Prairie Refuge

I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life and never once visited Pipestone National Monument.  Sure, I’ve grown up with the folklore and the pipes — my uncle was authorized by the Dakota to carve pipes from quarried pipestone.  The monument is located 200 miles southwest of Minneapolis. — a peaceful respite from the hubbub of today’s world. 

Pipestone or Catlinite (named after the famous western artist George Catlin in 1836) has been used by Native Americans for 2,000 years to make pipes, amulets, sacred stones, etc.  (why the ore was named after a white east coast based person is beyond me.) 

Native Americans consider the entire area to be sacred.    


Tribes primarily from Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota historically are allowed to quarry the stone.  

The city of Pipestone surrounds the monument area with its modern buildings, streets and ways.  Entering the monument the topography immediately evolves into prairie filled with glacial debris (boulders carried by glaciers from long ago), HIawatha Lake and various streams; and native grasses like large and small blue stem, prim roses, poison ivy, prickly pears, aster, and the like. (See below)  The stone below exhibits the distinct pipestone red.  

According to ancient custom the pipestone is removed by hand using sledge hammers, chisels, shovels and pick axes.  Only select Native Americans may mine the stone — according to an 1858 treaty. — at no cost.  Over time geological activity has forced pipestone to a downward position heading east under extremely hard quartizite.   There are several quarries throughout the monument and most appear like this::


Because this entire area is considered sacred by Native Americans their folklore has many religious overtones.  This particular formation — “Old Stone Face” was created by nature and is considered a protector of the quarries — he handles this under the guidance of “Creator”:


Conversations with Native craftsmen working at the monument reverently mentioned Creator when asked about religious beliefs. This is their manner of describing God. According to folks in the know many Native Americans will smoke a pipe in the morning and the evening as part of their ritual that also includes prayer.  Pipes typically are used in vision quests or to settle disputes between warring tribes.

Ancient  petrographs are also in evidence at the monument — these also have religious significance to Native Americans:


Little wild life was evident today.  However, at one time bison and the now extinct mammoth had roamed this areas for thousands of years.  Today bison can be found only near in Blue Mounds State Park located 30 minutes south near Luverne, MN.

Clearly, Native Americans have benefitted from their monopoly over the quarrying of pipestone.  Frankly, considering the history of our country it’s amazing that whites have lived up to the terms of this particular treaty that created the monopoly .  Rather surprising too considering the ore was named Catlinite — makes no sense to me!  Worse yet, there has been plenty of time to correct this naming error — what are we waiting for — permission?

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About tourdetom

I'm retired. Travel a lot.
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One Response to Prairie Refuge

  1. Sue says:

    Thanks for the tour-like you I have wanted to go to Pipestone as well-ever since learning about it in school but have not made it there… yet.

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