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Title: Use of tobacco among North American Indians
Author: Linton, Ralph
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            USE OF TOBACCO
                        NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS

                             RALPH LINTON
            ~Assistant Curator of North American Ethnology~


                             ~Leaflet 15~


[Illustration: PLATE I.


                   ~Field Museum of Natural History~
                      DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
                            ~Chicago, 1924~

  ~Leaflet~                                               ~Number 15~

              Use of Tobacco among North American Indians

Tobacco has been one of the most important gifts from the New World
to the Old. In spite of the attempts of various authors to prove its
Old World origin there can be no doubt that it was introduced into
both Europe and Africa from America. Most species of _Nicotiana_
are native to the New World, and there are only a few species which
are undoubtedly extra-American. The custom of smoking is also
characteristic of America. It was thoroughly established throughout
eastern North and South America at the time of the discovery; and
the early explorers, from Columbus on, speak of it as a strange and
novel practice which they often find it hard to describe. It played
an important part in many religious ceremonies, and the beliefs and
observances connected with it are in themselves proof of its antiquity.
Hundreds of pipes have been found in the pre-Columbian mounds and
village sites of the eastern United States and, although these remains
cannot be dated, some of them must be of considerable age. In the
southwestern United States the Basket Makers, an ancient people whose
remains are found below those of the prehistoric Cliff Dwellers, were
smoking pipes at a time which could not have been much later than the
beginning of our era.

At the time of the discovery of America, tobacco was in use over the
greater part of the continent. It was not used in the sub-Arctic
regions of North America or in the extreme southern part of Southern
America. On the west coast of South America and in the Andean highlands
it was replaced by another narcotic, coca (_Erythroxylum coca_), from
which the modern drug cocaine is extracted. The coca leaves were dried
and chewed with powdered lime. Tobacco was smoked throughout most of
its range, but the tribes of the northwest coast of North America mixed
it with shell lime and made it into small pellets which were allowed
to dissolve in the mouth. The tribes of Washington, Oregon and a great
part of California used it in the same way, but also smoked it. Along
the eastern side of the Andean highlands in South America tobacco was
both smoked and chewed. The chewing tobacco was prepared like the
Andean coca, and the idea was probably borrowed from coca chewing.

Although Europeans learned the custom of smoking from the Indians and
even copied the Indian smoking appliances rather closely, the modern
American custom of tobacco chewing may not be of Indian origin. None of
the North American Indians east of the Rocky Mountains chewed tobacco,
and the only point at which South American tobacco chewing reached the
Atlantic Coast was a small region in northern Colombia. Modern chewing
tobacco lacks the admixture of powdered lime, which was considered
necessary by all Indian tobacco chewers and seems to have been an
invention of the white frontiersmen. It is possible, however, that the
idea of tobacco chewing was carried to the English colonies by the
Spaniards, who may have learned it from the South American Indians.

The North American Indians used at least nine species of _Nicotiana_,
most of which were cultivated. _Nicotiana tabacum_, the species to
which practically all the modern commercial tobaccos belong, was
grown throughout Mexico, the West Indies, and in northern and
eastern South America. It was unknown north of Mexico until its
introduction into Virginia by the English colonists. _Nicotiana
rustica_, a much hardier species with a yellow flower, was grown by
the Indians of the eastern United States and Canada as far west as
the great plains and as far north as agriculture was possible. It was
the first tobacco grown in Virginia for the European trade, but was
soon supplanted there by _N. tabacum_. Small patches of it are still
cultivated by some of the Central Algonquian tribes who use it in their
ceremonies. _N. attenuata_ was used over a larger area than any other
species. It is found in its natural state in the southwestern United
States and southern plains, and as a cultivated plant extends northward
into western Canada and British Columbia. It was also cultivated on
the lower Colorado, but the typical Pueblo tribes do not seem to have
raised it. _N. multivalvis_ was grown in Washington and Oregon, as well
as by the Crow, who lived on the western edge of the plains. A related
species (_N. quadrivalvis_) was grown by the settled tribes along the
Missouri river. Still another species (_N. biglovii_) was used by the
California tribes, and is known to have been cultivated by the Hupa.
The three last-named species are rather closely related; it seems
probable that _N. multivalvis_ and _N. quadrivalvis_ were brought into
the plains area from the west, displacing _N. attenuata_.

[Illustration: PLATE II.



There is very little information available on the aboriginal methods of
tobacco culture in the eastern United States. Early writers say that it
was not grown with other crops, as it was believed to be injurious to
them, and was usually cultivated by men. Mr. Milford Chandler informs
me that the Cayuga, in New York State, had permanent tobacco beds in
which the plant was grown year after year. These beds were lightly
manured from time to time, but were not cultivated, and the plants
were left to propagate themselves. The leaves were gathered, but the
stems, with the seed pods, were left standing in the patch. The Seneca,
another tribe of the Iroquois confederacy, simply scattered the seeds
on the ground and had a religious prohibition against cultivating the
plant. Mr. Alanson Skinner informs me that the Kickapoo and Potawatomi
made large brush piles fifty or more feet long and ten or twelve feet
wide which they fired about the middle of June. When the ashes were
cold, the ground was hoed up, mixed with the ashes, and planted with
tobacco and pumpkins. The tobacco gardens were made in the woods,
remote from the villages, and were surrounded by brush fences. The
Sauk also planted their tobacco in the ashes of brush-fires, but
did not break the ground or cultivate the crop. In some cases they
simply threw a handful of seeds on the ground near the lodge. The
Kickapoo, Potawatomi and Sauk all gathered the leaves of the plant in
late August. They spread them on hides or blankets, and when they had
wilted, rolled them like tea-leaves. When dry, the leaves were crushed.
The reason assigned for the rolling was that leaves treated in this way
did not crush to fine powder like those that had been dried flat. Most
of the eastern tribes grew only enough tobacco for their own needs,
but one, the Tionontati, raised large quantities of it for export and,
on this account, were called Tobacco People (Nation de Petun) by the

The best published account of aboriginal tobacco-culture is that given
to G. L. Wilson by Buffalobird-woman, an old member of the Hidatsa
tribe. The Hidatsa raised a different species of tobacco from the
eastern Indians (_N. quadrivalvis_), and their methods were somewhat
different. She says, “The old men of the tribe who smoked each had a
tobacco garden planted not very far away from our corn-fields, but
never in the same plot with one. Tobacco gardens were planted apart,
because the tobacco plants have a strong smell which affects the corn;
if tobacco is planted near the corn, the growing corn-stalks turn
yellow, and the corn is not so good. Tobacco seed was planted at the
same time sunflower seed was planted (as early in April as the soil
could be worked). The owner took a hoe and made soft every foot of the
tobacco garden; and with a rake he made the loosened soil level and
smooth. He marked the ground with a stick into rows about eighteen
inches apart, and sowed the seed very thickly in the row. He covered
the newly sowed soil very lightly with earth which he raked with his
hand. When rain came and warmth, the seed sprouted. The plants came up
thickly so that they had to be thinned out. The owner of the garden
would weed out the weak plants, leaving only the stronger standing. The
earth about each plant was hilled up with a buffalo rib into a little
hill like a corn hill. A very old man, I remember, used a big buffalo
rib, sharpened on the edge, to work the soil and cultivate his tobacco.
He caught the rib by both ends with the edge downward; and stooping
over, he scraped the soil toward him, now and then raising the rib
up and loosening the earth with the point at one end. He knelt as he

“Tobacco plants began to blossom about the middle of June; and picking
then began. Tobacco was gathered in two harvests. The first harvest
was these blossoms, which we reckoned the best part of the plant
for smoking. Blossoms were picked regularly every fourth day. If we
neglected to pick them until the fifth day, the blossoms would begin
to seed. Only the green part of the blossom was kept. When we fetched
the blossoms home to the lodge, my father would spread a dry hide on
the floor in front of his sacred objects and spread the blossoms on the
hide to dry. The smoke hole of the lodge, being rather large, would
let through quite a strong sunbeam, and the drying blossoms were kept
directly in the beam.

“When the blossoms had quite dried, my father fetched them over near
the fireplace and took a piece of buffalo fat, thrust it on the end of
a stick and roasted it slowly over the coals. He touched it lightly
here and there to the piled up blossoms, so as to oil them slightly,
but not too much. Now and then he would gently stir the pile of
blossoms with a little stick, so that the whole mass might be oiled
equally. When my father wanted to smoke these dried blossoms, he
chopped them fine with a knife, a pipeful at a time. The blossoms were
always dried in the lodge: If dried without, the sun and air took away
their strength.

“About harvest time, just before frost came, the rest of the plants
were gathered. He dried the plants in the lodge. For this he took
sticks, about fifteen inches long, and thrust them over the beam
between two of the exterior supporting posts, so that the sticks
pointed a little upwards. On each of these sticks he hung two or three
tobacco plants by thrusting the plants, root up, upon the stick, but
without tying them. When the tobacco plants were quite dry, the leaves
readily fell off. It was the stems that furnished most of the smoking.
They were treated like the blossoms, with buffalo fat. We did not treat
tobacco with buffalo fat except as needed for use, and to be put into
the tobacco pouch ready for smoking.

“Before putting the tobacco away in the cache pit, my father was
careful to put aside seed for the next year’s planting. He gathered the
black seeds into a small bundle about as big as a baby’s fist, wrapping
them in a piece of soft skin which he tied with a string. He made two
or three of these bundles and tied them to the top of his bed, or to a
post nearby, where there was no danger of their being disturbed.”

[Illustration: PLATE III.



The Blackfoot and Crow, nomadic tribes of the western Plains who raised
no food crops, cultivated small patches of tobacco for ceremonial use.
The ground was cleared of weeds and grass, and the seed planted in
holes about two inches deep, made with a pointed stick. The gardens
were weeded from time to time, but do not seem to have been regularly
cultivated. In both tribes tobacco culture was attended by elaborate
ceremonies. Among the Crow it was in the hands of a society which
also played an important part in the social life of the tribe. The
right to plant tobacco was considered a special privilege which could
be obtained only through a revelation from some supernatural being
or through adoption by a person who had received such a revelation.
The adopted person could, in turn, adopt others. Any person might
receive such a revelation, and the society was composed of a number
of divisions or chapters which derived their right to plant from
different revelations and differed in their songs and in details of
their ceremonies. Within the chapter there were certain rights, such
as that of mixing seed before planting, which could only be acquired
by purchase. Both men and women were eligible to membership, and the
society held assemblages for dancing throughout the year.

Some of the tribes west of the Rocky Mountains also cultivated tobacco,
although there is little information on their methods. On the Columbia
River and in northern California a stump or fallen log was burned, and
the tobacco seed scattered in the ashes.

Most of the North American Indians mixed their tobacco with other herbs
before smoking it. Among the more northern tribes, especially those who
did not raise tobacco themselves, this was done partly through motives
of economy, but the mixture was also designed to improve the flavor,
as in our own commercial blends. The favorite smoke of the tribes of
the eastern United States and Canada was called kinnikinnick, from an
Algonquian word meaning “that which is mixed.” Each tribe had its own
formula for this mixture, but it usually consisted of tobacco, sumac
leaves, and the inner bark of a species of dogwood. The bark and leaves
of a number of other plants were sometimes added or substituted. A
little oil was usually added to the mixture to bind the dust, which
would otherwise irritate the smoker’s throat and clog the pipe.
Kinnikinnick was milder than pure tobacco, and was preferred by most
Indians and by many white hunters and settlers. The Pueblo Indians of
the Southwest smoked various mixtures of tobacco and herbs in their
religious ceremonies. The greatest care was used in compounding these
ceremonial mixtures, and the plants were valued largely according to
the distance from which they came. The California Indians diluted their
tobacco with manzanita leaves or mixed it with Jamestown weed, itself a
powerful narcotic. The choicest smoking mixture of the ancient Mexicans
was made from tobacco and the gum of the liquidambar tree.

Three main methods of smoking were used by the American aborigines.
The natives of northern and central South America and the West
Indies were cigar smokers. The Central Americans and Mexicans were
predominantly cigarette smokers, although some of the ancient Mexicans
also used pipes. The North American Indians, with the exception of the
Pueblo tribes of the Southwest, were exclusively pipe-smokers. The
distribution of these three methods in America has strongly influenced
European smoking customs. The Mediterranean nations, who learned the
use of tobacco from cigar and cigarette using Indians, still prefer
to smoke it in these forms. The English, who came in contact with
the pipe-smoking Indians of the eastern United States are still
predominantly pipe-smokers. The custom of cigarette-smoking did not
become general in northern Europe and the United States until quite
recent times, and the vigorous opposition which it has met here seems
to be due quite as much to its novelty as to any proved injurious

Aboriginal cigars were practically identical with those now in use and
were smoked in the same way.

The aboriginal cigarette was made with a corn-husk wrapper and
contained much less tobacco than the modern commercial variety.
It is still in use throughout most of Mexico and Central America
and among the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States.
Archæological finds prove that the southwestern tribes smoked pipes
or reed cigarettes in ancient times, and the corn-husk cigarette may
have been introduced from Mexico during the early historic period.
In recent times the spread of the Peyote cult, which originated in
the southwestern Plains, has carried the corn-husk cigarette to many
northern tribes who were unfamiliar with it even a generation ago. The
Mexicans and Pueblo Indians also smoked reed cigarettes in ancient
times, and the Hopi form may be taken as typical. It consisted of a
small reed, not over two and a half inches long, packed with powdered
tobacco. A band of some fabric was usually bound around the reed,
leaving a flap hanging down by which it was held. Hundreds of the
charred butts of such cigarettes have been found in the prehistoric
ruins of the Southwest, but they are lacking in the lower archæological
levels, and the earliest inhabitants of the region were probably pipe
and not cigarette smokers.

The Dakota say that they did not use pipes in ancient times, but smoked
their tobacco in a hole in the ground. A similar method was used by
the Cree as a makeshift. Hind says, “I asked the Indian what he
would do for a smoke until he had finished the new pipe. He arose and
walking to the edge of the swamp cut four reeds, and joined some pieces
together. After he had made a hole through the joints, he gently pushed
one extremity in a slanting direction into the earth, which he had
previously made firm by pressure with his foot. He then cut out a small
hole in the clay, above the extremity of the reed, and molding it with
his fingers, laughingly said: ‘Now give me tobacco, and I will show you
how to smoke it.’ He then filled the hole with a mixture of tobacco and
bearberry, placed a live coal on the top, and stretching himself at
full length on the ground, with his chin supported by both hands, he
took the reed between his lips and enjoyed a long smoke.”

Indian pipes were of two main types,—straight pipes, in which the
tobacco cavity and stem were in the same plane, as in a modern cigar
holder, and elbow pipes, in which the bowl was inclined upward. The
straight pipe was known throughout practically the whole of America
north of Mexico, but was rare in the eastern United States. It was
used to the practical exclusion of all other forms in the southwestern
United States and on the Pacific coast. The elaborately decorated
smoking tubes of the Mexicans, mentioned by early Spanish writers,
may have been straight pipes, but many of them were probably cane
cigarettes. The elbow pipe was the dominant form in the eastern United
States and Great Plains, and also in eastern and southern South
America. It was used to a limited extent by the prehistoric Mexicans
and in southern California, and was not unknown in the Southwest. In
historic times it has come into use in British Columbia and Alaska,
regions in which tobacco was not originally smoked.

The earliest pipes which can be even approximately dated are those of
the Basket Makers, a people who lived in the southwestern United States
in ancient times. Their remains are found below those of the Cliff
Dwellers, and evidence along several lines indicates that they were
living in the region by the beginning of the Christian era and had been
absorbed or driven out by ~A.D.~ 1000. A number of their pipes have
been found. They are of the straight type and are usually quite small,
short, and heavy, with separate stems about two inches long (Pl. II,
No. 1). The bowls are made of stone, unbaked clay, or, rarely, wood;
and the stems of wood or bird-bone. The stems are attached with pitch.
Many of these pipes are heavily caked, and they were probably used
for personal as well as ceremonial smoking. It is impossible to tell
whether the Basket Makers used tobacco in these pipes and analyses of
the cake have yielded only negative results. If they did use tobacco,
it was probably the wild native species (_Nicotiana attenuata_).

The Cliff Dwellers and ancient Pueblo tribes who succeeded the Basket
Makers used straight pipes of a somewhat different type. They were
usually longer and more slender than the Basket Maker pipes with
somewhat thinner walls. The smaller examples, which were probably
intended for personal use, seem to have had separate stems (Plate II,
No. 2). Large tubular pipes, shaped like half a cigar, are also found,
but were probably used only in ceremonial smoking. They are made of
clay or soft stone and often show beautiful workmanship (Pl. II, No.
3). Roughly made clay pipes of this sort, popularly known as “cloud
blowers,” are still used by the Hopi in their ceremonies.

The California Indians, with the exception of the Diegueño, also used
the straight pipe, and the form is probably as ancient there as in
the Southwest. There were various tribal and regional differences in
the shape and material. Wooden pipes without separate stems were of
nearly universal occurrence, and were probably the earliest form. In
some regions they were carved and inlaid with abalone shell. Pipes
of unbaked clay with wooden stems were used in a few localities (Pl.
II, No. 4), but the finest California pipes were made of steatite
or soapstone (Pl. II, No. 5). They were usually provided with short
mouthpieces of wood or bone. The Hupa of northern California used a
pipe with a small steatite bowl accurately fitted into a cavity in the
end of a long tapering wooden stem (Pl. II, No. 6).

Several of the tribes of the Great Plains used straight pipes in
ancient times. These pipes were made from the leg bone of an antelope
wrapped with sinew at the bowl end (Pl. III, No. 1). In some cases the
whole pipe was covered with rawhide or membrane. The Arapaho say that
they used this form exclusively in early times, and the sacred pipe of
the tribe is straight with a black stone bowl and a long tubular wooden
stem. A pipe of the same form, but with a red stone bowl, was used by
the Cheyenne in their Sun Dance, and the Crow have made straight stone
pipe bowls until quite recent times (Pl. V, No. 3).

A number of straight pipes of stone and clay have been found in the
eastern United States, but there seems to be no record of their use
by the historic tribes. The examples shown (Pl. III, Nos. 2–3) are
from Johnson County, Illinois. They are made from close-grained
greenish brown steatite, a material soft enough to be easily worked
with flint tools, but capable of taking a fine polish. The large size
and excellent finish of these pipes indicates that they were intended
for ceremonial rather than personal use. The bird pipe is eight and
a quarter inches long, with an internal bowl diameter of one and
a quarter inches, and is an unusually good example of aboriginal
sculpture. The eye sockets are roughly finished, and were probably
inlaid with some other material.

Straight pipes are easier to make than elbow pipes, but have certain
disadvantages. They have to be directed upward in smoking to keep the
tobacco from falling out of the bowl, and the tobacco dust and juices
are drawn down into the stem with results familiar to all smokers. To
prevent this, many tribes are said to have put a pebble or pellet of
clay in the bottom of the bowl before filling it. Even a slight angle
between the bowl and stem is a great convenience to the smoker, and
this improvement once hit upon, perhaps through faulty workmanship, the
development of the elbow pipe was easy. Pipes from different parts of
North America show all degrees of bowl inclination from the straight
tube to a right angle, and there can be little doubt that the main
evolution of the elbow pipe was along this line. In the Mississippi
Valley and Great Plains there are, however, certain types of elbow pipe
which could hardly have been developed in this way. In these the bowl
rests upon a base which extends out for some distance in front of it.
From various archæological finds it seems probable that these types
were developed from pipes which had a corn-cob bowl pierced through the
base with a reed stem.

North American elbow pipes have never been satisfactorily classified,
but about twenty types are distinguishable. Only the more important
of these can be mentioned here. Most of the types show a more or
less continuous geographical distribution, but there was no tribe or
region in which all the pipes were of the same type. The Chippewa
distinguished four types of pipe which were in simultaneous use among
them. These were—(1) Women’s pipes, which were small, with short
stems and little decoration. (2) Men’s pipes for ordinary smoking,
which were somewhat larger and better made than the women’s pipes, but
were also small. (3) Personal pipes of famous warriors, which were
larger than the ordinary pipes, with heavy decorated stems sometimes
as much as five feet long. (4) Chief’s pipes and ceremonial pipes,
which were large, with long stems like the warrior’s pipes, and were
elaborately decorated. Even the pipes for ordinary smoking were highly
valued and would often be carved and decorated in the owner’s spare
time. Stone for pipe-making, and even finished pipes, seem to have been
bartered from tribe to tribe in ancient times.

The Indians made their pipes from many materials. Most of the
prehistoric pipes are of stone or clay, but early records prove that
wood, horn, and bone were also used by the tribes of the Atlantic Coast
at the time of their first contact with Europeans. Almost all the
pipes made of these perishable materials have been destroyed, but they
were probably of the same types as the stone and clay pipes from this
region. Clay pipes were in at least occasional use throughout the whole
of North America east of the Great Plains, but the finest examples
are found in the old Iroquois territory in New York State and Canada,
and in the southeastern United States. Stone pipes are found from the
Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains and seem to have been preferred
by all those tribes among whom pottery making was poorly developed.

Large numbers of Iroquoian clay pipes have been found in old cemeteries
and village sites, and their form makes them easily distinguishable in
collections. They are made of fine hard-burned clay and have a graceful
trumpet shape, with rather long slender bowls and short stems (Pl. IV,
No. 3). The upper part of the bowl is often encircled by a band of
incised designs or modeled into a human face or bird’s head. They
were not provided with separate stems.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.



Archæological finds on the Atlantic coast prove that the Indians of
that region also used small clay pipes, although the early visitors
only mention large pipes with excessively long stems. It seems probable
that the larger forms were semi-ceremonial, like the warrior’s and
chief’s pipes of the Chippewa, while the small pipes were used for
individual smoking. Many of these small pipes resemble rather closely
the early European trade pipes, and modern clay pipes and straight
briers, but the type is unquestionably pre-European. It was probably
the prototype from which modern European pipes were developed. Some of
the ancient pipes were made in one piece, while others were evidently
provided with separate stems, probably reeds. Identical forms were made
in stone in this region.

In the southeastern United States short clay pipes with reed or
wooden stems seem to have been in common use. They were often rather
elaborately decorated, with modeled figures of birds, clay pellets, or
incised designs. This form of pipe is still in use among the Catawba,
although many of their pipes show the influence of European models (Pl.
IV, No. 4).

Pottery pipes with flaring bowls and slender stems, sometimes as much
as eighteen inches long, are found in prehistoric Caddoan sites in
Arkansas. The stems are excessively fragile, and as these pipes are
usually found in the corners of graves, it seems probable that they
were made for mortuary use rather than actual smoking. They are clearly
imitations of a type which had a corn-cob bowl impaled on a reed stem.

Stone pipes occur over a wider territory than pottery pipes and show
a greater diversity of form. There are some regions in which the same
shapes occur in both stone and pottery, but there are several types of
pipe which appear never to have been made of clay. Most of the stones
used in pipe-making were quite soft, but a few pipes of quartzite and
other hard rocks have been found. The material was carefully selected,
and was usually obtained from regular quarries. In the eastern United
States steatite, serpentine and slate were the stones most used. In the
upper Mississippi valley and Great Plains the favorite material was
catlinite, a fine-grained claystone soft enough to be easily worked
with stone tools, but firm enough to take a high polish. Deposits of
this material have been found in several states, and a local variety
was used by the Ohio Mound Builders. The most famous catlinite quarries
are in southeastern Minnesota and yield the highly prized red stone
from which so many Plains Indian pipes are made. Here the catlinite
occurs as a narrow layer, nowhere more than twenty inches thick,
between strata of compact quartzite five to eight feet thick. To reach
the catlinite it was necessary to break away the quartzite with stone
mauls or shatter it by building large fires upon it and then dashing
water on the heated stone. The old Indian workings extend for more than
a mile along the face of the deposit, and the quarry must have been in
use for several centuries. According to Indian traditions, the place
was visited by many different tribes, who considered it common property
and abstained from hostilities there. In historic times the Dakota
considered it exclusively their property, and part of it was set aside
for their use when they ceded their other lands in the vicinity. They
still visit it occasionally to obtain stone for their pipes. White men
have also worked the quarry, and in 1865 and 1866 over two thousand
pipes of this material were made by the Northwestern Fur Company for
their trade with the Indians.

The finest aboriginal pipes are unquestionably the so-called monitor
pipes found in the Ohio mounds. Many of these show such excellence
of design and execution that early investigators doubted whether
they could be the work of American Indians. They are made of soft
stone or of fire clay, which was carved like stone, but never of
pottery. The type is characterized by a long, broad, and very thin
base from the center of which the bowl rises vertically. The base may
be either flat or convex. The bowl is often made in the form of an
animal or bird, and some of these effigies show artistic ability of
a high order. Even when the style is impressionistic, the species is
usually unmistakable. The significance of these carvings can only be
conjectured, but so many species are shown that it seems probable that
they represent the personal guardians of the pipes’ owners. None of the
historic tribes used pipes of this type, and the finest examples are
unquestionably pre-Columbian. One of the pipes illustrated (Pl. IV, No.
1) is of typical monitor form, but has the bowl incised with designs
representing bird’s heads. In the other (Pl. IV, No. 2) the shape has
been modified to suit the subject, a roseate spoonbill resting on
the back of some large water animal, probably a mud puppy (_Necturus

A number of large stone pipes have been found in the southeastern
United States (Pl. III, Nos. 4–5). Some of these pipes weigh several
pounds and, as they are everywhere associated with smaller forms of
stone or clay, they were probably made for ceremonial use. They seem
to have been provided with long, thick wooden stems. These heavy pipes
are of several types, and are usually well made, but are inferior to
the monitor pipes in design and execution. In Georgia, Alabama, and
the lower Mississippi valley there is a very massive short type in
which the bowl and stem holes are conical and of nearly equal size
and depth. These biconical pipes are often made in the form of human
effigies or of highly conventionalized animals or birds.

Early visitors to the north Atlantic Coast say that the Indians of
that region used heavy carved pipes with stems three to six feet long.
Large stone pipes are hardly ever found in this region, and even small
carved pipes are extremely rare. It seems probable that these early
forms either had quite small, plain bowls with heavy carved stems, or
were made of wood or other perishable material. Holm says that the
Pennsylvania Indians made their pipe bowls of horn, and several of the
Algonquian tribes have made a considerable use of carved wooden pipes
in historic times. Among many tribes the stems of ceremonial pipes were
elaborately decorated, and were considered more important than the

Plains Indian pipes are commoner in collections than those from any
other region. The Blackfoot preferred pipes of black stone, with
acorn-shaped bowls reminiscent of those in use among the Micmac and
other northeastern Algonquian tribes (Pl. V, No. 4), but throughout
most of the Plains the favorite pipe was made of Minnesota catlinite,
and was of Sioux type (Pl. V, Nos. 6–8). This type is common in museums
and private collections. It has a tubular bowl set vertically on a long
base which projects beyond the bowl as a pointed spur. This projecting
base is also found in the monitor pipes, and the two types may be
remotely related. Pipes of the Sioux type have been made in great
numbers by both whites and Indians, and many of those in collections
were probably manufactured by whites. Either early white traders, or
the tribes on the eastern edge of the Plains originated the practice of
inlaying the bowls and bases with lead. The pipe was cut to nearly its
final form, and a clay mold made. Deep grooves were then cut in the
stone to receive the lead, and the pipe was returned to the mold, and
the metal poured. The metal and stone were then rubbed down to a smooth
surface. Valuable pipes which had been broken were sometimes repaired
in this way.

[Illustration: PLATE V.



All Plains Indian pipes, with the exception of the straight bone pipes
previously noted, were provided with long, heavy, wooden stems. Some
tribes preferred tubular, others flat stems. In ancient times most of
the long pipe stems were probably split lengthwise, the smoke passage
excavated, and the two halves glued together. Some of the northern
and western tribes used a solid tubular stem which they pierced by an
ingenious method. They selected a young ash shoot which had a small
pith cavity in the center and caught a wood-boring grub. They made a
hole in one end of the shoot and inserted the grub, closing the opening
behind it. The shoot was then hung over a fire, and the grub, following
the pith as the line of least resistance, drilled a hole through the
shaft from end to end. When it emerged, it was captured and returned
to the place where it had been found with appropriate thanks. Split
tubular stems are rather unsatisfactory, as the halves are liable to
warp and separate. The broad, flat pipe-stem was probably invented to
give a wider surface for the glue and hence a firmer joint. It reached
its highest development among the Dakota, and they seem to have been
the inventors of the “puzzle stem,” a broad, flat stem pierced with
designs so that the smoke passage had to make several turns between
the pipe-bowl and mouth-piece. Pipe stems were often decorated with
elaborate wrappings which helped to hold the halves together.

A peculiar form of pipe, which may be a variant of the Sioux type, is
found in a limited area in the upper Mississippi valley. These pipes
usually have bases with long projecting spurs, but the bowl is smaller
than the stem hole and very low. It is surrounded by a broad, thin disk
sometimes as much as three and a half inches across. Some of these
“disk pipes” suggest the shallow-bowled pipes of the Asiatics, but the
form is certainly prehistoric. Pipes of this type are rare, and were
probably made for ceremonial use. One of the sacred pipes of the Omaha
is of this sort.

Although all the Mexican Indians were predominantly cigarette-smokers,
ancient clay pipes of elbow type have been found in the valley of
Mexico (Pl. IV, No. 5). They are not mentioned by any of the early
Spanish writers, but the specimens found are unquestionably of native
workmanship, and are probably prehistoric. The commonest form has a
bulb-shaped bowl and a rather thick stem flattened on the bottom, so
that the pipe will stand upright. The occurrence of elbow pipes in a
limited area, far from any other in which they were known, is difficult
to account for. Some of these pipes resemble forms in use in the
southeastern United States and lower Mississippi valley.

Elbow pipes were also used on the Northwest Coast and in Alaska, but
they were introduced into these regions after the discovery of America.
The Alaskan Eskimo apparently learned the practice of smoking from the
natives of Siberia, and their pipes are of Asiatic type, with very
small bowls (Pl. VI, No. 1). Their best pipes are made from walrus
tusks, and are often elaborately etched. The tusk is usually split
lengthwise and the halves joined in such a way that they can be taken
apart to obtain the juice distilled in smoking. The juice was mixed
with fungus ashes for chewing or with the smoking tobacco. Poorly made
pipes of Eskimo form were used by the Athapascan tribes of interior
Alaska, who were taught to smoke by the Eskimo.

The Indians of the Northwest Coast chewed tobacco in ancient times, but
did not smoke it. The more northern tribes may have adopted smoking
from Asia by way of the Eskimo, but their pipes show little resemblance
to the Asiatic forms, and they probably learned the practice from white
visitors. The natives of this region are expert carvers, and nearly all
their pipes are decorated with figures of men or totemic animals. Wood
is the favorite material (Pl. VI, No. 2), but bone and antler are also
used and some of the tribes make very elaborate pipes of black slate
(Pl. VI, No. 3). The slate pipes are much sought after by collectors,
and many of them seem to have been made for sale rather than use.

Pipes are mentioned among the goods given to the Indians in some of
the earliest English land-purchases, and they were regularly carried
by the white traders with the Indians. An English pipe-maker, Robert
Cotton, came to Virginia in 1608. The earliest trade pipes were made
of clay and seem to have been patterned after the small pipes used
for personal smoking by the coast tribes. Those made in the various
European countries showed minor differences, but were all of nearly the
same form. The later trade pipes show an increasing diversity in shape
and decoration, but the whites apparently did not attempt to make the
larger ceremonial forms. The most important contribution on the part
of the whites to the Indian tobacco complex was the tomahawk pipe.
This implement had a pipe-bowl above and a blade below, and could be
used either as a pipe or as a weapon. We do not know when or where it
originated, but it apparently did not come into general use in the
English Colonies before 1750. All the European nations equipped their
Indian allies with tomahawk pipes, and a number of types are recognized
by collectors. The pipe-bowl was nearly always of acorn shape, like
the pipe used by the northeastern Algonquians, but the blade varied
considerably. In general, the English and early American tomahawks had
straight-edged hatchet-blades, and the French ones had diamond-shaped
blades, like spear-heads. Spanish tomahawks had flaring blades with
curved edges, like mediæval battle-axes. There were a number of white
tomahawk-makers whose work differed in minor details; and fine inlaid,
chased, or inscribed tomahawks were sometimes made for presentation to
important chiefs.

An Indian warrior was rarely without his pipe and tobacco, and special
tobacco-bags were used by all the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains.
In early times, these bags were usually made from the skins of small
animals taken off whole. The Eastern Woodland tribes used a rather
small bag which was tied to the belt. The Plains tribes used a larger
bag, often made from a fawn skin, in which they carried both the pipe
and tobacco. In historic times the northern Plains Indians have used
long, flat rectangular bags decorated with beads or porcupine quills,
but this type apparently is not an ancient one (Pl. V, No. 10). Several
of the Plains tribes also had special boards on which the tobacco was
cut up and elaborate pipe tampers (Pl. V, No. 9). These accessories
were used mainly in ceremonial smoking. In Pawnee ceremonies the
pipe was always tamped with an arrow captured from the enemy. It was
forbidden to pack it with the fingers, as the gods might think that the
man who did so offered himself with the tobacco and take his life. The
tribes of the Northwest Coast crushed their tobacco in mortars. These
were usually made from whale vertebrae, and were often elaborately

Even if documentary evidence of the New World origin of tobacco were
lacking, its importance in the religious and ceremonial life of the
Indians would leave little doubt of the antiquity of its use among
them. Among all the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains tobacco was the
favorite offering to the supernatural powers, and among the Central
Algonquians no ceremony could take place without it. As a sacrifice
it might be burned as incense, cast into the air or on the ground, or
buried. There were sacred places at which every visitor left a tobacco
offering, and during storms it was thrown into lakes and rivers to
appease the under-water powers. Smoking was indulged in on all solemn
occasions, such as councils, and was a necessary part of most religious
ceremonies. In such ceremonial smoking the methods of picking up,
filling, and lighting the pipe were usually rigidly prescribed, and
the first smoke was offered to the spirits. The methods of passing and
holding the pipe were also prescribed and differed with the ceremony
and even with the personal taboos of the smokers. In the religious
ceremonies of the Hopi, the head chief was attended by an assistant
of nearly equal rank, who ceremonially lighted the pipe, and with
certain formalities and set words handed it to the chief, who blew the
smoke to the world quarters and over the altar as a preliminary to his

The so-called medicine-bundles, collections of sacred objects around
which the religious life of many of the Central Algonquians and
Plains Tribes centered, often contained pipes which were smoked in
the ceremonies attending the opening of the bundle (Pl. V, Nos. 1–2).
In some cases the pipe itself seems to have been the most important
object, and the palladium of the Arapaho tribe is a straight pipe of
black stone. Among some of the eastern Siouan tribes each clan had its
sacred pipe which was used at namings and other clan ceremonies. The
stems of these pipes were covered with elaborate wrappings and other
ornaments which symbolized the various supernatural powers invoked in
the ceremonies, and the sanctity of the pipe lay in its stem rather
than its bowl.

The calumet, so often mentioned in early American records, was not a
pipe, but an elaborately decorated shaft, pierced like a pipe stem,
to which a pipe bowl was not necessarily attached. The name itself
is not of Indian origin, but is a Norman-French word meaning a reed
or tube. J. N. B. Hewitt says, “From the meager descriptions of the
calumet and its uses it would seem that it has a ceremonially symbolic
history independent of that of the pipe; and that when the pipe became
an altar, by its employment for burning sacrificial tobacco to the
gods, convenience and convention united the already highly symbolic
calumet shafts and the sacrificial tobacco altar, the pipe bowl;
hence it became one of the most profoundly sacred objects known to
the Indians of northern America. As the colors and other adornments
of the shaft represent symbolically various dominant gods of the
Indian pantheon, it follows that the symbolism of the calumet and
pipe represented a veritable executive council of the gods. Moreover,
in some of the elaborate ceremonies in which it was necessary to
portray this symbolism the employment of two shafts became necessary,
because the one with its colors and accessory adornments represented
the procreative male power and his aid, and was denominated the male,
the fatherhood of nature; and the other with its colors and necessary
adornments represented the reproductive female power and her aid, and
was denominated the female, the motherhood of nature.

“The calumet was employed by ambassadors and travelers as a passport;
it was used in ceremonies designed to conciliate foreign and hostile
nations and to conclude lasting peace; to ratify the alliance of
friendly tribes; to secure favorable weather for journeys; to bring
needed rain; and to attest contracts and treaties which could not
be violated without incurring the wrath of the gods. The use of the
calumet was inculcated by religious precept and example. A chant and a
dance have become known as the chant and dance of the calumet; together
they were employed as an invocation to one or more of the gods. By
naming in the chant the souls of those against whom war must be waged,
such persons were doomed to die at the hands of the person so naming
them. The dance and chant were rather in honor of the calumet than with
the calumet.

“The Omaha and cognate names for this dance and chant signify ‘to make
a sacred kinship,’ but not ‘to dance.’ This is a key to the esoteric
significance of the use of the calumet. The one for whom the dance
for the calumet was performed became thereby the adopted son of the
performer. One might ask another to dance the Calumet dance for him, or
one might offer to perform this dance for another, but in either case
the offer or invitation could be declined.

“Charlevoix (1721) says that if the calumet is offered and accepted it
is the custom to smoke in the calumet, and the engagements contracted
are held sacred and inviolable, in just so far as such human things
are inviolable. The Indians profess that the violation of such an
engagement never escapes just punishment. In the heat of battle, if
an adversary offer the calumet to his opponent and he accept it, the
weapons on both sides are at once laid down; but to accept or to
refuse the offer of the calumet is optional. There are calumets for
various kinds of public engagements, and when such bargains are made an
exchange of calumets is usual, in this manner rendering the contract or
bargain sacred.

“By smoking together in the calumet the contracting parties intend
to invoke the sun and the other gods as witnesses of the mutual
obligations assumed by the parties, and as a guaranty the one to the
other that they shall be fulfilled. This is accomplished by blowing the
smoke toward the sky, the four world quarters, and the earth, with a
suitable invocation.

“There were calumets for commerce and trade and for other social and
political purposes; but the most important were those designed for war
and those for peace and brotherhood. It was vitally necessary, however,
that they should be distinguishable at once, lest through ignorance
and inattention one should become the victim of treachery. The Indians
in general chose not or dared not to violate openly the faith attested
by the calumet, and sought to deceive an intended victim by the use
of a false calumet of peace in an endeavor to make the victim in some
measure responsible for the consequences. On one occasion a band of
Sioux, seeking to destroy some Indians and their protectors, a French
officer and his men, presented, in the guise of friendship, twelve
calumets, apparently of peace; but the officer, who was versed in
such matters and whose suspicion was aroused by the number offered,
consulted an astute Indian attached to his force, who caused him to see
that among the twelve one of the calumet shafts was not matted with
hair like the others, and that on the shaft was graven the figure of a
viper, coiled around it. The officer was made to understand that this
was the sign of covert treachery, thus frustrating the intended Sioux

The use of the calumet was almost universal in the Mississippi valley
and among the Plains tribes, but in the Ohio and St. Lawrence valleys
and southward its use is not so definitely shown. The symbolism and
ritual of the calumet reached its highest development among the Pawnee
and neighboring Siouan tribes and the concept probably originated in
this region.

                                                         ~R. Linton.~


Handbook of American Indians, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin
    30. See headings:—Calumet, Pipes, Smoking, Tobacco.

~Hind~—The Canadian Red River, London, 1860.

~Lowie, R. H.~—The Tobacco Society of the Crow Indians.
    Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History.
    Vol. XXI, Pt. 2.

~Setchell, W. A.~—Aboriginal Tobaccos, American Anthropologist, Vol.
    XXIII, No. 4, 1921.

~Wilson, G. L.~—Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians. University of
    Minnesota, Studies in Social Science, No. 9.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.


                     PRINTED BY FIELD MUSEUM PRESS

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