The Truth About the Pipestone Quarries and the Sacred Chanupa

Once upon a time there was an area in what is now known as America that was very special to the indiginous people of that land. they walked for many days to reach this highly unique place because to them it had unusual qualities and so they called it 'Wakan'; a great spiritual mystery. They left their marks there around a collection of big boulders that they knew did not come from anywhere close to that place. The area in the summer was inhabited by dragonflies, flitting here and there faster than the eye can see, and these again they thought were Wakan. Some engraved pictures of these creatures in the red quartzite rocks, and they can still be seen today in those same rocks that were removed over a hundred years ago. At Jeffers the petroglyphs have been dated back some 4000 years, the ones in our story are probably just as old.

Somewhere in the distant past someone saw in the shining waters of the stream that flowed winding through the area something different, and they waded in to see what it was..... They found a hard material there in those waters, it was red and they wondered why it was the color of blood, this probably gave them the incentive to do what they did next...... They knew that it was very special and so dug it out of that clear water. Word spread around the Nations and soon others were coming to find this special stone that had been discovered. They found that it was soft enough to be carved into totems but that it was hard enough to withstand weather and elements.......

Someone probably led by Tunkashila crafted a simple tube that they used to smoke the sacred plant tobacco and they found it didn't break or wear away. They sent their prayers to the Great Spirit via this tube, and began to think that this was sent to them by Tunkashila to use for just that purpose. They made more of these tubes and passed them around to the spiritual leaders of the tribes, they have been found in different areas of the States and so it looks as if they were probably traded back in those days. For example a pipe was found in a burial in Georgia and carbon dated to 950 A.D.

Before long the People crafted more sophisticated tubes that evolved into the elbow and the T shape Chanupas that we know today, for these special creations the stone had to be quarried from the Earth Mother and a few people decided that they would travel to this place where the wonderful stone was found to do just that for their people...... They would walk in a small group for safety and once there set up their campground and then would chose who would do the work. They would then go and leave offerings to the spirits at the large boulders where the carvings were located and then wait for a visit from the Thunder Spirit Beings, for they believed that with those spirits by their sides their work would be fulfilled easier. Often if the storm clouds and thunderbeings didn't arrive they would return to their homes without the special stone

You may be wondering where this special place is located, well today we know it as Pipestone National Monument, in Pipestone Minnesota.

The Indiginous Peoples still come to the same place to get their stone for their Chanupas, but now they have a harder time to get it than their ancestors did because the stone is deeper than it was back then. When that first person found the stone it was basically at surface level, but now about a thousand or more years later it is found about 8 to 12 feet below the surface, and lays beneath the second hardest rock in the world, Sioux Quartzite.

Maybe you think, 'Well that is ok because they can use the technology of today to reach the stone so that Quartz should be no problem.'

However the quarriers of today cannot use such tools, they have to continue using old fashioned hand tools such as pickaxes, hammers and wedges. The red stone seam is fragile in it's hardness, and if something heavy drops on it it can be cracked, so the work to extricate the stone is done very carefully and gently so that it doesn't get cracked.

It is also in the rules of the Monument that only these tools can be used to keep the stone from being mismanaged or over harvested.

The government recognized many years ago that to quarry any differently could destroy the stone. They made other rules as well, the main one is that only those indiginous people who are enrolled in a tribe can quarry. They have to show their tribal identities before they are issued with a permit to quarry. Non indiginous people cannot even help with quarrying. A quarrier can lose his site and his permit if he is found to have a non tribal person working with him.

You may wonder why a permit is needed, maybe you think it is just another 'big brother' tactic, but actually it is a sensible idea.

Pipestone Quarry is actually not one big quarry as you may suppose but a lot of small quarries on average big enough for maybe 2 men to use at the same time without getting in each others way. A few are larger.

Each quarrier has his own quarry for a year with that permit, no-one else can use it without his permission. That way any work that he has done will not be utilized by anyone else, so he can leave after a few weeks knowing that when he returns to finish the work in a month or so he can continue from where he left off and no-one would have touched his quarry.

The system works and people like Chuck Derby have used the same quarry that their father and grandfather used because it is renewed every year. As long as they have worked the quarry during the year they have the right to renew the same quarry each year, so that they can keep continuing to work on places that they can see have the cracks to break the quartzite into smaller pieces.

I have heard Chuck say so many times something like, "well next year I have a corner that I can continue working on, I have exposed it so that it will be easier to break through."

The Native Americans who quarry the sacred red stone at the Pipestone National Monument are automatically stopped from getting a lot of the stone out every year. For a start the tools that they use do not allow a quick extrication, it is very hard, slow, tedious work, and can be quite dangerous as well.

I know of one quarrier who lost his eye when a chip of the quartzite hit it, another slipped and fell into the quarry and broke his knee in eight places..... All of them get cut by flying chips of quartz and come home aching and bleeding at the end of a hard day quarrying. This is what they go through to get the stone out for the People, those who need a Chanupa and cannot quarry themselves for one reason or another.

Another thing that stops the quarrier harvesting a lot of stone is the weather. For at least 4 months there is snow on the ground and in the quarries, you couldn't get in even if you wanted to. On top of that the temperatures in the winter are below freezing and so even if you could get down in the quarry the air would freeze you. In the summer it is very hot in the area and only the hardiest people go down to quarry, the air is still and the sun beats down on you, and in a quarry that heat is magnified.

In the spring and fall it rains quite a bit and this makes the quarries slippery and so again no work in the quarries is done on wet days. Often the quarries are flooded by ground water so before you could get to quarry the pit has to be pumped out.

In all only about half the year is available to quarry, one man working alone takes a long time to get to the red stone layer there is no way a lot of stone can be harvested at the great pipestone quarry, which is now the Pipestone National Monument

A few years ago a survey was done by a mathematical acquaintence to find out how much stone quarriers get out each year and the average amount was taken........ We had heard that there was a rumor that truck loads of stone were being taken from the quarries and so wanted to do an experiment to prove that this rumor was a lie......

We asked a haulage company how much a large truck would hold by volume, and our acquaintence worked out the volume of the stone that the average man brings out every year.

By doing that we saw that it would take 18 years for that one average man to fill one truck. There was no way that truckloads of stone were being taken out of the sacred quarries.

If you continue reading you will find out where the stone that is being sold in great amounts comes from.

The price of Pipestone is free....... what is paid for is the time taken by the quarrier to excavate the stone. In some cases a few months.

We did another experiment to find out the amount of money it costs the quarrier to get the stone out. Again we took an average quarrier and added up his expenses for the time taken to quarry.

We divided the amount of stone he got out into his expenses and at the time we came up with a cost of $8.20 for each pound. The price asked per pound at that time was $8 per pound. SO the quarrier was working at a loss.

Since that time of course the cost of everything has risen and so has the stone it now stands at $10 per pound again the quarrier is working at a loss, subsidising the stone for the people who need it.

Many people are quite happy to pay the quarrier with a blanket, Chuck has a closet full of them? However they don't pay the electricity bill or put food on his plate. Often they are second-hand blankets and so he would not be able to sell them on, so he keeps them, cause he is a nice guy and will not refuse the stone to anyone. The people who pay this way feel better because they have done an exchange as in the old days, or because they believe you should not barter with cash for a pipe.

I know for a fact that he usually gives away the stone to elders, those who cannot because of their age quarry themselves, I am sure that most of the quarriers do the same thing, because they are quarrying for the People as their ancestors used to.

Do you know that in the old days an indiginous person would give the Pipe maker a gift, an exchange, for a pipe. Back in those days the quarrier and Pipe maker were respected members of their Tribes. Often they were given gifts of food, they were taken care of so didn't have to go hunting themselves.

On rare occasions a horse was given in exchange for a pipe. Now imagine that in todays terms... their horse is like our vehicle, and we all know how much they cost don't we... thousands of dollars, yet the pipe maker of today is expected to give their work away, people begrudge paying them for their work, and they do not ask for thousands of dollars, just enough to cover their costs plus some to cover their workmanship just like any other trade would do.

On top of this they are shown no respect but have people saying they are exploiting the pipe, such as these people who are doing it now. The problem here is that these people doing this have no idea whatsoever of the process of quarrying and pipe making. If they did then I believe that they would know that the pipe makers should be respected as in the old days....

Maybe if these people complaining now and those signing the petition against the quarrying of stone and the pipe makers would go down and quarry themselves or would try making a Chanupa, they would realize how hard it is and would slink off and hide under the nearest stone in embarrassment. Their ignorance on this matter is very embarrassing, it is very disruptive and very insulting to those people who are doing this work in a highly commendable way.

I have watched Chuck quarry for many years and it never ceases to amaze me how gentle he is with the stone. After leaving offerings each day and lighting sage in the quarry he will start off by running his hand along the sheer wall of the quartzite, he does it slowly and methodically until he feels a hairline crack, he follows this crack with his hand until he finds where it runs to. If it is useful to him he will get a chisel and start to tap it into the crack, once the crack gets wider he will use a wider chisel or a wedge and continue tapping it. Often when this is done a whole part will open up and he can then take it and remove it.

The quartz comes out in layers, and so once one layer is gone he will move to the next layer and so on until he gets to the layer above the pipestone. This work can take weeks to do.

He then has to carefully remove the final layer and then find out where the backside of the Pipestone layer is, if he finds that not enough quartz had been removed to reach the back side he has to go to the top of the quarry and start all over again until he has removed enough to reach the backside of the pipestone. He then wiggles the pipestone and pulls it until it comes out.

Those quarriers who are not as experienced as Chuck (50 years) often get frustrated with the process and will do what is called 'under mining' to get the pipestone out. They will dig under the quartz layer and cut the back of the pipestone layer to fit the opening they have formed. This is something that is not accepted as correct proceedure by the experienced quarriers, but it is understandable if the quarrier has only a short time to get to the stone and has to leave for the year. He wants to go home with at least some stone and so under mining is done.

One of the things that Chuck did a couple of years ago was to offer all Tribes the opportunity to send some of their young people to Pipestone to learn the way quarrying and pipemaking are done. He sent out information about weekend workshops where the youngsters would go down the quarry, and actually craft a pipe over a 2 day period.

If any of these young people showed an aptitude for this work and wanted to learn more they could have come to stay with Chuck and he would have mentored them.....

All accommodation, food, and the learning was all going to be free for all of the youngsters, all the tribes would have to pay for was the fares to get them to Pipestone and back.

The reason this was offered was explained in the information sent out. Experienced quarriers are very few and far between, those like Chuck who are experts are now almost at the age when they can no longer do the work, and none of the younger generation want to continue this special work, it is too hard, too tedious and too dangerous for them.

So once the quarriers of today can no longer do the work there will be no stone available for those who want a pipe. No stone, no Chanupa! You do not just go and quarry, as people seem to think, there is an art to it. You cannot just hit the stone cause all you will get will be sparks, and can damage the pipestone.

Chuck thought that this would be something the Tribes would be interested in, as they all use the Chanupa. However not one Tribe answered, not one Tribe sent anyone to the workshops. This is how worried they were about not having any pipestone in the future. I was totally amazed at this.

The scientific data on the Pipestone is not a lot, the stone that George Catlin had analized had a breakdown that has been used for the Catlinite, however each quarry has stone that differs to it's neighbour, the one thing that it has in common is it is easy to carve as it is actually a clay and the quartz content is nil, and the differences show in the color, some red, some pinker, the amount of white in the red, and the texture.

Catlinite is chemically a clay (silicate of alumina) colored brick red with peroxide of iron.

The Scientific breakdown of Catlinite is as follows:

Silica--------- 48.20    Mangananous Oxide-------- 0.60
Ferric Oxide--------- 5.00    Magnesia----------- 6.00
Alumina---------- 28.20          Water---------- 8.40
Carbonate of Lime -----2.60      Loss-------------- 1.00

Analysis by Dr. Charles F. Jackson, Boston chemist. circa 1836

Legend has it that the redness of the Catlinite is the blood of the ancestors, but the stone was formed many millions of years ago before any life existed on this planet, even in the Sioux Quartzite that lays above the Catlinite and so was formed later there are no fossils indicating no living thing was present at that time.

In a museum article it was said that Indians preferred this more pure clay over other red stone found else where, and that the jasper stone had more quartz in it.

The stars showing in the genuine Pipestone from what is known as the 'Spotted quarry'.

The Chanupa is not owned by any one Nation, it has been used by indiginous peoples all over what is now the United States of America for many centuries.

It is certain that the Nakota should not call it theirs. Long before the Nakota became a tribe in their own right, before they ended their nomadic journey from the Carolinas to South Dakota Pipes were being made and used by the Indiginous people of the land. Pipes have been found that carbon date back to over a thousand years ago.

The Nakota (Yankton and Yanktonai) only came to the Minnesota Valley, (along with the Lakota (Teton) and Dakota (Santee) bands - known collectively by the wrong name 'Sioux') in the 16th Century. From there they migrated to where they are located now in the early 18th Century. The Nakota are in Eastern South Dakota and along the Missouri River, the Lakota further west in Central and western South Dakota, and the Dakota stayed mostly in Minnesota. When Catlin came to see the quarries in the 1800's it was the Dakota people who asked him to stay away. It was the Dakota who thought of the area as theirs. The Nakota didn't come into the equation until the late 1800's/early 1900's. When they sold the land to the US Government.

In Pipestone, petroglyphic carvings have been found of pipes that date back to about four thousand years ago. (see below) These could not have been made by the Nakota as they did not exist at the time in the area.

Elbow pipe
'T' shaped Pipe

Of course before the red stone pipe came to be, pipes were made from other materials, such as bone, antler, steatite, argalite and other less hardy stones. When the red stone was discovered it soon became the material of choice because it was so easy to carve with a harder stone and yet it was also very durable. It did not burn away when the tobacco was alight, and would only crack when dropped.

It is a well known, documented fact that the Yankton Tribe used to come to Pipestone to quarry in the early 1900's, they would go back to their reservation with wagon loads of stone and would then make and sell pipes and trinkets from the stone. In the old Pipestone newspaper there are reports of the Yankton coming to town in large groups to quarry. They would stay for quite a while and it would be a time for the townsfolk to get to see Native people.

As far as we can tell from our research no Nakota group have traditionally lived in Pipestone. So where the words of it being the 'Ihanktunwan DaNakota Homelands' comes from we have no idea. No Native people actually lived in Pipestone until Moses Crow and his family came there. Moses was Chuck's grandfather, and he was Santee Dakota, not Nakota.

The above information is about the Pipestone Quarries and the Chanupa. After reading it I hope that you will see that the Pipestone Quarriers could not get out the amount of stone that is being sold worldwide. However there is stone being sold and so where does it come from if not Pipestone?

I will tell you........

We at the Little Feather Indian Center in Pipestone wondered for many years what was going on. We had heard about all of the stone being sold that people were saying came from Pipestone, and we knew that couldn't be the case because we knew the proceedure of quarrying wouldn't allow that much stone to be taken out. From about 1976 we knew that there was a quarry in Jasper Minnesota that was owned by a non-native and he was quarrying red stone but we never realized that he was selling so much or selling it as stone from the quarries in SW Minnesota. Well that was true because his quarry is also in the SW MN area but we realized that people were buying this stone thinking and believing it was the sacred stone from Pipestone.

We found a message on the internet in 1998 from the man who owned the quarry, he stated that he sold 90% of all pipestone in the world at that point.

Of course with the sales of this stone being so high we wondered how so much stone was being taken out so we investigated and found machinery at the private quarry site. We watched and saw the stone being ripped out of the earth by the machinery. We knew that this stone could not be the same consistency as the Pipestone stone because it would break if it was. True Pipestone cannot be treated in this way.

Since this time another private quarry has been opened in Jasper, and this quarry yields a great amount of stone. It is sold everywhere, you can see it in rock shops, on Ebay, in stores that sell Native American items, and in souvenier shops.

It is sold again as Pipestone, in some places they say it is Catlinite from the Pipestone Quarries and this is where the trouble starts. People not knowing a lot about the genuine Catlinite believe that this stone is really from Pipestone. They are told that Native Americans use it to make their Pipes from and so they buy it. They then find that it is hard to cut and either think that this stone is not as they had been led to believe or they contact the Native American Community in Pipestone and complain about it.

Last year (2003) the first quarry was sold to a company in Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Rock shop do please Google them and see that they do not, of course, get their stone from the Pipestone quarries and read their thoughts on this.

True Pipestone/Catlinite can be easily cut with a hacksaw, even a regular knife. If the stone that you have will not cut easily, breaks your tools, quickly dulls your blade, cracks or similar mishaps happen, then the stone you have is not pure Catlinite.

Again at the Little Feather Center we were receiving complaints about the stone that people were buying. They said things like the stone, cracked when I tried to carve it, or the stone broke my tools, or I managed to carve something but it took ages because the stone was so hard. We again knew that our Pipestone stone did not do that. As we say Catlinite never disappoints.

Below are a few of the complaints we received.

"By the way I loved your story of the Jasper quarries. I purchased some stone at a Pow Wow here in Arkansas that I have a hunch came from there. I was assured that it could be shaped with a "butter knife". Well, these people must have better butter knives in their kitchens than I have in mine because I had trouble cutting this stuff with a carbon saw." - pup59

" I did not know about the false pipestone, explains a lot. We had been gifted some red stone that was said to have come from the sacred quarries. But was so brittle, when we started to work it, it just cracked and splintered." - Michael

I have in the past used stone from ......... I am tired of being ripped off by this guy!!!! with stone you could not cut with a diamond bit, or stone that is so fractured it is not usable, I don't make hundreds of pipes usually just a couple a year. - Marvin, May 2003

I've tried to carve my own pipe for prayer work before but the stone was very hard and eventually it broke. I thanked Wakan Tanka and asked to be shown why it broke. After reading this site I'm thinking that maybe I was sold a fake stone. - Andrea, Oklahoma, October 20 2001

A few years ago my brother had sent me a piece of pipestone and it was soft and very easy to shape. This year he sent another piece and it is, I'll use the term "hard as a rock", I am having a lot of trouble shaping it. - November 2002

I did get some of the fake stone that you mentioned from a seller on eBay. I don't know what in the world it was that he sent me, but it wasn't the real deal. When I'm able to do so, I should probably send the stone that I got from eBay to you to look at. Thanks again, - Del June 2002

I have unsuccessfully tried to make a pipe from the few pieces of "not so great? stone I have been given, and it?s full of hard places and then crumbly places. I feel it has been very frustrating for a reason. I have been on the wrong path. I know real pipestone is the right path. - Joe August 2003

As well as those complaints we heard various things that were coming out of Indian Country, such as 'The Pipestone Indians are doing something wrong because the stone has turned bad.'

The Native American quarriers and pipe makers from Pipestone, from the Pipestone Dakota Community are again taking the flak for the actions of a few non-native people.

The Non-Native people, NOT the Pipestone Dakota Community are the ones making the money. However these Non-Natives although they are exploiting the spirituality of the people who want to make a pipe, they are not actually exploiting the genuine sacred stone from the Pipestone Quarries. They are selling the stone from their own land.

This is a difficult situation, they sell their own property but are selling a stone that can easily be mistaken for the sacred stone, and as we have seen IS often mistaken. A whole Bill (1851C) has been written because of that stone and many Native Americans, are very upset and angry about it. If you have any answers to this problem please let us know.

littlefeather4 at            

This article has been written because of the ongoing lies about the Quarries from a few un-knowledgeable people who continue to spread their ignorance through the years. They ought to know better, they ought to know the truth, they ought to know where the quarries are and they ought to have quarried themselves before spreading untruths to the People. However they have never quarried, they have never even been to Pipestone to see the truths for themselves. They know nothing about the 'false' pipestone, and continue to perpetuate a myth that started in the 1980's that the quarriers here are doing things wrong and in a disrespectful way. The People believe them because as I say they ought to know the truth, but they don't.

The Pipestone Dakota and all quarriers of Catlinite are being made the scapegoat of those who have no idea of the history, the work, or the unbelievable connection that these quarriers have to the stone and the area.

The above information is the true history of the Pipestone Quarries, written with respect by Gloria Hazell. © September 2004



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