A History of Pipestone National Monument Minnesota
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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.

inscription at quarry
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
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 Wyoming.

From 1853 to 1859 a wide variety of parties visited the general area, and some of them visited the immediate vicinity of the quarries.

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 quarries.

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 depredations.

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 utilized.

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 region.

The first known visit by a photographer was that of W. H. Illingworth of Sioux City, Iowa, in late May or early June 1870.

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 Fort Thompson.

With the coming of public land surveyors and a few settlers, the frontier years ended, and the active and complex era of settlement began.


A History of Pipestone National Monument Minnesota
©1965, Pipestone Indian Shrine Association
pipestone/sec4.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1965 by the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association.