Beads & Buckskins
s & information
located in the
Little Feather Center,
Pipestone Minnesota.

Pipestone, Pipes and the Stone
Including a question and answer section

The Prairie here in Pipestone is superb, untouched in it's beauty, quiet and peaceful with insects buzzing, and birds singing happily. The only sounds heard are those of nature, not of man. This is Pipestone, a place of energies that begin at the quarry areas, but permeate the town. These energies are primal, basic, and powerful. It is because of those energies that the Native Americans of yester-year knew that this place was special. They knew that it had to be cared for because Wakan things happen here.

The different basic styles of pipes are as follows:

This is a Plains or 'T' shaped pipe. This is the most popular of the styles. It can be made in various sizes, and can have a round or square shank.
This is an 'Elbow' or woman's pipe. The bowl is smaller and so doesn't use up as much stone as the other two pictured here.
This is a 'Four Winds' pipe. The engravings can be on the shaft, bowl or both. Some have 4. some 7, or which ever they feel is correct for them

Other popular styles are the claw, and effigy pipes

The stone that is quarried here by Native American's is still used to make the Sacred Pipe. Each Pipe is different as all are made by hand, using tools such as hacksaws, and files. The stone is very soft and easier to fashion than a regular stone. Of course the Ancestors would use a much harder stone to carve the Pipestone, instead of using the tools which are used today. Chuck has actually made a Pipe using three different sizes of flint scrapers, and a stone point attached to a stick to drill the holes. Chuck says, 'If you are going to make it that way, make sure you have lots of time'.

It takes long, hard labor to reach the Pipestone in the quarries, sometimes the quarrier can be in his quarry for a month or more before getting to the soft red layer, which is lying under the second hardest rock in the world, quartzite (see photo below). He has to reach the Pipestone layer using only hand tools, and his own strength and abilities. Just hitting the quartzite doesn't make a dent all that achieves is a bunch of sparks. It takes knowledge to quarry the stone, and because of that many people leave the quarries empty handed after trying for days to break through the hard rock. Only those with the ancient knowledge actually come away with the soft stone.

Chuck Derby had that knowledge passed to him by his father and grandfather. He works the same quarry that they used. He now stands swinging a sledgehammer, only a few yards from where his father stood years ago doing the same thing, and he too stood not far from the spot where Chuck's grandfather, Moses Crow, allowed his sweat to join with the Earth Mother as he worked in the hot sun to reach the beautiful red stone.

Some people feel that Pipestone articles should not be sold. However the quarriers, Pipe-makers and craftspeople feel that the cost of the items compensates them for their time either quarrying or crafting. They are not selling the stone itself just their time to quarry and make the items.

I often feel like saying to the people who complain about having to pay money for pipestone articles, 'Well now here is a shovel, sledgehammer, chisel, and wedges, there is the quarry. Now go down there and dig out some stone, it will take you a few months, but that's OK, when you come out I want you to give me the stone you have dug out'. I could imagine the answers I would get, and they wouldn't be nice! Believe me, none of the 'Original Pipestone Dakota Tiospaye' is making a financial gain at these prices, they are only getting enough to keep them away from welfare.

We were asked how many pipes we have 'sold' at the Center over the 3 years before Spirit of Peace Crafts was started because some people thought we were selling too many pipes, (all Pipes now go through and from SOP) we worked it out and the total came to 50. However the 'sale' is for the time it takes for Chuck to quarry to get the stone and for the time it takes the craft worker to make the Pipe. Some of these Pipes Chuck made himself as custom pipes, and some of those pipes were exchanged for a blanket or tobacco. The majority available at the Center (pre SOP) came from the Indian Shrine Assn. at the Monument, this was the Center's way of supporting the Shrine.

Chuck does not do things for money, many think that either he is nuts or telling lies. However anyone who knows Chuck can see that he does things in a spiritual way, and follows what Spirit tells him. He is as the old people were, money was unheard of, people helped one another and not for what they could get from it. It is the way we all should be towards each other, it is not a crazy way to be, but very natural for those who live a natural lifestyle. I am proud to say that those who visit, work or volunteer at the Center all feel the same way. The Center draws the people who understand that way. Like draws like, as the saying goes, and that is really true at the Center. The Center is all about education, not making money, or selling Pipes. The pipes are promoted as is the true Pipestone; Catlinite. When people want a pipe or stone we recommend where they should go to find what they need. A place that benefits the maker of the pipe and the People.

Chuck has been accused of being against the other organization in town because they sell more than he does, and they make more money, this again is completely wrong as Chuck's ideal is not money but spirituality. He gets his pension and for him that is enough. The Creator makes sure that things happen to allow the Center to continue running, and that is the main thing.

Summer 2003:

We have many people sending in questions mainly about the various aspects of the stone and quarrying. We understand that there are queries that need to be sent in to us and that is fine but maybe the question that you have will be among those and you will get the answer immediately instead of having to wait for Chuck to answer. Take a look below and see if your question is there.

N.B. We know that a Pipe is spiritually a Channupa, however we hold them when they emerge new to the world, before they are blessed to metamorphose as the Channupa, so in these questions we use the generic name 'pipe' in the answers. This is not done to be disrespectful to the Channupa.

Q: I am a stone sculptor. I am wondering if there is a pipestone quarry where a person like myself can go and pick up a few raw chunks of pipestone for carving.

A: Unless you are an enrolled member of a federally recognised Native American Tribe you will not be able to quarry or even help someone else quarry. The Catlinite cannot just be picked up it has to be quarried for. The stone that lays around on the top of a quarry is actually the Sioux Quartzite, the second hardest rock in the world. It cannot be carved. Below is a photograph of a quarry showing where the Catlinite lays. The Catlinite is the maroon layer near the hammer head.

almost to the pipestone layer

That looks easy enough doesn't it? However above that part is shown in the next picture, it is sioux quartzite and that needs to be broken through first. That is not an easy job.

quartzite in the quarry

Q: I would like some further instruction on the tool's, technique's, and ceremonial proceedure to make a pipe.

A: The tools are listed on our instruction page, but the techniques cannot be shown on a web page. If you are really interested in learning more please contact Chuck to see if he can fit you into one of his pipe making groups, they are small classes and you will watch him making a pipe and will make one yourself under his watchful eye and helpful hands. Ceremonial aspects of course cannot be taught, they are already in each pipe, and as each is different they need different ceremonials, the stone will speak to you and tell you what it needs. That cannot be taught.

Q: I was wondering if you had any information on Catlinite or Pipestone being found in Texas/ Arizona/Ohio/Canada/Wisconsin/South Dakota/Kansas. etc.(We have the same questions about all of these states)

A: Yes we know about the (?) stone, and do have some that we bought from Ebay just to see what it was like. It is usually very hard, shiny, and hard to carve. It is a similar color to Catlinite but the texture is not at all similar. It is often offered on Ebay, along with other types that are called pipestone, and we have bid on and won most of the different types so that we can show in our museum what people are saying is pipestone.

The stone that we got from Ebay is on the left and the true Catlinite are the 6 pieces on the right in the photo. Can you tell the difference
Close up of the false stone. All of these were called Pipestone or Catlinite on Ebay

We let visitors handle and cut the various stones including Catlinite and they see the difference immediately. None of the stones have the same texture and workability that Catlinite has. Catlinite has a specific chemical break-down, (see Catlinite page) that no other stone has. Specimens of this stone from the 'Great Pipestone Quarry' were sent to Boston by George Catlin to be analyzed, recently more specimens have been analyzed and the break-down is the same. The stone has been named after Catlin because he first brought it to the attention of scientists in 1836 and there was no match to this kind of stone. As far as we know there is still no match for it, it is an extra special stone from the Creator. The closest to it is the Jasper stone as it comes from close to here but even that is harder than ours. I guess thats why the old ones chose it to make their pipes from when they first found it, they recognized something very Wakan.

Q: Your statement that jasper dust has no healing qualities disagrees with the common wisdom of people from countries all over the world for thousands of years. Red jasper is known to spiritual people everywhere as a stone of physical regeneration and healing, and I myself have used it in rituals for healing to good effect. Stating that jasper is not the same as red pipestone is true, but I believe you erred when you said that it has no healing qualities.

A: The Jasper that you are speaking of is completely different to the stone we speak of. Jasper is the name of the town where this other stone comes from, It is not the ancient Red Jasper that is used in healing. This stone we speak of is very similar to Catlinite, a grainy clay, yours is a completely different make up. Most people who come to the site know about the Jasper stone because they have experienced it, and they are looking for the genuine Catlinite, so there isn't that confusion with the name. We do understand though that not everyone knows about it and so we should do a disclaimer. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. We go crazy every time we see 'pipestone' as a description of a stone on Ebay. It comes in all colors, from various places, however it doesn't come from Pipestone, although people believe that it does and so the confusion starts. Sorry if we have caused the same confusion with Jasper.

Q: At a high school I know they have been grinding up pipestone with a power grinder, spreading a fine red dust throughout the Industrial Arts room. The teacher is wondering if there are any toxic affects from exposure to the dust, either long term or short term.

A: First let me tell you that if they are using the true Catlinite there is no problem. However if the false stone is used then there will probably be a problem. The two stones give off completely different dust. What are they making that it needs to be ground up???? Hand tools have always done the job sufficiently for centuries. Hearing of the way the people are using these power tools tend to make us believe that the stone is not Catlinite. The genuine stone from the sacred quarries is very soft, and would crack and break if a harsh tool is used on it. To shape it only a regular hand file is used. See below for two pictures of a shed that had been used for many years by a Pipe maker in Pipestone. You can see the dust that is around, this is normal yet none of the Pipe makers/artisans have ever had problems with it. The Jasper stone on the other hand is much sharper and grittier, and could probably cause problems, we would think, if it is breathed in for many years like Catlinite is.

pipemakers shed
pipestone dust

Q: I want to do this only in a Good Way, so please let me know if this is not my place to go ahead with getting a pipe? or I know the pipe bearer is chosen but is it OK  for me to obtain a pipe this way? or Can you tell me if I should get a Pipe?

A: We feel that the issue of if you should have a Pipe or not is between you and the Creator, a human cannot say if you can or cannot have one. The only thing we will say on this is that as long as you can be respectful to the Pipe and what it stands for, and you use it in the correct way we have no problem with you having one. However you must pray on it or find a Pipe that calls to you, as many do. It is a big responsibility to be the holder of a Pipe.

Q: My wife is pregnant and wants to know if it is ok to touch the stone? or I have heard that women shouldn't touch a Pipe is that true?

A: Many people feel that women do not belong around the Pipe, we believe that is wrong, after all where did the Pipe first come from? The White Buffalo Calf Woman. If she can be in a position to be able to bring such a gift to the People then surely the Creator smiles on women having a Pipe. The only time a woman should not be near the Pipe or the stone is when she is on her moon time as at that time she is very powrful and could redirect the power of the pipe/stone.

Q: I've been cutting my catlinite pipestone with handsaws, coping saws and i've even tried with a 2 speed jigsaw. I keep destroying the saw blades rather quickly. What type of blade can you suggest that will make a good cut without losing the teeth off of it so fast?

A: I suspect you have the Jasper red stone, you are not alone, I have had many complaints about that stone. I have been told its so hard it can't be cut with a hacksaw and it breaks their tools; when its drilled, it splits apart; or if a pipe is made and drilled, when the stem is inserted, it splits. True catlinite doesn't do that, we cut it with a hacksaw (I can cut quite a few pipe bowls with the same saw blade), ordinary files to shape it and sand paper to smooth it.

Q: I have heard that if the Catlinite is old or has been in the sun that you should wet it because the stone dries out, is that correct?

A: No that isn't right, Catlinite can be carved at any time no matter how old it is, or where it has been kept. We believe that this folk tale began because Catlinite is a metaphorphic clay and dried clay is useless, however this stone has been blending into it's constistancy for many hundreds of years and the elements have no impact on it.

Q: I was told that you should always make your own pipe... or the pipe should always be gifted..... Is that right?

A: Well it would be nice if that could happen, but in many cases that isn't so. People cannot always get hold of the right stone or they feel uncomfortable making something that they have no idea how to go about doing it or they may be unable to make one because of their age or a disability. In the old days each tribe would have a craftsperson who could make pipes for the people who couldn't make one. We believe that our family did this work because we know they were quarrying in 1862 to take the stone back to make pipes for the People. From the stories handed down this was not the first time they had been to Pipestone to quarry. So if you want us to craft your pipe for you you will be allowing us to continue a tradition handed down to us from our ancestors. As to gifting a pipe, many people do not belong to a circle of people who even know they follow the Red Road and so have no-one to gift them a pipe. However when you get a pipe from us it is a gift because you only pay us for the time to quarry the stone and make the pipe for you. The actual pipe is free. Each pipe is wrapped in red cloth with sage when it is sent to you, so it is wrapped very much like a gift.

Q: Should I even attempt to use the catlinite to make the bowl, or would it be beyond me?

A: Catlinite is easy to craft with as it is softer than most stones, If you have the true Catlinite you should have no problem. We will always help you in your quest, just ask for assistance. Or you could attend one of Chucks pipe-making classes if you are able to get here. Camping is free either at the powwow grounds or the Center grounds.

Q: What kind of tools are used to carve the bowl and stem?

A: The tools are listed on our pipe making instruction pages, but I will relist them here as well.

Hacksaw, Horse shoe rasp, 1/2 round file, Smoothing file, Sandpaper (3 grits), 1/4 drill bit, 1/2 drill bit, Choice of electric or hand drill, Wood plane, Pocket knife,

horseshoe rasp
Horseshoe Rasp

The instruction page is HERE

These questions are about polishing the stone

Q1: Is there any way to polish the stone,so it will shine?

Q2: When immersing the pipestone pipe in the melted beeswax, is it OK to allow the wax to coat the inside of the pipe? Should I stopper the ends beforehand? If not, what do I do to ensure a clear breathing passage after the wax has dried?

Q3: What materials do you recommend for buffing/finishing the wax-coated pipe?

A: Please DO NOT melt the beeswax!

All you need to do is heat the pipe bowl in a bowl of water, until the water boils and the pipebowl gets hot, and then once it is hot tap the bowl with a lump of beeswax so that a small amount melts on the bowl. Then you quickly rub it all over the bowl using a soft material, (an old tee shirt would do the job) then put the bowl in cold water to set it. when you take it out of the water gently buff it with again a soft material, any that has got inside the bowl or any decoration can be removed with a fingernail easily enough.

Q: Because you can't quarry in the winter are you closed now until spring?

A: No we are open all year long. However if you arrive to find the place empty it will be because we are out either running an errand or at a meeting elsewhere. We leave a note on the door usually saying when we will be back. The best thing to do is to call or email first to make sure we will be around when you arrive.

Q: Can you come and give a talk to our school?

A: Yes we probably could come to you if we are available. You will need to contact us to give us details of what you want and where you are located. We have spoken at most schools in SW Minnesota and are used to putting programs together for school age people. Please check the Beads & Buckskins page for details on what subjects we speak on, there is a good selection. Update - We are sorry but Chuck has now retired from doing talks outside of Pipestone County. If Gloria is available she will still travel and present the programs.

Q: Will you send me more information on how to get genuine pipestone..... or I do see "pipe stone" for sale on the web, large pieces. One was 29#, cut off a much larger piece. I question it's authenticity, is this the true stone?

A: You can get the genuine Catlinite through us if you would like to email us. Or come into the Center to chose your own piece. As to the stone on the web, we have no idea if it is genuine or not. We suggest asking the seller where the stone comes from and if the quarrier is in the Pipestone Catlinite Quarriers Guild, and if so his name. Then contact us again for confirmation.

Q: What are the stems made from?

A: Traditionally Sumac or Ash were used, today pine is used a lot as well as the former two.

Written with respect by Gloria Hazell originally for the Little Feather Center web site, Pipestone, MN 1997 - 2005

Links to other pages in this section

Transport home link
Thanks ©Sparrow for this wonderful feather

Please click on any of the links below to journey around the museum. If you need to get back to the main page at any time just click on Sparrow's feather on any page and you will be transported home.

Exceptional Women Pages

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This site redesigned
June, 2006.
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