Native Resource Clay

The Catawba potters use two types of clay, pipe clay (wimisui"to) and pan clay (i"toitus). Although the original Catawba-language terms are no longer common knowledge, the clays retain their separate identities. Pipe clay is often used alone but only to make small objects like pipes, hence the term pipe clay. It must be mixed with pan clay to make large vessels like pans, hence the term pan clay (Harrington 1908).

Both clays are dug from pits that have been in use for a very long time, probably centuries in the case of the pipe clay holes located in Nisbet Bottoms. From about 1960 to the present, these clays came almost exclusively from two single locations separated from each other by several miles. At one time, however, the Catawba drew from much wider resources. When their land base included parts of the two Carolinas and they hunted as far away as Ohio (Brown 1966:13-16, 191), and went to war against the Iroquois Confederation in New York (McDowell 1958), the Catawba most likely knew of clay resources in much of the east. Although the Catawba traveled less after the American Revolution, those Indians who peddled the plantation circuit early in the nineteenth century knew of clay resources within much of South Carolina. They definitely used clay holes between the Nation and Charleston. William Blanding documented one such location in the 1840s when he described the Catawba's interest in Pine Tree Hill, modern-day Camden. Blanding declared that, "a very fine description of clay is found at this spot, which is resorted to by the Catawba Indians every spring and autumn, for the purpose of manufacturing pottery from it" (Blanding 1848). Blanding did not know that the Catawba King Hagler had once lived at Pine Tree Hill (South Carolina Gazette, 3 May i76oa:2; Bull 1771), and that the Catawba had a long political interest in the place (Waddell 2001). Today, as a result of difficulties surrounding the settlement of the Catawba land suit in 1993, the Catawba have expanded their knowledge of local clay resources.

As the Catawba world was reduced in both land holdings and population, the Indians' knowledge of clay resources away from their immediate community diminished. The potters active in the last quarter of the twentieth century seemed to know of far fewer clay holes than the potters who were active at the end of the nineteenth century. For instance, according to Harrington, the Catawba were using eight clay deposits in 1907. Pipe clay was taken from King's Bottoms, then called Johnston Bottoms (Nisbet Bottoms), and four holes on the reservation: the Ben Harris, Brady, Deerlick, and Patterson Bottoms clay holes. All the Indians considered the reservation resources as inferior. These were used only when clay was needed and King's Bottoms was not accessible. In addition, three equally fine pan clay holes were visited. One was located on the Collins farm adjacent to the reservation. The second was the Blue Clay Hole near the ferry landing on the east side of the Catawba River. The third clay hole cannot be identified today (Harrington 1908).

The Catawba are secretive about their clay sources. Few outsiders interested in the tradition are taken to the clay holes. Fewkes, for one, was never shown the pan clay source (Fewkes 1944:73). According to Carrie Garrison, who had a long interest in the Catawba dating from the early 1900s, the clay holes have always been a carefully guarded secret (Carrie Garrison, interview, 27 January 1977, BC). In the mid-1970s, when Allen Stout of the Schiele Museum shot a documentary film on Doris Blue's work, he wanted to show the potter digging clay. Doris Blue was keenly interested in helping Stout, yet she was reluctant to divulge the location of the clay holes. As a result, Doris Blue took the camera crew to the river bottoms by a long and deliberately confusing route (Allen Stout, interview, 1977, BC; Stout 1989). Today, when photographs of the Indians digging clay appear in the press, these still shots are actually staged at locations far from the clay source. The real clay holes, as a rule, are not shown to outsiders. A fear that a particular clay resource might run out causes this secretiveness. Twice, at the beginning of the twentieth century and again in the 1930s, the Catawba experienced very real threats to their clay resources from the outside world.

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