Quarry History

Photograph of Yankton Sioux leader Struck-By-The-Ree
Ihanktonwan Nakota (Yankton Sioux) leader Struck-By-The-Ree. He refused to sign a treaty with the government unless free access to the quarries was guaranteed. Thus, preserving a Native American spiritual tradition was written into a treaty at a time when the aim was to suppress them entirely.

NPS, Missouri NRR; Trustees of the British Museum

Stone pipes have been in use on the North American continent for thousands of years and archaeological evidence suggests that the pipestone quarries of Pipestone National Monument have been in use for 3,000 years. Carvers prize this durable yet relatively soft stone, which ranges in color from mottled pink to brick red. Though these grounds are not the only source of pipestone on the North American continent, this location became the preferred source of pipestone among the Plains people because of the quality of the stone. This site was used by many tribes, and tradition states that when people came here - even enemies - they laid down their weapons before quarrying side by side. By 1700, the Dakota Sioux were the dominant presence at the pipestone quarries.

Ceremonial smoking marked the activities of the Plains people: making peace, rallying forces for warfare, trading goods, rituals, and many other ceremonies. Bowls, stems, and tobacco were stored in animal-skin pouches or in bundles with other sacred objects. Pipes were often valued possessions buried with the dead.

There were as many variations in pipe design as there were carvers. By the time George Catlin arrived to the pipestone quarries in 1836, the simple tubes of earlier times had developed into elbow and disk forms, as well as elaborate animal and human effigies. Pipes became widely known as "peace pipes" among European Americans who encountered their customary use at treaty ceremonies, even though pipes have many other very important uses.

In the mid-19th century, as the Indigenous people of Minnesota were forced onto reservations, some Tribal Nations ceded land that included the pipestone quarry without the consent of the Ihanktonwan Oyate (Yankton Dakota) who controlled it. Ihanktonwan leader Struck By The Ree refused to move his people to a reservation unless they were guaranteed "free and unrestricted access" to the pipestone quarries. The federal government agreed, and the 1858 treaty established a one-square-mile reservation around the quarries.

The Ihanktonwan Oyate held the pipestone quarries and traveled to them in order to procure the pipestone. Within 20 years, newly arrived settlers began digging new quarry pits and stealing the sacred stone. A homestead patent was filed within the quarry reserve area, and the Mayor of Pipestone violated the law for many years by building his house within the reservation and occupying it until the U.S. Army forced him to move out of the reservation. In the 1880s, the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railroad paid the Ihanktonwan for right-of-way through part of the quarry reserve just above the quartzite cliffs. In 1892, a bill passed Congress to establish the Pipestone Indian Boarding School on the northeastern corner of the quarry reservation, despite protests from the Ihanktonwan Oyate. In 1899, the they began proceedings to be compensated for damages to their quarry reservation.

After several attempts to reach a resolution first through the U.S. Congress, then through a new agency called the Indian Court of Claims, the Ihanktonwan Oyate spent decades seeking compensation. After the Indian Court of Claims first found that they did not have authority to act on the case, changes in the law later allowed the ICC to rule in the case. The ICC eventually decided against the Ihanktonwan Oyate in 1926, stating that the quarry reservation was only an easement and that they had no right to compensation. The case proceeded to the Supreme Court in 1926. The Supreme Court reversed the ICC's ruling, stating that the federal governments actions at amounted to illegal seizure, and ordered the ICC to determine the value of the land for payment of damages. In 1928, the Ihanktonwan Oyate received $338,558.90 for the land, but lost their claim to the quarries as the title to the land fell under full control of the federal government.

Pipestone National Monument was signed into existence in 1937 and is mandated to protect the right of Native Americans enrolled in any federally-recognized tribe to quarry pipestone.

The cultures of the Great Plains have undergone radical changes since the era of the free-ranging buffalo herds, yet pipe carving is by no means a lost art. Carvings today are appreciated as works of art as well as for ceremonial use. An age-old tradition continues in the modern world, ever changing yet firmly rooted in the past.

Pipestone National Monument

Last updated: October 28, 2020