THE PIPESTONE QUARRY CASE
Early in 1890, as the varied menaces posed by the
surrounding frontier society seemed to fade, another problem related to
the Pipestone Reservation rose to plague the Yanktons for well over a
Pipestone National Monument. (click
on image for an enlargement in a new window)
As the land in Pipestone County filled with settlers,
the more active and enterprising of these citizens began to think of
developing the community beyond the agricultural and commercial base
already established. This movement included a broad range of public and
private projects. Businesses and light industries beyond local need were
established. New institutions were promoted, and some of them actually
One popular project was the proposal to establish an
Indian school on the reservation near the town. This idea held many
appeals to the citizens of Pipestone. Construction of the buildings
would mean employment for many and an outlet for building materials.
Operation of the school would require the services of technical and
professional personnel, creating new opportunities for local citizens
and attracting desirable newcomers. Procurement of supplies would
furnish an outlet for local wholesale and retail stores.
This trip to the area was one of several
promotional activities undertaken in the early 1890's. (Courtesy,
Minnesota State Historical Society.)
This proposal was probably discussed casually for
several years before being noted in the press. It first appeared in a
strongly favorable editorial in the Pipestone County Star in
January 1890. More editorials followed, and by early March the idea had
gained many adherents. Other promotional activities were soon
undertaken, including the shipment of many pipestone souvenirs to
Members of Congress and other officials. Seven petitions on this subject
were sent to Congress between March 6 and April 3, 1890.
Congressman Lind introduced legislation to establish
the school in February 1890, but in committee another bill, introduced
by Congressman Stockbridge, was substituted for it. This bill passed,
and was signed by the President on February 16, 1891.
Daniel Dorchester, superintendent of Indian schools,
selected the building site. Planning and contracting went ahead rapidly.
In spite of Yankton protests to the plan, construction began that summer
and the school was ready to open early in 1893.
C. J. Crandall was the first
superintendent of the Indian school.
In response to Yankton protests, the Secretary of the
Interior asked the Attorney General for an opinion on the status of the
reservation lands. The reply was much the same as that given Teller in
1883 that the Indians had only quarrying rights.
The Government made individual allotments of
reservation lands to the Yanktons in the late 1880's. This left much
"surplus" land in tribal ownership. The Indian Appropriation Act of 1892
provided that the Government might negotiate with the tribe for the
purchase of these lands. Negotiations with the Yanktons extended from
October 1892 to March 1893. No transcript was made, but the Yanktons are
supposed to have refused to sell unless some means were provided to
clear the title to the Pipestone Reservation.
Indians quarrying pipestone about 1893.
(Courtesy, Minnesota State Historical Society.)
The negotiators reached agreement on the land sale,
which Congress ratified in 1894. Section 16 provides:
If the Government of the United States questions the
ownership of the Pipestone Reservation by the Yankton tribe of Sioux
Indians under the treaty of April 19, 1858, including the fee to the
land, as well as the right to work the quarries, the Secretary of the
Interior shall, as speedily as possible, refer the matter to the Supreme
Court of the United States, to be decided by that tribunal, and the
United States shall furnish without cost to the Yankton Indians at least
one competent attorney to represent the interests of the tribe before
If the Secretary of the Interior shall not, within
one year after the ratification of this agreement by Congress, refer the
question of ownership of the said Pipestone Reservation to the Supreme
Court, as provided for above, such failure upon his part shall be
construed as, and shall be, a waiver by the United States of all right
to the ownership of the said Pipestone Reservation and the same shall
thereafter be solely the property of the Yankton tribe of the Sioux
Indians, including the fee to the land.
The Secretary of the Interior attempted to bring the
question before the Supreme Court, but the Attorney General felt that
this was impractical since the Court could not decide what was regarded
to be an academic question. The Yanktons felt that failure to bring the
question before the Court within the required time clarified their
title, but their request for certification of this point was
A general council of the Yanktons in January 1897
passed a resolution asking compensation for the land taken as a school
site. An item in the 1897 Indian Appropriation Act authorized the
negotiation of this question. In the spring of 1898, the Secretary of
the Interior detailed Inspector James McLaughlin to meet with the
McLaughlin had some 20 years' experience in Indian
affairs, most of it with the Sioux. His wife was half Sioux, and spoke
the language fluently. He opened negotiations with the Yanktons on April
27, 1899, but the talks lasted only two days. McLaughlin had other
important business to conduct elsewhere, and saw quickly that the
Yanktons were not ready to come to terms. He left and returned in
As the autumn meetings opened, McLaughlin quickly
concluded that negotiations with the tribal council would get nowhere,
so a committee drew up an agreement which was submitted for vote to the
individual adult males of the tribe. It passed on October 2 by the
narrow majority of 14 out of 480 Yankton men over 18 years of age.
Article I of the agreement provided that the Yanktons
would give up all interest and rights to the Pipestone Reservation.
Article II provided that the Yanktons should be permitted to use for
camping and stone quarrying a 40-acre tract, to be selected by a tribal
committee. Article III provided that the Yanktons should receive
$100,000 for the reservation, $25,000 in cattle and the balance in cash,
to be paid on a per capita basis. Article IV guaranteed that the United
States would not sell or otherwise dispose of the lands ceded, but would
maintain the area as a "national park or reservation." Article V
concerned the settlement of outstanding Yankton claims, and Article VI
outlined ratification procedures.
In due course, a bill to ratify the agreement was
introduced in the Senate. The Committee on Indian Affairs reported
against this measure, contending that the Government already had title
to the land and that the 1892 agreement could not have given a valid
title to the Indians. Three committee members disagreed and filed a
minority report in which they outlined the history of the land title,
and noted the number of times the Government had already upheld Yankton
title to the land. By 1910, three more bills to obtain ratification of
the 1899 agreement were introduced, but none passed.
An item placed in the 1910 Indian Appropriation Act
sought to settle the land title question by giving jurisdiction to the
Court of Claims. The Yanktons had no money with which to hire an
attorney, but, in 1911, Congress provided $5,000 for this purpose.
Finally, in November 1911, their attorney filed a petition with the
Court of Claims. That court did not act until 1917 when it concluded
that it did not yet have proper jurisdiction to handle the case. Four
bills were introduced to provide adequate jurisdiction for the Court of
Claims, and in 1920 one finally passed.
The Yanktons had come a long way down the "White
Man's Road" since the day on which the infant Strike-the-Ree, wrapped in
the United States flag, is supposed to have been held in the arms of
Through the early settlement period, leadership of
the tribe was in the hands of men brought up in the old Indian social
order. With the passing of these men, the natural leaders of the tribe
were either highly acculturated Indians or mixed bloods whose ability to
deal with officials and with white neighbors placed them in the
forefront. They were, however, men of limited formal education, lost in
the world of law. It was men of this group who helped write the
agreements of the 1890's. Now another generation had come to tribal
leadership. These men were almost uniformly Christian, educated in white
schools, and in many cases competitive and successful in the
non-reservation world. They were the ones the tribe was consulting in
the pipestone quarry case.
What of the accompanying changes in attitude toward
the pipestone quarries and the reservation there? The Yanktons who
negotiated the 1858 treaty viewed the quarries as both a place sacred
beyond price and a great source of commercial wealth. Yankton quarrying
declined with settlement on the reservation 150 miles away and with the
breakdown of old patterns of trade. The trade in pipestone articles
increasingly moved into the hands of Indians from the non-reservation
settlement at Flandreau, South Dakota. These Indians had no rights in
the quarries, but their activity was tolerated by Indian school
officials. The last known group of Yanktons quarried there in 1911.
A view of Winnewissa Falls taken about
1908 shows initials left on rocks by visitors, emphasizing need for
protection of area. (Courtesy, National Archives.)
The committee who drew up the 1899 agreement was
clearly interested in immediate payment, and probably reserved quarrying
rights simply to please the old people of the tribe. In later
litigation, Yankton efforts seem centered around establishing title in
order to receive payment for the land. All references to old
sentimental, religious, and commercial values were intended to force
this payment as high as possible.
Raymond T. Bonnin . . . a central figure
in the pipestone quarry case.
Col. Jennings Wise.
Raymond T. Bonnin was a central figure in the
pipestone quarry case. He and his wife were Yanktons, but well-educated
and widely traveled. Once an Army captain, Bonnin was a law clerk in the
1920's. From 1917 on, the Yanktons often consulted him on the pipestone
question and other problems. He appears to have suggested that they
retain the Washington, D. C., law firm of Munn, Anderson and Munn to
present their case to the Court of Claims under the 1920 act. Bonnin may
have been an employee or agent of that firm. A contract with the firm
was signed by the tribe, and Munn, Anderson and Munn assigned Col.
Jennings Wise to the case.
Myron M. Cohen . . . Court of Claims
commissioner who held hearings to settle value of the land.
The attorneys filed a petition with the Court of
Claims in July 1924. That court reached a decision on June 8, 1925, in
which it held that the Yanktons had only quarrying rights and these had
not been terminated, consequently no compensation was due.
Petition for a new trial was not granted, so the
Yanktons submitted a petition for a writ of certiorari from the Supreme
Court. This was granted in January 1926, and the Court heard the case
that autumn. A decision on November 22, 1926, reversed that of the Court
of Claims, and stated:
That the United States has taken and holds possession
of the entire Quarry tract of 648 acres is not in dispute; and since the
Indians are the owners of it in fee, they are entitled to just
compensation as for a taking under the power of eminent domain.
The Supreme Court then remanded the case to the Court
of Claims to settle the value of the land. A commissioner, Myron M.
Cohen, held hearings at Washington, D. C.; Lake Andes, South Dakota; and
Pipestone. He set the land value in 1891 at $200,000, and suggested that
$36,125 was due the Yanktons for use of the property. After considering
the report, the Court held that the value was $100,000, and that the
Yanktons were entitled to this amount, plus interest, until they were
The Deficiency Appropriation Act of March 4, 1929,
provided a total payment of $328,558.90, of which $31,722.96 was used to
defray attorney fees and expenses and the balance paid to the Yanktons
at $151.99 per person.
With the payment of this judgment, title to the
Pipestone Reservation passed to the United States, and all treaty rights
of the Yanktons were at an end. This cleared the way for concrete
planning by persons interested in converting the area into a park or