Catlinite, Calumet Pipes and Pipestone National Monument

Catlinite, a form of red pipestone, was an important raw material for the Ioway and other tribes of the Upper Midwest and Eastern Plains. They used catlinite extensively, but not exclusively, for carving tobacco pipe bowls. Tobacco and pipes played important roles in the rituals of many Native American tribes, such as when opening negotiations with other groups, including other tribes or Europeans. 


The calumet was the French word given to a kind of pipe made by several tribes for rituals and ceremonies. A calumet had a highly decorated hollow cane or wood stem adorned with long colored feathers. At one end of the stem was attached a bowl carved of red pipestone, limestone, or other raw material. Two bowl forms--elbow-shaped and disk-shaped--were commonly found on calumets; the Ioway bowls were elbow-shaped. For calumet ceremonies, a mixture of tobacco and other plants such as sumac or dogwood was placed into the bowl and lit. In 1676 Father Louis André of the St. Francis de Xavier Mission at Green Bay wrote of the Ioway that "their greatest wealth is in buffalo hides and red stone calumet pipes."

Red Pipestone and Catlinite

Engraved catlinite tablet or plaque
Catlinite is a soft siltstone, specifically a densely grained metamorphic claystone argillite that is easy to carve. Outcrops occur throughout the upper midwest. Red pipestone quarries used by Native Americans include several in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio, but the best-known source of red pipestone (and the only source of true catlinite) is Pipestone National Monument, located in southwestern Minnesota. The quarry was used by many tribes including the Ioway. In the 1830s, artist and explorer George Catlin visited the area and since that time, pipestone from this quarry has been called catlinite.

Engraved catlinite tablet or plaque,
Stiles Collection, Cherokee County, OSA file photo

Catlinite pipes
Differentiating catlinite from other red pipestones employs several methods, including X-ray diffraction and reflectance spectroscopy. These studies show that Native people used catlinite occasionally before around A.D. 1300 but very extensively thereafter. Catlinite pipes and ornaments are ubiquitous at Oneota sites of the late prehistoric, protohistoric, and early historic periods (ca. A.D. 1400-1750). Native people still extract catlinite at Pipestone National Monument and make pipes and other objects of great beauty.

Catlinite pipe blank from the Blood Run Site, Lyon County;
Catlinite pipe from Allamakee County 
OSA file photo 


Blakeslee, Donald J.
1981 The Origin and Spread of the Calumet Ceremony. American Antiquity 46:759-768. 

Emerson, Thomas E. and Randall E. Hughes
2001 De-Mything the Cahokia Catlinite Trade. Plains Anthropologist 46(176):149-162. 

Hall, Robert L.
1997. An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.