Recently, we have been researching two pipes that were claimed to be made by Native Americans. Although we were unable to pinpoint the creator of these pipes, we determined they were most likely created by someone in Montgomery County who was inspired by Native American culture or wanted to celebrate a specific event.
The first pipe is made from a hollow piece of wood and has a stone end shaped like a face. Although we are not sure of this pipe’s origin, the design of the face looks similar to Native American designs in the Central and Southern American region.
Pipe 1, HSMC
The second pipe also has a hollow wood piece. Unlike the previous pipe, this one has a long stone design at the end and is painted red. Without any distinct carvings, we are unsure where this pipe originated. However, since the pipes were housed together in our vaults, it seems likely that these two pipes were made by either the same individual or social group.
Pipe 2, HSMC
Although these two pipes are not authentic Native American pieces, they demonstrate people’s interest in Native American culture. So what does an authentic Native American pipe look like? Observe the picture below.
Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
This is a Sisseton Dakota pipe bowl and stem, c. 1870. It is made from catlinite pipestone, wood, mallard feathers, porcupine quills, horse hair, ribbon, wool cloth, and sinew. Unlike the two pipes at HSMC, authentic Native American pipes like this one are made from thick, strong wood. Authentic pipes are often decorated with feathers, string, beads, or carvings.
Native American pipes have different functions, depending on the tribe. Pipes like the one from NMAI are often used as a way to pray. According to George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), “Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper, and the pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participant as they pray.”
 George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin). “Ceremonial Pipes”. https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/horsenation/pipes.html