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Battle Dress Web / Index Page / Circa 1890 / Lakota / Trade Goods

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With My Own Eyes:
A Lakota Woman Tells Her People's History
With My Own Eyes: REVIEW
by James Taylor Carson
Black Robe Woman, Lakota Warrior:
Being the Second Part of the Crazy Horse Chronicles
Sitting Bull:
Lakota Leader
Red Cloud:
Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux
Standing in the Light:
A Lakota Way of Seeing
Standing in the Light:
Bead on an Anthill:
A Lakota Childhood
Lakota Sioux Children
and Elders Talk Together
Kevin Locke
Lakota Hoop Dancer
Gift Horse:
A Lakota Story [Hardcover]
Gift Horse: A Lakota Story
American Indian Beadwork
Indian Arts & Crafts Board
South Dakota
South Dakota Store

"Hairpipe" style beads have been used among Native peoples of North America since ancient times. However, during the 18th century the manufacturing and trading of hairpipe beads by settlers played a significant role in the settlement of the American west.

Origin, History and Uses

Hairpipe beads are tubular shaped, generally anywhere from 1/2" to 4" long and about a 1/4" in diameter at the center. Most often they are tapered at the ends, but not always. It depends on what material they are made of. The center hole is generally about 1/8" in diameter, but in some beads may be narrower.

The Ancient Shell Hairpipe

When and where the first hairpipe beads were used and made is uncertain. However, archeological research and deductive reasoning can help us form a basic idea.

There may have been hairpipe beads of clay or stone, yet those that were found were made of shell. Since shell is obtained primarily near the coasts, the beads would be made there, or near there. Then through trade, or gift exchange, they were dispersed to other areas not near the point of origin.

Archeoligical finds have dated the oldest known shell hairpipe bead at about 4,000 years old. However, more recent finds reveal hairpipe style beads made of glass, brass and silver. These were obviously obtained in trade during the colonial period. These finds are dated anywhere from about 1624 to around 1800 and occur primarily in the eastern areas of the U.S.

Making & Trading Shell & Bone Hairpipe

It was discovered early on by pilgrims & settlers that beads were held in high value among Native American people. There were minor industries in colonial times for the making of Wampum beads. In particular, the hairpipe bead was prized and could bring greater returns on a trade. That's probably why the manufacturing of hairpipe beads, for trade, became a minor industry after the American Civil War.

It was about 100 years earlier, around 1776, that The Campbell Wampum business was started in Bergen Co., N.J.. The Campbell family made hairpipe beads from west indian conch shell obtained in trade from New York city docks. These hairpipe were then sold to traders, goverment officials and others specifically for use in the Indian trade out west.

Historical archives, such as photos and other documents reveal the presence of these shell hairpipe among Native people out west as early as 1779 and as late as 1890.

Later, around 1878 others began manufacturing hairpipe from bone. These replaced the shell hairpipe in the trade market and continued to be made on into the early 1900s'.

The bone hairpipe was the most popularly used in the northern plains decorative arts created during the trade goods period of the 1890s'.

The Survival & Resurgence of the Use of Hairpipe

Since 1900, hairpipe has continued to be used in decorative arts for traditional uses, as well as for the ongoing Indian Trade goods market.

Yet, it wasn't until the 1960s' during a period of modern Indian activism that the hairpipe regained widespread popularity in Native American decorative arts. Native American activists began wearing Hairpipe chokers, particularly during public appearances.

After the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, by the Independent Oglala Nation, American Indian activists again began incorporating spent shell casing into the Battle Dress chokers they were making. All of this initiated a resurgence in the popularity of hairpipe.

Today hairpipe beads continue to grow in popularity and are being used by native and non-native artists and craftsmen alike. People are again expanding on the use of hairpipe beads to enhance a variety of artistic or craft creations.

The Many Uses of The Hairpipe Bead

Historical documentation, such as photos or drawings in archives, indicates the use of hairpipe beads by Native Americans to create ear, hair and neck pendants, necklaces, as well as chokers, breastplates and bandoliers.

A survey of Native American decorative arts today finds the hairpipe used not only as described above, but also in a variety of other ways.

I have seen broader uses of the hairpipe, as well as a greater selection of the types of hairpipe made from different materials and offering different design features. Some are stained, some dyed , some are textured and others offer special design cuts along the shaft of the bead.




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BATTLE DRESS WEB : Hairpipe Information Page
created by Richard Two Elk
TWO ELK ENTERPRISE:Battle Dress Jewelry
Est.: MARCH 1999
Updated: JANUARY 2012