Jump to Navigation

Cool Things - Plains Indian Pipe and Pipe Bag

Native American pipe

Pipes have remained an enduring symbol for native peoples.

"Many ages after the red men were made, when all the different tribes were at war, the Great Spirit sent runners and called them all together at the 'Red Pipe.' He stood on the top of the rocks, and the red people were assembled in infinite numbers on the plains below. He took out of the rock a piece of the red stone, and made a large pipe; he smoked it over them all; told them that it was part of their flesh; that though they were at war, they must meet at this place as friends."—George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, 1844

Used both for secular and ceremonial purposes, pipes were usually brought out at group functions such as war rallies, trading, ritual dances, healing ceremonies, marriage negotiations, and dispute settlements. Tobacco was considered to be a gift from the supernatural powers to man, although leaves, roots, grasses, various barks and herbs also were used. The smoke produced by the pipe helped carry prayers to their destination.

Catlinite

The red pipe bowl (pictured at top, right) is made of pipestone or catlinite. Its sources in the United States are Barron County, Wisconsin, and, more commonly, Pipestone, Minnesota. The stone was so valued that the Dakota Sioux gained control of the Minnesota mine in the 1700s. Subsequently, the stone could only be acquired through permission of the Sioux. Catlinite is named after George Catlin, one of the most prominent 19th century artists to depict the Plains Indian peoples and their way of life. Catlin visited the pipestone mines in 1836, making notes about the quarry site and the native method of pipe construction. The pipe stem is carved from wood and is wrapped with dyed porcupine quills.

Native American pipe bag

The fringed pipe bag (bottom, right) was used for storing and transporting the pipe. It is made of leather and heavily beaded. The design includes stylized clouds (in the form of triangles) and rectangles (the symbol for a bag). Based on the technique and the symbols, it is likely the bag was made by a Sioux (a.k.a. Lakota) artist. Also suggesting a Sioux origin is the name of a famous Lakota leader, Chief Red Cloud, written on the bag. It is unclear whether he ever owned the bag or pipe.

Both items were donated to the Kansas Historical Society by Frank "Chief" Haucke, who grew up near the Kansa or Kaw reservation at Council Grove. The Kansa bestowed on Haucke an Indian name and gifts in 1925 for his help in preserving their culture and erecting a monument to the Kansa peoples on the Kaw reservation. Haucke also helped collect Native American materials for the Kaw Mission which opened as a museum in 1951. The pipe and bag were a gift to Haucke from J.G. Braecklein, a Kansas City architect and fellow antiquities collector.

Although their origins are somewhat obscure, the pipe and bag are good examples of Plains Indian pipe construction and beading styles.

Entry: Cool Things - Plains Indian Pipe and Pipe Bag

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2000

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.