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. There are several Indigenous traditions regarding the Maidens (some say Two Maidens, others say Three Maidens). Whether the stories tell of the Maidens hiding in the rocks from violence, natural disaster, or were granted permission to stay there by the Great Spirit, the result is an extremely significant space in which the Maidens act as guardian spirits of the pipestone quarries. Quarriers typically left offerings of tobacco at the Three Maidens before entering to quarry pipestone. Some quarriers still leave such offerings today.
Historically, there were 79 petroglyphs on 35 slabs of rock placed around the three maidens depicting various images (people, animals, bird tracks, etc.). 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 are now on display in the Visitor Center.
If the Three Maidens seem out of place surrounded by quartzite outcroppings, as they did for ancient storytellers, it is because they are out of place. The Three Maidens are made of granite, an igneous rock that formed far away to the north. Originally, they were very likely one giant boulder carried by the glaciers during the Pleistocene Ice Age and dropped here when the glaciers melted. Over time, the boulder broke into pieces, resulting in names such as Two Maidens or Three Maidens. Rocks transported and deposited elsewhere by glaciers are called glacial erratics. 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.
Last updated: March 30, 2020