is, that it has been opened by the Great Spirit, and that
whenever it is visited by them, they are saluted by lightning and
thunder," Nicollet wrote.
Joseph Nicholas Nicollet, an early
explorer of the Pipestone region.
The next notable appearance of the pipestone quarries
was in 1849 when a piece of stone from the quarry was sent to Washington
to be incorporated in the structure of the Washington Monument.
It is not known exactly how early or to what extent
white man and the trading companies were dealing in catlinite. By 1849,
however, the stone was a commercial item of some value, and was noted
among the items for sale at Fort Bridger in what is now western
From 1853 to 1859 a wide variety of parties visited
the general area, and some of them visited the immediate vicinity of the
Following the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857, the
Inkpaduta band, with white captives, camped briefly in the area as did
at least one force of pursuing troops. One of the survivors, Mrs.
Abigail Gardner Sharp (then Abigail Gardner), revisited the area in late
September 1892, and pointed out the campsite not far from the
The Treaty of 1858
A treaty was negotiated in 1851 with the Sisseton and
Wahpeton bands of Sioux at Traverse de Sioux, Minnesota Territory, by
which they gave up their interests in most of the lands of southwestern
Minnesota. However, the Yankton Sioux also claimed much of this land.
Believing that the Sissetons and Wahpetons had wrongfully sold their
land, the Yanktons visited these two tribes when annuities were paid,
extorting money and goods from them and committing many minor
Agents to the Sioux reported this inter-tribal
friction. Finally, in late 1857, a delegation of Yankton Sioux was
called to Washington to negotiate a special treaty for their tribe. The
Government wished to obtain the ownership of all Yankton interests to
lands in Minnesota and Yankton land in Dakota, and to resettle the tribe
on a reservation.
After 5 months of discussions, terms acceptable to
the Yanktons were reached. They refused to sign the treaty until they
felt their rights to the quarry were secured. This was done to their
satisfaction in Article 8 of the treaty, which states:
The said Yankton Indians shall be secured in the free
and unrestricted use of the Red Pipestone Quarry, or so much thereof as
they have been accustomed to frequent and use for the purpose of
procuring stone for pipes; and the United States hereby stipulate and
agree to cause to be surveyed and marked so much thereof as shall be
necessary and proper for that purpose, and retain the same and keep it
open and free to the Indians to visit and procure stone for pipes so
long as they shall desire.
The treaty was signed on April 19, 1858, ratified by
the Senate on February 16, 1859, and proclaimed in effect by the
President on February 26 of the same year.
To comply with the treaty, a General Land Office
survey of the reservation was ordered. The letter of instructions to the
surveyors provided for a reservation 1 mile square, centered on the rock
bearing the inscription of the Nicollet-Fremont party. Provision was
also made to close public land surveys at these boundaries. Contract
surveyors, C. H. Snow and Henry Sutton, completed the survey in August
1859, and their field notes and plats were filed in the General Land
Office in November of that year. The 1859 survey is still of importance,
for portions of the present Monument boundary line coincide with
segments of the 1859 reservation boundaries.
The old quarry line looking south.
Late Presettlement Days
The coming of the Civil War and the Sioux Uprising
relieved the pressure of settlement upon the Minnesota frontier
temporarily, but military activity of the period brought a number of
visitors to the pipestone quarries.
Lt. Joseph H. Swan of the 3d Minnesota, with a detail
of 150 men, abandoned the week-old trail of a band of hostiles a few
miles west of Pipestone late in the autumn of 1862, and made their way
to a point about a mile upstream from the quarries on an unburned patch
of prairie. Here they made an overnight camp with only prairie grass as
fuel for their campfires and forage for their worn mounts.
On November 22, 1863, the pipestone quarries were the
rendezvous point for elements of the celebrated "Moscow Expedition." A
supply train bound for Fort Thompson, Dakota, this column consisted of
153 wagons, over 800 head of beef cattle, and an escort of three
companies of the 6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. James Boyd Hubbell,
well-known among supply contractors of the period, was in charge of the
train, and Capt. Joseph C. Whitney commanded the escort. Two Hubbell
freight wagon trains camped at the quarries during 1864, after which the
route was abandoned in favor of river transportation.
During the winter of 1864-65, Hubbell set up the
largest single commercial venture in the catlinite trade, and later
wrote a description of it:
. . . I venture to say the residents of Pipestone
City and that beautiful section are not aware of the fact that a large
quantity of the pipestone was hauled to Lake Shetek and manufactured
into Indian pipes and other things by machinery. It was not considered
safe for the men to work at the quarry, hence the vacated houses at Lake
Shetek, which were deserted by the settlers during the outbreak were
The owners that had escaped had not at that time
ventured to return. Gen. Sully had expected to be ordered to make a
treaty with the Sioux, and as the red stone pipes were prized highly
with them, he engaged with me for 5,000 pipes at $5 apiece. I employed
men to make them under the supervision of A. B. Smith, one of the
earliest settlers of Dakota.
Gen. Sully did not make the treaty as expected, but
the pipes were no loss, as we traded them to good advantage with the
Indians all along the Missouri, receiving a well-dressed buffalo robe or
its equivalent in other skins for a pipe. Robes at that time were worth
over $10.00 on an average.
During the immediate post-Civil War period, three
geologists came to the region, and two of them actually visited the
quarries. In June 1866, James Hall read a paper on the geology of the
region before the American Philosophical Society. In October 1866, Dr.
F. V. Hayden came to the area, and published a description of its
geological features in the January 1867 issue of the American Journal
of Science and Arts. In 1868 and 1869, the American
Naturalist carried articles by Dr. C. A. White, who had visited the
quarries in the course of a trip to study evidences of glaciation in the
The first known visit by a photographer was that of
W. H. Illingworth of Sioux City, Iowa, in late May or early June
An early photo, taken by Illingworth, of
the falls. (Courtesy, Minnesota State Historical Society.)
In the spring of 1871, a party, consisting of Frank
Fords, Lewis Huilitt, Cash Coates of the Sioux Falls district, and a
Sioux named Big Eagle from Flandreau, quarried some 600 pipe blanks
which were taken from them when they tried to sell them to Indians at
With the coming of public land surveyors and a few
settlers, the frontier years ended, and the active and complex era of