The grounds of Pipestone National Monument have been an important cultural and spiritual site for many American Indian cultures for a very long time. Each culture has its own traditions, protocols, and stories that relate to the pipe, the quarrying grounds, and the pipestone itself. The following are excerpts of stories told about pipes and pipestone. These stories are certainly not the only stories told about this special place, and are offered here primarily as examples of the types of stories told in order to illustrate the importance of the site.
The Gift of the Pipe
Black Elk, who, for a time, traveled with the Buffalo Bill Show, committed many traditional stories to print. His contributions are invaluable to anyone who wishes to learn more about the traditions of his people. As recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, Black Elk told the story of the gift of the pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman, a wakan woman, who presents the people with a pipe before leaving the village and morphing into a white buffalo calf.
"'Behold this and always love it! It is Lela Wakan [very sacred], and you must treat it as such. No impure man should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle there is a sacred pipe. With this you will, during the winters to come, send your voices to Wakan-Tanka, your Father and Grandfather.'
After the mysterious woman said this, she took from the bundle a pipe, and also a small round stone which she placed upon the ground. Holding the pipe up with its stem to the heavens, she said: 'With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl are from Wanbli Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these peoples, and all the things of the universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe - all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.'"
The Discovery of the Pipestone Quarry
The Joseph Nicollet expedition, which was the first to map the area that included the pipestone quarries, visited the quarries in June and July of 1838. The expedition's journals, translated by Edmund C. Bray and Martha Coleman Bray in Joseph Nicollet on the Plains and Prairies, include a story explaining how the thin pipestone seam was discovered.
"The discovery of the red earth is due to the passage of animals [buffalo] which hollowed out a deep pathway, as they do in the regions of seasonal migration where they try always to take the same route. The pathway revealed the surface of the red rock. One can imagine, then, in nations for whom the pipe is among the most important of necessary objects what a windfall it was to be provided with a soft stone of their favorite color, suitable for making pipes, in an immense land where there is no other workable rock...
...The pathway made formerly by the passage of animals is still clearly visible for nearly a mile, and one can see that the Indians mined the red stone there for many years before being forced to remove rock that covered the red stone where it is now worked...
...The Sioux name this very sacred quarry simply Iyansha K'api; that is to say, the place where one digs the red rock."
The Use of the Pipestone Quarry
George Catlin, who visited the Pipestone quarries in 1836, painted the first image of the Pipestone quarry. He observed the manner in which the native people used the site and recorded his observations of their traditions. Catlin also recorded the following Sioux story reflecting the importance of the pipestone quarry.
"At an ancient time the Great Spirit, in the form of a large bird, stood upon the wall of rock and called all the tribes around him, and breaking out a piece of the red stone formed it into a pipe and smoked it, the smoke rolling over the whole multitude. He then told his red children that this red stone was their flesh, that they were made from it, that they must all smoke to him through it, that they must use it for nothing but pipes: and as it belonged alike to all tribes, the ground was sacred, and no weapons must be used or brought upon it."
A Continuing Tradition
While rooted in the traditions of the past, modern quarriers have their own interpretations of this site. Visitors to Pipestone National Monument can learn more about these perspectives by visiting with the pipemakers in the visitor center and by watching the park's 22-minute film, "Pipestone: An Unbroken Legacy," which shows throughout the day at the visitor center.