The Pipe Industry

The Catawba pipe tradition traces its roots to the very origin of tobacco use and the invention of smoking paraphernalia in the Southeast. It continues to exhibit great vitality, and pipes are produced in a wide assortment of forms and styles (see Figures 29, 30, and 31). Making pipes is, in effect, a Catawba sub-tradition. Since pipe bending, as the Catawba call it, requires special skills, some Catawba excel at the craft while others do not. The current incentive to make pipes is often linked to the ownership of pipe squeeze molds, which makes pipe making easier. For instance, Doris Blue was well known for her pipes, many of which were mold made. Georgia Harris's pipes were much sought after, too. This potter used molds made by her grandparents and also bent pipes by hand. Catherine Canty did not have molds and was known for her pipes, but she did not make nearly as many pipes as she would have if she had pipe molds. Potters with an affinity for pipes, like Earl Robbins, have difficulty keeping up with the demand for them. There is a growing interest in pipe making among the male potters. Those young contemporary potters who excel in pipe making include master potters Monty Branham, Keith Brown, Edwin Campbell, and Donald Harris, to name only a few.

Of those who were working at the end of the nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth century, perhaps the best-documented pipe makers include Epp Harris, Sallie Gordon, and Billy George. During this period, master pipe makers were held in high regard, for tobacco was either chewed or smoked in a clay pipe, and smokers always sought a well-balanced and attractive pipe.

For any pipe to be successful, it must be utilitarian. A pipe must have balance, be light in weight, and attractive to the eye. It must be easy to hold. Being a smoker is not a prerequisite to making a good pipe but it helps. Few of the Catawba potters are smokers; but as a rule, an ability to identify closely with the smoker's needs is of value.

The Catawba have been known for their pipes for centuries, and the pipe trade itself is ancient in origin among the Catawba. The two are linked. Writing at the beginning of the eighteenth century, John Law-son emphasized the importance of smoking pipes to the contemporary Carolina/Catawba Indian trade: "At spare hours the women make baskets . . . others, when they find a vein of white clay fit for their purposes, make tobacco pipes, all of which are often transported to other Indians that perhaps have greater plenty of deer and game; so they buy with these manufactures the raw skins" (Lawson 1714:316). The business records for the Colonial period also contain references to the general importance of pipes among the American Indians. For instance, when William Penn made his 1672 Indian land purchase, 300 pipes, 100 hands of tobacco, and 20 tobacco boxes were included in the purchase price (McGuire 1899:461). Five years later, another land purchase was made from a New Jersey tribe, and 120 pipes were part of this bargain (McGuire 1899:461). Although these transactions were not made in South Carolina, much-sought-after trade items were the same all along the Atlantic coast, for the trade needs of the Indians were comparable.

At this time, if one smoked, one smoked a pipe. Pipes were made of clay and because they were easily broken, required frequent replacement. The clay pipe would not decline in popularity until the twentieth century when first the briar pipe and then the cigarette became popular (Sudbury 1977:123). As late as 1890, one American pipe kiln was large enough to fire 200,000 pipes in a single firing. This particular pottery-making operation shipped 400,000 clay pipes per week (Sudbury 1977:123). Although the Catawba tradition predates the establishment of European potteries, and the Catawba had long faced this competition, the Catawba pipe tradition suffered more from the abandonment of the smoking pipe for the cigarette than it did from the factory-made clay pipe.

Following contact with European culture, the enduring popularity of the clay pipe allowed the Catawba pipe tradition to survive. The Ca-tawba maintained a brisk wholesale trade in pipes as long as local non-Indians smoked them. The small size of the Catawba Nation and the subsistence nature of the pottery tradition also allowed the Indian pipe makers to exist on the fringes of the mammoth American pipe industry. While modern potteries produced pipes by the thousands, the Ca-tawba sold theirs by the dozen.

Early in the twentieth century, Martha Jane Harris, a master pipe maker, provided several country stores within easy access to the Nation with pipes. According to her granddaughter's recollections, "She didn't get $1.25 a dozen for pipes" (Georgia Harris, interview, 19 March

1980, BC). All the potters of Martha Jane's generation participated in this trade.

Perhaps the last Catawba potter to make large numbers of pipes was Sallie Gordon. Georgia Harris recalled the speed with which Sallie Gordon worked:

She made a lot of little trinkets, pipes and things. I remember when she lived right up here with Irvin, a lot of times she'd sit outside—now this was when she was real old. She'd always talk about bending pipes. . . . She wouldn't have a mold now. She'd just take her clay and she would bend them and just set out a dozen in a little while. . . . She didn't finish them off so good I didn't think—rub them so smooth because she worked them a lot when they were real damp. She didn't wait until they got a little bit dry. She'd rub them then, but they'd be a little bit rough looking, but she could make some. She could turn them out. . . . I never would have made them that fast. (Georgia Harris, interview, 19 March 1980, BC)

When MacDonald Furman visited the Catawba late in the nineteenth century, he noted the importance of the pipe-making tradition. His writings contain a description of the process as he observed it: "A short distance further on they came upon another house very much like the one just described [log construction] and another woman proved to be the only occupant. She was engaged in shaping an Indian clay pipe with the blade of an old cane knife, still busy with her work as she came to the door answering to 'Hello!'" (Furman 1890). This brief description brings us close to the advantages found in pipe manufacture in the Catawba tradition. Making larger vessels requires a block of time and a regular schedule of drying periods. The pipe maker can easily work on pipes while meeting other household obligations. Once a quantity of pipes is made, the potter can take up a pipe at any time and scrape, rub, decorate, or bore out the bowl. The making of pipes is perfectly suited to a busy homemaker. Indeed, the best pipes are made during short periods of intense labor. The nature of this fine work requires a kind of attention that is difficult to sustain for long periods.

Another built-in advantage to this tradition is standard pricing. In 1900, Martha Jane Harris knew exactly what she could expect to make from the sale of a dozen pipes, so it was easy to measure the results of her labor. In the 1980s, her granddaughter, Georgia Harris, who used the same molds and techniques, sold the same pipes for five dollars each. Again, the potter has no difficulty estimating the proceeds from a day's labor. In 1900, pipes were sold for a dollar a dozen, and by 1994 the price had risen to 540 dollars a dozen. The prices remained competitive, and almost any visitor to the Nation was apt to purchase a pipe or two. Today the same pipes sell for 45 dollars each. If the stem is decorated, the price is higher.

Still another advantage is low breakage during the burning process. In 1978, Georgia Harris wrote of burning some pipes: "I was trying to finish the pipes my grandson had sold for me here in Ohio. Thursday I burned them, didn't lose a one. I was really proud for that. I finally got my slugs burned along with the pipes. The ones I am going to use for mold making" (Georgia Harris to Blumer, letter, 26 August 1978, BC).

The Catawba, always in tune with their market demands, are quick to see the value of an attractive pipe form and exploit it. During the well-documented nineteenth century, the potters endeavored to make true Indian pipes by slavishly reproducing the traditional shapes and decorating the pipes with ancient Catawba incised motifs. According to Harrington, the only aboriginal Catawba pipe was the so-called chicken comb pipe (Harrington 1908:402). This form is still produced in large numbers. Harrington did the Catawba a tremendous disservice, though, for the Catawba seldom depart from their customary shapes. Although the invention of the smoking pipe is American Indian, we often fail to think of the pipe as Native American, primarily because the Indians lost control of this market as soon as Europeans applied modern industrial methods to its manufacture. This happened almost as soon as tobacco smoking was introduced in Europe. As a result, first European and then American potteries produced cheap clay pipes by the millions. By virtue of the sheer number of European pipes on the market, people soon came to think of even the smoking pipe as something that was part of European culture. Even most Indian communities soon abandoned their own pipes for those of European or American manufacture. Only the Catawba of South Carolina clung stubbornly to this part of their heritage.

The Indians of the Southeast had long made effigy pipes, and the European market soon followed suit with anthropomorphic copies (May 1987). The Catawba continued to produce Indian head pipes, and well before 1880 most of the Catawba were producing the so-called King Hagler pipe. Nineteenth-century molds used to produce this pipe are still in use among the potters today, along with molds of more recent manufacture. A small number of hand bent and built Indian head pipes have always been made. Because some of these approach the likeness of individuals, they are commonly referred to as portrait pipes.

The Catawba pipe tradition has also resorted to adopting non-Indian styles. When the briar pipe became popular, the Indians copied this pipe in clay, decorated it with traditional incised motifs, and attached a short reed stem to finish it off. Georgia Harris recalls Epp Harris's personal smoking pipe, which was a copy of a briar pipe: "He would make pipes. Well, he loved to make pipes, and he made one that he smoked his own self. . . . It had a stem. . . . The pipe was just a plain pipe, and then the stem [of clay] would run out here. Then you would have to put just a little cane, just a short one" (Georgia Harris, interview, 19 March 1980, BC).

Since the Indians had made clay pipes for many centuries, it was easy for them to lavish their creative skills on the form. Along with plain pipes, Indian heads, and the comb, they made horse, dog, snake, and turtle effigy pipes. These may or may not have pre-Columbian precursors. We can be fairly certain that the snake and the turtle pipe are very ancient among the Catawba. Evidence for the snake effigy pipe rests in a vessel found in York County by a pothunter and recorded by Tommy Charles (Charles 1981). A similar vessel made in the nineteenth century can be found in the Heye Foundation collection. Visitors to the reservation eagerly sought these pipes, and a brisk trade was maintained. Tools regularly associated with Indian culture also became suitable subjects for pipes, and one of the most popular is the axe or tomahawk pipe. These, too, can be either bent by hand or mold made. They come in as wide a variety of shapes as those found in tool sheds across the South. Only the plain axe is produced from molds dating from the nineteenth century. Earl Robbins probably makes the widest assortment of axe pipe shapes.

Another form associated with the Catawba pipe industry is the arrow pipe. The bottom of the bowl is decorated with an arrow, which hangs down from the bowl like a pendant. This form is often decorated with a second projectile point that protrudes from the front of the bowl, away from the smoker. Occasionally, a potter will go beyond tradition and take such a pipe a step in the abstract direction. Such creations are called fanciful pipes.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Epp Harris, a master pipe maker, began to produce shoe or boot pipes. A limited number of these have been located in museum collections. Most are replicas of the hightop shoes worn by women of the late Victorian period. A few are boots. So popular was the shape that Epp Harris made a set of molds so he could keep up with the market demand. His granddaughter, Georgia Harris, used these molds until her retirement in the 1990s. Epp Harris introduced the shoe pipe to the Pamunkey Indians during his late-nineteenth-century visit to that Virginia tribe. In 1993, one of Epp Harris's boot pipes was found in a collection owned by Mary Miles Bradby.

Epp Harris had apparently given the pipe to Pamunkey Chief Paul Miles, who treasured it. His daughter, Mary Bradby, finally was given the pipe; it had never been burned (Acquisition File, BC).

At times a potter will produce a unique pipe in a moment of creativity. Such pipes do not normally enter the tradition as permanent forms. A good example is the teapot pipe, which is possibly the work of Billy George. In only one aspect is it aboriginal—its construction technique. It hovers between modern innovation and the venerable tradition through the use of incised designs. Reportedly, in the late 1970s, Louise Bryson produced a number of horse saddle pipes in one of her bursts of creative energy. Other potters either never saw the form or found it uninteresting. Neither the teapot nor the saddle pipe forms became a lasting part of the tradition.

The turtle pipe exemplifies a form that is apparently very ancient, but was lost as a viable shape by the potters at the end of the nineteenth century. MacDonald Furman first recorded its existence in 1894 when he purchased a turtle pipe during a visit to the Nation (Furman 1894). Since the form had then fallen out of favor at the turn of the twentieth century, no contemporary potter had knowledge of a turtle pipe until its revival in the late 1980s.

In Catawba lore, the turtle shares a position similar to the serpent. Speck's Catawba texts preserve a small amount of this folklore, but nearly all of these fragments are examples of minor beliefs that are difficult to place in pre-Columbian Catawba religious practice. It is interesting that Susannah Owl was able to link the turtle to the creation story, precisely to the reception of life-sustaining water:

The turtle with the big head kept back the water from the people. He sat over the spring and kept the water back. The snapping turtle was very bad. He alone kept the water back. The rabbit came up to him and said, "I want the water. Some water I need very much." "You cannot have the water," said the snapping turtle. The rabbit replied, "If you give me a drink, I'll say, 'Thank You.'" The snapping turtle refused. In the meanwhile, the rabbit scratched the ground underneath the turtle and made a ditch and the water ran out. So much ran out over the earth that it made gullies. The water flowed very well since that time. That is why water flows now. (Speck 1934:10-11)

The revival of the turtle pipe followed two recent findings. The first example of a Catawba turtle pipe was found in 1983 in the collections of the University of North Carolina (Coe, interview, 1983, BC). Although the vessel is poorly documented, it is clearly the work of a master potter of the late nineteenth century. The quality is that of either

Billy George or Epp Harris. Diagrams and photographs were circulated among the Catawba potters, but none of them had ever seen a pipe like it. None of the potters showed any interest in copying the form. In 1988 a second turtle pipe was located, this time in the Nation. It was found when Brian Blue dug a foundation for a carport. This find was the cause of excitement among the potters, and it was examined with admiration and pride. Although the piece is badly broken, possibly in the fire, and the burnished finish has been eroded by the acidic soil, it is obviously the work of a master potter. The incised pattern consists of fine curved lines. Most important of all, the house site where the turtle pipe was found can be documented. Before leaving for Colorado in 1883, Pinck-ney and Martha Head lived at this site. After the Head family left, the location was not occupied again until 1912 when James and Margaret Harris built a house there. The turtle pipe seems to be the work of the Head family.

By September 1989, the finding of the so-called Head turtle pipe influenced the Catawba potters. A large group had a demonstration and sale at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, North Carolina. At this time several potters offered and sold turtle pipes, marking the reintroduction of this delightful pipe form into the Catawba tradition. Following this event, Mildred Blue made a limited but steady supply of turtle pipes. Several of the younger potters, including Donald Harris, have since followed her lead in the production of turtle pipes.


Although the peace pipe is no longer used ceremonially, it typifies the tradition's tenacity (see Figure 29). This pipe remains a symbol of what it means to be Catawba, and as such it is a much sought after pipe form, particularly among collectors who know something of Catawba history and culture. All of the Catawba potters make this difficult shape, yet the versions differ somewhat from one potter to another. Some Indians make more than one style, but the basic form is a small bowl with four stems representing the four cardinal directions. The peace pipe is either supported by three legs or has no legs at all. In order to smoke the peace pipe, four river cane reeds are inserted into the clay stems. This pipe is not actually used, so the reed stems are almost never offered with the pipe. Although the four stems represent the four cardinal directions, the Indians have lost the peace pipe's ritual connection. The contemporary Catawba explanation for this pipe's existence is not very informative. "We have used the peace pipe or the pipe of peace that the Indians used instead of signing treaties. They couldn't write, and so they would smoke this pipe which had four stems. That was the way they signed their treaties" (Doris Blue, interview, 20 March 1980, BC). While most peace pipes have four stems, it is not unheard of for the potters to make such pipes with as many as ten stems. Alberta Ferrell often made her peace pipes by special order according to the size of the family, one stem per family member (Alberta Ferrell, interview, 22 February 1977, BC).

To date, archaeologists have been able to tell us little of the curious peace pipe. George A. West called it the circular or chief's pipe. He noted, without a citation, that this pipe can have up to fourteen stems. Archaeological specimens are found principally south of the Ohio River and are made of steatite, sandstone, or clay (West 1932:225226). None of the specimens described by West have legs. Unfortunately, all of them were from pothunter collections rather than from scientific archaeological excavations. Once found, examples uncovered by archaeologists might shed some light on the Catawba tradition. One such ancient peace pipe was reportedly found in Pike County, Illinois. It is three inches in diameter, does not have legs, and has five holes for the inserting of reed stems, which enter the bowl at its base (Thompson 1973). While the absence of legs and stems is significant, the Pike County pipe looks very much like a traditional Catawba peace pipe in both size and shape.

A second example of an excavated peace pipe was reportedly found in a mound near Edgefield, South Carolina. The Edgefield pipe is made of steatite, and nine stems surround its shallow bowl (West i932:Plate 167). This pipe bears little resemblance to any contemporary Catawba peace pipe, except in its overall form.

Unfortunately, the Catawba peace pipe was not an object of scholarly curiosity until the twentieth century. J. D. McGuire noted that when the Catawba visited the Iroquois Confederation in 1751 a pipe of peace was smoked: "The Catawbas came down from their quarters singing, with their colors pointed to the ground, and having lit their pipes, the king [Hagler] and one more put them in the mouths of the chief Sachems of the Six Nations who smoked out of them. The chief sachems of the Senecas lit a pipe and put it in the mouths of each of the Catawbas, who smoked out of it and then he returned it among the Six Nations" (McGuire 1899:561). While we are fortunate to have this brief description of the ceremony, it is regrettable that it raises more questions than it answers. The writer apparently saw nothing unusual about the pipes used. There is no indication that the peace pipes were similar to or different from contemporary Catawba peace pipes. We are left to wonder if the pipes used were of Indian manufacture; however, the Catawba certainly would have used one of their own pipes.

The survival of the peace pipe among the Catawba is due both to

Catawba dedication and to its popularity among collectors. The potters remain determined to make this complicated vessel. Balancing a small bowl, three legs, and four stems is no easy task for a beginning potter.

The peace pipe suffered a kind of metamorphosis during the twentieth century. This occurred through a change in the environment of use, a lack of ritual and ceremonial use, and the detrimental influence of the tourist trade that dominated the tradition from the 1930s to the 1960s.

First, originally the pipe was small, just a bit larger than a regular smoking pipe—large enough to allow for the four stems. Through a lack of use and in response to a mass production need in the second quarter of the twentieth century, the tendency was to make the bowl larger, far more so than would be practical for the smoking of tobacco. Although this process has been reversed in recent years, it is still possible to occasionally find peace pipes that resemble small jardinières.

Second, the oldest examples of the peace pipe, both those found by pothunters and nineteenth-century Catawba vessels, are without legs. It is assumed that the pragmatic Catawba added the three legs in response to the demand of curio hunters and collectors who wanted to set their treasures on a table or in a china cabinet. By 1900, all Catawba peace pipes had three legs and the old form was forgotten. Today, some of the potters have returned to occasionally making peace pipes without legs.

A third factor in this metamorphosis is the migration of the stems up the sides of the bowl. Originally, as a practical matter, the stems were properly located at the bottom of the bowl so the tobacco would feel the effects of air being pulled through the stems and would thus burn evenly. In such a pipe all of the tobacco would be smoked. A lack of use and the North Carolina mountain tourist trade prompted this stem migration. It is sometimes possible to find peace pipes with stems placed so high on the bowl that the pipe could never be smoked.

The Catawba potters still construct the long-obsolete peace pipe, in spite of its difficulty, because it is so key to the Catawba tradition; it must be placed right next to the cooking pot and snake pot in ranked importance. The potters consider a well-constructed peace pipe to be a sign of a true master potter. Indeed, the peace pipe requires mature skills. The potters are rightfully proud of this ancient shape.

Although this pipe is no longer smoked, it is commonly presented to important visitors to the reservation and to politicians the Catawba wish to honor. In 1986, the Tribal Council made formal presentations of peace pipes, made by Georgia Harris, to Senators Strom Thurmond and Ernest Hollings and to Representative John Spratt on the occasion of the publication of the Bibliography of the Catawba (Blumer 1986).

South Carolina governors are frequent recipients of Catawba peace pipes. The peace pipe is also represented on the Catawba flag and the logo of the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project.

List of pipes known to be part of the Catawba tradition:

  1. plain pipe
  2. comb pipe
  3. arrow pipe
  4. horse pipe
  5. horse head pipe
  6. turtle pipe
  7. Indian head pipe
  8. Indian head arrow pipe
  9. tomahawk pipe
  10. axe pipe
  11. pick axe pipe
  12. lathing axe pipe
  13. fanciful pipe
  14. teapot pipe
  15. briar imitation pipe
  16. pitcher pipe
  17. fish pipe
  18. snake effigy pipe
  19. barrel shaped pipe
  20. hand pipe
  21. frog effigy pipe
  22. arrow pipe with second arrow protruding from front of bowl
  23. rabbit pipe
  24. canoe pipe

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