Longfellow at Pipestone

This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Southern Ontario through eight western and mid-western states. Visiting Pipestone National Monument in southern Minnesota was a highlight. The Monument covers 301 acres on the Sioux Quartizite Prairie Coteau. Native Americans of the Northern Plains have quarried stone for pipes here from very early times up to the present.

Briefly, pipestone, originally layers of mud, is part of the Sioux Quartzite formation. The unique variety of pipestone in the Monument, Catlinite, named after the artist George Catlin who first publicized the area in 1836, is a dense but fragile, soft, red stone with the hardness of a human fingernail and can be carved with simple hand tools.

For Northern tribes, the pipe is the primary communication between spirit power and humans. Prayers are carried upward by the smoke.

“Each grain of tobacco placed in the pipebowl becomes something God created, so that when the bowl is filled, all creation is held within it and made part of the pipe ceremony.” — Fools Crow

Tribes coming to the quarries at Pipestone laid aside conlicts in favor of respecting the sacredness of the site. The many pipes encountered at treaty signings led to their interpretation as peace pipes.

“On the Great Red Pipe-stone Quarry, Gitche Manito, the mighty . . .  on the crags of the quarry, stood erect and called the nations. ‘Bury your war-clubs and your weapons, break the red stone from this quarry, mould and make it into Peace Pipes . . . . Smoke the calumet together, and as brothers live hence forward!”  — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha  

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