Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/December 1893/The Calumet in the Champlain Valley

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THE CALUMET IN THE CHAMPLAIN VALLEY.

By Prof. G. H. PERKINS.

OF the many interesting objects which have been found in different localities in the United States none more fully illustrate the artistic skill and taste of the aborigines than do the stone pipes, and it is probably true that they represent the finest work in stone which the Indian was able to execute. In form, though not perhaps in material, the pipes exhibit greater variety and less conformity to conventional types than do other classes of prehistoric objects. No other specimens in our archaeological collections recall so completely the ceremonial usages

PSM V44 D248 Calumet from the champlain valley.jpg
Fig. 1.

of the Indians as do the pipes; no other objects occupied so important a place among the possessions of the tribe or the individual, as the student of Indian customs soon learns.

Pipes there may have been, and undoubtedly were, many of them of common mold, which were used and regarded very much as are modern pipes, simply as a means of social or personal enjoyment, and these may have been of earthenware, or even of wood or bone, more often than of stone; but the real calumet, the elaborately wrought ceremonial pipe, was a very different affair. With this were associated in the Indian mind the most solemn ceremonies, the most impressive experiences of life. Without the calumet no treaty could be ratified, no war declared, no important tribal or religious question settled. This single object combined in itself a dignity and an essential significance which can hardly be overestimated.

It is not strange, therefore, that the pipemaker should have exercised his best skill and his most patient labor upon that which he wrought. As Dr. Abbott, in Primitive Industry, well says, "To know the whole history of tobacco, and the custom of smoking and of the origin of the pipe, would be to solve many of the most interesting problems of American ethnology."

The beauty and variety of the pipes which have been found in the Mississippi Valley are unequaled in specimens from any

PSM V44 D249 Calumets from the champlain valley.jpg
Fig. 2. Fig. 3.

other part of the country, and because of this, and because these pipes are so well known, the simpler forms of less favored localities have sometimes been too much overlooked. But the less elaborate New England specimens are not without importance because they have a place in the archæology of the whole country.

In beauty of material and in finish the pipes of the Champlain Valley are quite equal to the best of the mound pipes, but in elaborateness of form they are much inferior. So far as our ancient pipe-makers attempted the execution of any particular form, they usually did very well — that is, unless they destroyed all their failures; but they do not appear to have tried to fashion any very difficult shapes, and very seldom attempted to imitate those animals which were common about them as did the Western tribes. Inasmuch as no two of our pipes are the same in size or form, there is no single type which represents this region.

It is probable that the pipes which have been found in the Champlain Valley were used and, unless obtained in trade or war, made by Algonkins or Iroquois, for these tribes occupied the region from no one knows how early times. Pipes, whether of stone or earthenware, are very uncommon in the Champlain Valley, though diligent search has brought to light a considerable number. In the descriptions and illustrations which are here presented it is the intention of the writer to give a tolerably complete account of such specimens of the class under consideration as have been obtained up to the present time. All the specimens figured are in the collection of the University of Vermont, and all, except Fig. 11, are given of full size.

Our simplest pipes — and it is difficult to imagine a simpler form — are represented by Fig. 1. This is merely a rounded bit of steatite of a grayish color, fairly well shaped and smoothly finished. The excavation is of the same general form as the outside and is very well done. At the top it is rather more than half an inch across. As the figure shows, the opening for the stem is a little below the middle of one side. It is about a fourth of an inch in diameter on the outside, and slopes upward, so that the bowl hung obliquely on the stem. Such a pipe as this must have had some sort of a stem, either a bit of hollow reed, a twig with the pith removed, or the wing bone of a bird.

In Fig. 2 we see a somewhat more elaborate specimen, though the material is very much the same. As the line showing the excavation indicates, the stem, if there was one, entered at the bottom. It is also noticeable that the inside does not at all correspond

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Fig. 4. Fig. 5.

with the outside, but is more regular. About the upper margin there is a rather weak attempt at decoration in rudely incised lines around the bowl and oblique lines between. This pipe is well polished. It is two inches and a quarter long and seven eighths of an inch in diameter at the top.

No other specimen from this region is in any respect like that shown in Fig. 3. As may be readily seen in the figure, there are two bowls of nearly equal size. The separation of the bowls is, however, more apparent on the outside than it is inside, since the partition is largely cut away, the two cavities being distinct only at the top and a short distance below it. Most unfortunately, the lower end is broken, so that it is not possible to know exactly how

PSM V44 D251 Calumet from the champlain valley.jpg
Fig. 6.

it terminated. Probably, however, this part of the pipe grew narrower and formed a stem or mouthpiece. As is true of most of our pipes, the excavated portion was cut, not bored, for the numerous tool-marks are parallel with the long axis of the bowl; moreover, the openings are not quite circular, as they must have been if the bowl had been drilled out. The opening at the top of each is nearly five eighths of an inch in greatest diameter. The height is about two inches. At a is the small opening into the double bowl. The specimen is very well polished. The material is a fine-grained, dark-green steatite. It was found near Swanton, in the northern part of Vermont, as also were those previously described.

Another very unique specimen is seen in Fig. 4. It is apparently intended to represent some quadruped, and if so it is especially interesting, as the only object thus far discovered in this region having the form of an animal. Although a rather clumsy piece of work, I think that there can be no doubt that the maker tried to fashion the pipe after a bear or some other familiar animal. The four legs are well defined, and those on the one side are separated from those on the other by a deep groove. The material is the usual steatite, of a gray color, and the surface is smooth and fairly well polished. As the figure shows, there are about the bowl several oval or quadrangular excavations, which may have been considered sufficiently ornamental in themselves, or they may have been filled by some ornamental bits of stone or shell. As compared with the entire pipe, the hollow of the bowl is small and not much larger than the opening for the stem. The length of this pipe is over two inches and the width is one inch, while the height is a little more.

In an article by the writer in The American Naturalist,[1] a Vermont pipe is mentioned and figured which has a projection on one side of the rim that may very probably have been intended for the beak of a bird, and if this is true we have two animal carvings, such as they are, from this region.

In some respects the most interesting of all our pipes is that shown in Fig. 5. Its form is quite peculiar, but the chief importance consists in the carved human faces, one on each side of the top, one of which the figure shows. As may be seen at the base, the pipe is oval in section, the transverse diameter being an inch and a half. The cavity is unusually large and is about three fourths of an inch deep. The stem opening is seen on one side of the figure near the middle, and is about as large as an ordinary pencil. The whole height is over two inches. The faces are in rather bold relief, and of the form seen in the figure; the face on the side not shown is very nearly like that shown. As the figure shows, there are two lines, one from each side of the nose. Do these indicate streaks of paint, or are they intended to represent a mustache and therefore a European face? At the base, which is flat, there is, just below the place where the stem entered, a small hole, as if to enable the owner to attach a thong for suspending the pipe when not in use. The material is very dark steatite. The specimen was found on Grand Isle in Lake Champlain. Only one other specimen having upon it the carving of a face has been found in the Champlain Valley; this is a pipe of oval

PSM V44 D252 Calumet from the champlain valley.jpg

Fig. 7.

section and in general a bag or pouch-like form, bearing in full relief on the edge of the bowl a small but distinctly marked head. Singularly, this face also has lines under the nose, which may, as in the pipe figured, indicate by the mustache a European.

A very regularly shaped and beautifully polished specimen is that shown in Fig. 6. It is three and a half inches long and an inch in diameter at the top. The opening for the stem is at the point marked A, and this is at the bottom of the bowl, the portion below this being solid. The bowl is polished inside, and ornamented about the top by a series of transverse lines.

The well-known platform pipes of the West and many other localities are not common here, but now and then a specimen is

PSM V44 D253 Calumet from the champlain balley 1.jpg

Fig. 8.

found. Fig. 7 gives one of the best of these. It is of a very pretty, light yellow stone, well polished. The opening through which to draw the smoke is at A, and this is so small that it is most probable that no other stem than that afforded by the base itself was used. The platform is nearly three inches long, and the bowl is an inch and a quarter high. The bowl of this pipe differs from that of most of those found here in that it bears circular strife, and was evidently worked out with a drill.

Pipes of a more modern form than those described, though there is no reason to consider them as actually more recent, are

PSM V44 D253 Calumet from the champlain balley 2.jpg
Fig. 9.

not uncommon among our specimens. The finest example of this class is that shown in Fig. 8, and it is very elegantly finished. The material is a dark, clouded gypsum, hard enough to take an excellent polish. The outside of the bowl was ornamented, like that of Fig. 4, by inlaid pieces of stone, the excavations for which are evident in the figure. There can be no doubt in this case that

the cavities were intended not for ornament, but to receive some different material, since they are left in an unfinished state, while the rest of the pipe is unusually well finished. The bowl is polished inside near the top, but lower, circular striæ are to be seen. The stem is rather thick; the upper surface is made up of two sloping planes, and there is a narrow groove running from the bowl to the end. Measured on the outside, the bowl is two inches high; the stem is about a fourth of an inch longer. Several quite similar pipes have been found on both sides of the lake. A simpler though well-made pipe is that given in Fig. 9. It is not so perfectly polished as the preceding, and is one of the more common sort.

It is well known that no material was so highly valued for making pipes as the famous red pipestone. If the calumet had any ceremonial significance in itself, as it certainly had, this became doubly great if the pipe were made of the red stone. This

PSM V44 D254 Catlinite calumet from the champlain valley.jpg

Fig. 10.

material was regarded as the petrified flesh of ancestors and was revered accordingly, and the single quarry where it could be obtained was a very sacred place. We often find this red pipestone mentioned by early writers, and it is strange that specimens made of it are not more often discovered, but they seem to be very rare everywhere, except, of course, those made in recent times.

The single specimen that has been found in the Champlain Valley was thrown out by the plow a dozen miles south of Burlington, and is shown in Fig. 10. It is made of the ordinary dark red catlinite, and has the form given in the figure. It is larger than most of our pipes, the stem being rather more than three inches long and the bowl about two inches and a quarter high. The cavity of the bowl is peculiarly excavated, as it is strongly conical, being three fourths of an inch in diameter across the top and only a sixteenth of an inch at the bottom. On the flat upper side of the stem there are rudely scratched outline figures, as seen at A, and there are also outlines on the rim of the

PSM V44 D255 Calumet from the champlain valley 1.jpg

Fig. 11.

bowl. The surface of this pipe is well polished. The inside of the bowl shows both circular and vertical striæ.

Stone tubes, of somewhat different form in different localities, have been found in almost every station which has been carefully searched for archæological specimens, and few objects have excited greater curiosity than these. Always well made, often of handsomely colored and veined stone, they have been regarded as pipes, musical instruments, medicine tubes, and even telescopes, by different authors. When one examines these tubes he very readily sees that it is more than probable that all can not be placed in the same class, for, not only do they vary in size very widely — some being only two inches long and of small diameter, while others are ten, fifteen, and rarely twenty inches in length —  but the bore is even more variable, in some being as large as the

PSM V44 D255 Calumet from the champlain valley 2.jpg
Fig. 12.

outside will allow, and of uniform size from end to end; in others it is large at one end and grows smaller toward the opposite end, where it is often of no greater diameter than the bore of some of the pipestems. Very likely the tubes of the first sort were used in the performances of the medicine man, and those last named were used as pipes, as are the very similar pipes smoked to this day by Utes and other West coast tribes. The tubes appear to be everywhere rare, and yet no form of pipe so often occurs in the Champlain Valley, especially on the Vermont side.

Our Vermont tubes have a bore which is very much smaller at one end than at the other, and the small end was, I think, always stopped partially by a rudely ground and imperfectly fitting stone plug, as it certainly was in most cases, for we find the plug in some of the tubes. The general form of the tubes of this region is somewhat different in each specimen, but Fig. 11 shows a typical example, the heavier line giving the outline of the bore. This tube is eight inches and a half long, nearly an inch and a half in diameter at the largest part, and about an inch at the smallest. The material  — and this is the same in all — is a drab talcose slate. The figure is one third full size. Other tubes have been previously figured and described by the writer in the Portland volume of Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The tubes are all very carefully shaped and well finished. The bore was probably first drilled with a reed and sand, and then at the large end worked out by means of some pointed tool, for circular striæ are plainly seen at the small end, while at the other only longitudinal marks occur. Whatever may have been the design of other tubes, it seems by far most probable that those found here were used as pipes, for they are in all essential respects like those mentioned above, now and anciently in use on the Pacific coast, as may be seen by reference to the seventh volume

PSM V44 D256 Calumet from the champlain valley.jpg

Fig. 13.

of the Wheeler Survey, Plates 7 and 8, and also to Volume III of the Contributions to North American Ethnology.

In Fig. 13 there is shown a pipe which may be considered as representing the transition from stone to modern forms; for, although it was dug in a locality that has yielded more of our stone pipes than any other, it is made of pewter. It does not appear as if cast in a mold, but rather as if worked out of a solid block in the same manner that a stone pipe would be made. The surface is covered with tool-marks, and the bowl bears inside both vertical and circular striæ. Of course, the material of which this specimen is made arouses suspicion that it was the work of a white man; but its appearance, as well as the circumstances in which it was found, all indicate that it is of Indian origin. The material was of course obtained from Europeans.

A people who had attained to such skill in working clay into jars as had the aborigines of the Champlain Valley would undoubtedly make many of their common pipes of this material. and we find numerous fragments of earthenware pipes of various forms, but most of the specimens of this sort are merely fragments. A few entire pipes of the same mixture of clay and pounded stone which we have in the jars are in existence. One of these is shown in Fig. 13, Earthenware pipes of the same general form as that seen in Fig. 8 have also been found, and very likely this was the more common shape. The pipe represented in the figure is unusually thick and heavy, and apparently was made for service rather than ornament. It is three inches long, and the diameter at one end is an inch and a half, at the other about an inch. The bore is rapidly contracted, so that it soon becomes quite small. Most of the earthenware pipes of this region are very smooth on the outside, having received a finishing coat of fine clay, but this is without it, though the surface is tolerably smooth.


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  1. Vol. xiii, p. 735.