GSM 2017 Nebraska Day 1
Sep 3, 2017Public
Photo: Saturday, August 19, 2017: Our first stop was Pipestone National Monument. The catlinite, or "pipestone", has been traditionally used to make ceremonial pipes, vitally important to traditional Plains Indian religious practices. From April to mid-October, there are cultural demonstrations at the monument. (2016 photo - the same carver was working when we visited in August, 2017.)
Photo: The Upper Midwest Indian Cultural Center, located inside the visitor center, sponsors demonstrations of pipemaking by native craftworkers using the stone from the quarries. Local Native Americans carve the stones using techniques passed down from their ancestors. Many of the demonstrators are third or fourth generation pipe makers. (2016 photo)
Photo: Prayer offerings that the pipemaker set down. (2016 photo)
Photo: Two rough blocks of pipestone flanking a finished pipe. (2016 photo)
Photo: Stone pipes have been in use on the North American continent since around 1,500 B.C. and archaeological evidence suggests that the pipestone quarries of Pipestone National Monument have been in use for 3,000 years. Carvers prize this durable yet relatively soft stone, which ranges in color from mottled pink to brick red. (2016 photo)
Photo: Native American quotes in the national monument.
Photo: (See next photos to read the text.)
Photo: The thin A layer is the pipestone.
Photo: Though these grounds are not the only source of pipestone on the North American continent, by all accounts this location came to be the preferred source of pipestone among the Plains tribes because of the quality of the stone. Oral tradition tells us that the site was used by people of all tribes, and that all tribes - even enemies - laid down their arms before quarrying side by side. Archaeological evidence shows many different tribes quarried here. By 1700, the Dakota Sioux were the dominant presence at the pipestone quarries. (2016 photo)
Photo: Prayer offerings on the path to the quarries. (2016 photo)
Photo: Today, Native Americans still travel long distances to this site to continue the tradition of pipestone quarrying and pipemaking. Since 1946, the 56 pipestone quarries have been managed by issuance of quarry permits. (2016 photo)
Photo: A quarry being worked as we observed.
Photo: The quarrier uses only hand tools, except for a pump to remove water.
Photo: The quarrying of pipestone is often an underappreciated part of the tradition surrounding pipemaking. The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is a slow and labor intensive process and the hand tools used today are not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in centuries past. (No power tools are permitted.)
Photo: The process can require many days of physical labor with only the use of hand tools such as sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed.
Photo: For someone not already in good physical condition the process is slowed or should not be attempted at all.
Photo: The upper layer of quartzite is itself composed of multiple layers of quartzite, with vertical fractures and cracks in the rock.
Photo: Wedges or chisels are placed into these cracks and then driven down with sledge hammers to break loose individual blocks of quartzite. Upon loosening a piece, it is worked free with a steel pry bar and allowed to drop to the floor of the quarry. Heavy sledge hammers are then used to break the bigger chunks of quartzite into smaller manageable pieces that can be lifted and thrown out the back of the quarry. The process of breaking out the quartzite is repeated many times until the pipestone layer is exposed.
Photo: Once the pipestone is exposed, care must be taken in removing the stone as it is very fragile and when handling large slabs it can break.
Photo: The pipestone layer may vary from 10 to 18 inches thick and it is composed of multiple layers from 1 ½ to 3 inches thick. Individual layers are carefully removed one slab at a time by driving wedges into the natural horizontal seams.
Photo: The natural vertical cracks in the quartzite carry down through the pipestone which allows the quarrier to remove the pipestone layers in irregularly-shaped slabs. (2016 photo)
Photo: The quarries are located in the bottom of a bowl-shaped drainage. In the spring and early summer months groundwater from rain and snow melt collects in this low laying area, filling the quarries with water. Most quarriers prefer to work during the summer to late fall months to avoid the groundwater problems. Monument staff will assist quarriers by pumping water out of the quarries, but only upon 2 days advance notice of when quarrying is planned. Often, when it is high, groundwater will flow back into the quarries as fast as it is pumped out. Since continued pumping will not reduce the water level, it will not be attempted during these high groundwater periods. (2016 photo)
Photo: Depending upon the specific quarry, experience has shown that quarrying time can be estimated at two to six weeks. The layer of pipestone is sandwiched between layers of very hard Sioux Quartzite rock. Depending upon a quarry’s location on the quarry line the upper layer of quartzite can be four to ten feet thick above the pipestone layer. Prairie plants and soil varying in depth from one to six feet cover the upper layer of quartzite. (2016 photo)