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History of Pipestone County

Quoted from "A History of Pipestone County" Printed by Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas Texas, July 1984 Copyrighted 1984 by the Pipestone County Historical Society, Pipestone Minnesota

Shaping the Land
"The story of Pipestone County begins with the natural forces which shaped the land and gave it its characteristics.

"Besides rich farmland, distinguishing features are the Coteau des Prairies (named by the French explorers and meaning highland of the grasslands), which is a divide rising along the eastern side of the county; and reddish pink bedrock (Sioux quartzite exposed in the southern part of the county and just north of the city of Pipestone. A vein of soft red stone is found within the extremely hard Sioux quartzite at Pipestone. The Indians carved this stone into pipes, which were an integral part of their culture. Pipestone was the name chosen by white men for both the county and county seat. The people of the city of Pipestone adopted the Indians peacepipe as their symbol of the city.

"But this gets ahead of the story. The story really begins with the geologic forces at work here, long before the glaciers. Edmund C. Bray, in his book Billions of Years in Minnesota, The Geological Story of the State, describes the formation of the Minnesota land mass, including Pipestone County and southwestern Minnesota. He says the Sioux quartzite, underlying bedrock of the area, was formed about 1.5 million years ago. Older rocks had eroded and were deposited as sands in a shallow sea which had invaded southern Minnesota. The sand was cemented together to form the Sioux quartzite in various shades, pink to lavender. The rock is most prominently exposed in Pipestone County, but there are also other outcroppings in northern Rock County, northern Cottonwood County and along the Minnesota River in Nicollet County.

"The seam of pipestone within the Sioux quartzite at the Pipestone National Monument, north of Pipestone, is believed formed of different materials which were laid down at one particular period. It ended up soft enough to be carved. The hard Sioux quartzite proved a convenient and durable building material for settlers on the treeless plain, quarries being opened near Pipestone and Jasper. The shades of color in the stone varied with the quarry. Buildings of the Sioux quartzite in Pipestone, Jasper and other towns are now often considered historic sites. The stone was also used in foundations.

"But while the rocks are ancient, the overlaying land is young by geologic standards. It's a result of the glacial period, beginning two million years ago. Striation (scratches or grooves), caused by movement of the heavy glaciers through the area, can be found on exposed Sioux quartzite in the county. It was during the first ice stage (Nebraskan), when much of the material making up the Coteau des Prairies was deposited. The Coteau and the county were later covered by other glacial drift. Prominent is the Bemis Moraine, left about 15,000 years ago, at the very end of the glaciation period here. It lies along the crest of the coteau. The moraine is associated with the Des Moines Lobe of the Wisconsin ice Sheet. Before the Wisconsin period, drift from the Kansan and Illinoian ice sheets was probably also added.

"The coteau and Bemis Moraine run from northwestern Iowa across western Jackson, northeast Nobles, southwest Cottonwood, Murray, east and northeast Pipestone, west Lyon and Lincoln counties in Minnesota, and northwestward into South Dakota. Locally the coteau is referred to as "Buffalo Ridge," or just the ridge. That may be because it is a more dominant feature here visually. It rises fairly abruptly from the valley floor in eastern Pipestone County, providing a contrast to the valley floor to the east. From the crest the coteau falls gradually to the west.

"Pipestone County has some of the highest points on the ridge. A point on Section 2 of Fountain Prairie Township is 1990 feet, highest in the county. Stony Point, in Section 34 of Aetna township, in 1970 feet above sea level, according to the Soil Conservation Service. General elevations in the southwest part of the county are about 1600 feet, while the northeastern corner is over 1700. Northwest, along the coteau in South Dakota, there is a point 2100 feet.

"The coteau provides Pipestone County with some of the highest points in all of Minnesota, behind hills along Lake Superior. Elevations of Pipestone County towns are Edgerton, 1578; Jasper, 1693; Trosky, 1704; Ruthton, 1732; Pipestone, 1738; Hatfield, 1745; Ihlen, 1746; Holland, 1770; Woodstock, 1824.

"The highland makes the divide between the Mississippi and Missouri river systems. Water east of the coteau flows northeast via the Redwood River to the Minnesota River, or south through the Rock River, being joined by the Chanarambie and Poplar Creeks before leaving Pipestone County. On the west side of the ridge, Flandreau, Willow, Pipestone and Split Rock Creeks flow southwest into South Dakota. The glaciers did not carve out any lakes in Pipestone county, so it is unusual in Minnesota by not having any natural lakes. Because of the elevation, streams and rivers formed here, not leaving deep valleys. Without the moisture of the valleys or lakes, trees did not grow or survive prairie fires, making the county a treeless plain.

"The glacial drift, covering the underlying Sioux quartzite bedrock in all but a few places, relates primarily to the Wisconsin glaciation period; the last, as explained earlier. Along major streams of the area, southwest of the coteau, are terraces of sand and gravel outwash, the result of fast running streams of melt water from the retreating glacier. These streams carried fine material with them, leaving the coarser materials behind. The fine materials were washed downstream, into what is now the valley of the Big Sioux River.

"These fine deposits were later blown out of the valley by winds, and deposited over the surrounding glacial plain. Silty textured, it is called loess. It ranged in depth from 72 inches in the southwest part of the county to none in the hilly northeast. The loess drifted like snow, smoothing in the rough topography left by the glacier and filling in the irregularities in the landscape. It left most of the county (except along the ridge) gently rolling or with relatively long, uniform slopes.

"The soils are very fertile, capable of high production. The explanation of the types of soils is necessarily restricted here, but more information is available from the Soil Conservation Service, which mapped county soils in the 1970s. The climate, discussed with agriculture in the book, is continental, with warm summers and cold winters. Most of the annual precipitation falls from April to September, although heavy winter snows are normal.

"Before leaving this section, mention should also be made of the final natural phenomenon affecting the land before white settlement. This was the prairie, the grasses and plants which entered the region after the glaciers had retreated and the climate had warmed. Pipestone was within the Tall Prairie, the shorter grass prairie starting in drier areas farther west.* The grasses added immense amounts of humus and fertility to the soil. Settlers found the deep black earth beneath the prairie extremely productive.

"In later sections of the book, well travel with the pioneers as they sought to establish homes on the broad and lonely sea of grass they found upon entering Pipestone County. But before doing that, we need to learn more about the Native Americans, people who found their livelihood and made peacepipes here long before white settlers.

The Native American and the Land
"People usually think of the Dakotah as the first people to live in southwestern Minnesota and Pipestone County. Actually, they were relatively recent, predated by several cultures. Clay pots, dating back to 200 BC and a sure sign of a developed culture, have been found in southwest Minnesota. But even 200 BC is late for habitation of southwestern Minnesota and North America.

"The story really began about 30,000 years ago when the land connecting Siberia and Alaska was exposed by falling sea levels, allowing peoples to migrate from Asia to North America. This land bridge may have existed more than once, allowing successive migrations of both man and animals. No one really knows, nor do we know how many people entered North America.

"The first evidence of occupation of southwest Minnesota dates to 8000 BC. That's when the so called "Big Game" people roamed the area, using stone-tipped spears to hunt big game, such as the extinct mammoth and a very large bison, also extinct. A large spearhead (Clovis point), one of the oldest artifacts in Minnesota, was found in Pipestone County. It is now at the University of Minnesota. A mammoth's tusk, now displayed at Blue Mounds State Park, was found near Adrian, MN.

"By about 5000 BC the Big Game period was ending. The climate became warmer and drier. Plants were more plentiful and game more abundant, making hunting easier. The Indians began driving buffalo over cliffs. People found they could settle down and the first tiny villages appeared.

"It was during this time, up to about 1000 BC, that the first hammers and other rock implements were fashioned. The first petroglyphs (rock drawings) were made about 2000 BC in this area. Some were found at the Pipestone Quarries. Many, many more are east of Jeffers, MN, on the exposed Sioux quartzite of northern Cottonwood County.

"By 200 BC the Fox Lake culture had emerged in the area. A similar culture had arisen in eastern Minnesota, but about 800 years earlier. The Fox Lake people left pottery in southwestern Minnesota. They lived near water, used the bow and arrow and buried their people in mounds. They had given up the nomadic way of life, advancing to settlements and a culture where all time wasn't spent hunting and gathering food.

"The Fox Lake people were followed by the Great Oasis culture. These people lived throughout the area from 900 to 1400 AD. A primary site is the so called "Bear Lake" site, near lake Wilson, just east of Pipestone County. These people are thought to be the first to make use of pipestone from the quarries. Besides pipes, they make carved tablets with figures and something similar to the Christian cross. Why is not known. They lived in thatched houses, with walls of sticks and mud. The people are thought to have not practiced agriculture, although members in northwestern Iowa are thought to have grown corn.

"In the later period the Mississippian culture influenced the lifestyles of the region. A large base city of the group was located at present St. Louis, MO. the culture spread up the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Great Oasis people were remarkable in that during this period they pretty much maintained their own culture, but then disappeared.

"By the time of the fur trade the tribes living in the region were called the Oto and Iowa. They were descendents of Mississippian people, known as Oyote.

"In the 1600s and 1700s, the Dakotah came on the scene, replacing the earlier culture. While considered by many the first Indians of southwest Minnesota, we have seen they came late in the succession of inhabitants of the region. Their occupation of the area was relatively short. The Dakota were originally from northern Minnesota, but were driven onto the plains by the Ojibwe or Chippewa.