It is easy to drive right past the Three Maidens as one enters Pipestone National Monument, but to do so is to miss the traditional stopping place upon entering the pipestone quarries. Traditionally, the Three Maidens were regarded to be representative of guardian spirits of the pipestone quarries. Quarriers would typically leave an offering of tobacco for the spirits at the Three Maidens. Some quarriers still leave such offerings today.
Historically, there were 79 petroglyphs on 35 slabs of rock placed around the three maidens. The carvings depicted various forms such as people, animals, bird tracks, and more. The petroglyphs were removed in 1888 or 1889 after some had been defaced. The stones changed locations many times before some of them were returned to Pipestone National Monument in the mid-1900s. Seventeen of the petroglyphs formerly placed at the Three Maidens are now on display in the Visitor Center.
The stories of the unusual origins of the Three Maidens reflect the unusual nature of the rocks themselves. The rocks are, in fact, very different from the quartzite and the pipestone, both metamorphic rocks. If the Three Maidens seem out of place, as it did for ancient storytellers, it is because they are out of place. The Three Maidens are huge boulders of granite, an igneous rock that formed far away. The rock was carried by the ice sheets during the Pleistocene Ice Age and was dropped here when the glacier melted. Rocks transported and deposited by glaciers in the manner of the Three Maidens are called glacial erratics. Glacial erratics are found scattered throughout the Great Plains and there are many legends about their nature. More on Glacial Features.
The Three Maidens site is still spiritually significant for many people. Visitors are invited to view the Three Maidens but are asked not to climb on the rocks or to disturb any offerings at the site.
Did You Know?
Joseph Nicollet and John C. Frémont, famous 19th century explorers, visited Pipestone National Monument in 1838 and carved their initials into the Sioux Quartzite cliff. The inscription is still visible along the Circle Trail. More...