[p. 37]


For nearly two centuries white men who have traded with the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains have referred to a tubular bead measuring 1 inches or more in length which they carried in stock by the name of "hair pipe." The origin of the name is obscure. Certainly the name itself fails to suggest the variety of ways in which Indians employed these long beads as articles of personal adornment. Nor should the application of this name to articles made by Whites for trade to Indians identify this form of ornament as a white man's invention. It appears more probable that the trade hair pipe was a white man's substitute for a type of long, cylindrical ornament which had its origin in prehistoric Indian culture.


The wearing of hollow, cylindrical beads, 1 inches or more in length, as costume ornaments was a custom known to prehistoric Indians of the Eastern United States. There is archeological evidence of Indian use of long, tubular beads of bone, shell, copper, and stone before the time of Columbus.

Of these prehistoric ornaments, the long shell bead, made from the column of the marine conch, seems to have been employed most widely over an extended period of time in the intertribal trade of prehistoric peoples. Trade in these ornaments and/or the marine shells from which they were made is strongly indicated by the discoveries of these beads in archeological sites in the interior of the Eastern Woodlands far removed from the seacoast habitat of the marine conch.

Eight long, cylindrical conch columella beads were found in a necklace worn by an Indian child buried at a depth of 5 feet at the Perry site on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama (Webb and DeJarnette, 1942, p. 64, pl. 96, fig. 1). This burial in the Archaic horizon [p. 38] may be more than 4,000 years old. Webb and DeJarnette (ibid., p. 312) have listed the wearing of long, conch columella beads as a trait typical of the nonagricultural, non-pottery-making shell mound dwellers of the Pickwick Basin.

The wearing of longitudinally drilled, conch columella beads, ranging in length from 12.5 cm. to over 20 cm., also was typical of more sophisticated Indians of the Middle Woodland period in eastern Tennessee. Numbers of these beads were found in graves of Hamilton Focus horizon sites in that area. A drawing reconstructing the costume of a woman of that culture shows two of these long, shell beads in her necklace (Lewis and Kneberg, 1946, p. 127, pls. 80A, 99). The fact that these sites contained no discarded remnants of conch shells from which beads were made suggests that the beads were obtained in trade from Indians living nearer the seacoast.

Aboriginal trade in the long, tubular, conch columella beads over a still wider area is indicated by finds of these ornaments in sites of the Middle Woodland period in western New York and southern Ontario (Richie, 1944, p. 362, pls. 67, 69). Richard S. MacNeish (in Griffin, 1952, pp. 49-50) listed the use of conch columella beads as a characteristic trait of the Point Peninsula III horizon in western New York.

At the late prehistoric Feurt Mounds and Village site, about 5 miles north of Portsmouth, Ohio, tubular beads of bird bones and of conch columella were found in necklaces accompanying burials. Long, cylindrical beads of rolled copper also were found at that site. These beads of three different materials reveal the popularity of hollow, tubular ornaments among Indians of the Ohio Valley shortly before the beginning of the historic period (Mills, 1922, figs. 12, 17, 18, 61).

James Adair noted the survival of the wearing of long, conch columella beads among southeastern Indians (Chickasaw, Creeks, and/or Cherokee) in the early historic period. Apparently writing of the customs of these Indians in the period shortly after white contact, but before European trade goods had been introduced among them in quantity, he stated:

Formerly four deer-skins was the price of a large conch shell bead, about the length and thickness of a man's forefinger; which they fixed to the crown of their head, as an high ornament -- so greatly they valued them.
[Adair, 1775, p. 170.]

This appears to be the only certain early historic reference to a method of wearing long, conch-shell beads by Indians. It would appear logical that the name "hair pipe" consistently applied by traders to the long, hollow, cylindrical ornaments supplied to Indians of the Woodlands and Plains in later years was derived from the traders' knowledge of Indian usage as hair ornaments of roughly similar-appearing articles of native manufacture.

[p. 39]


Before the middle of the 17th-century white traders introduced long, tubular glass beads of European manufacture among some tribes of the northeastern woodlands. These trade beads seem to have been accepted by the Indians as substitutes for native-made tubular ornaments.

In 1946, Kenneth E. Kidd excavated a Huron Indian ossuary in Tiny Township, Simcoe County, Ontario, which he believed to have been the ossuary visited by the Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf in 1636, and to have contained burials of Huron Indians who died between the years about 1624 and 1636. Scattered throughout the ossuary were grave goods of native and European manufacture. Included among them were a number of long, tubular glass beads, some of twisted glass, examples of which are illustrated in figure 123 of Kidd's report on this site (Kidd, 1953). The ossuary also contained a number of tubular beads of dull-rcd slate (also shown in fig. 123). Kidd concluded that the glass trade beads had been introduced in imitation of the native-made slate beads. However, these ornaments were not associated with the skeletal materials sufficiently closely to illustrate their method of use as ornaments (ibid., pp. 359-379).

John Witthoft, Pennsylvania State archeologist, has kindly informed me of the finding of a number of tubular, glass trade beads at the Strickler site, Washingtonboro, Lancaster County, Pa., in the region occupied by the Susquehanna Indians in the 17th century. Witthoft stated that the site may be dated between 1640 and 1675, and that the glass beads seem to be in a trade-goods context of the 1640's. They are, therefore, nearly contemporaneous with the tubular glass beads of the Huron ossuary in Ontario. Nearly two decades ago Donald Cadzow (1936, p. 92) expressed the opinion that the glass beads of the Strickler site were introduced by the French and may have reached the Susquehanna Indians through their alliance with the Huron.

About 30 tubular glass beads have been found at the Strickler site. Arthur Futer, of New Holland, Pa., who excavated most of the graves at this site, kindly sent me two of the glass beads for study. They are reproduced in plate 13, a and b. Both are of translucent, twisted, green glass. Figure a is 5 7/8 inches long, 3/16 inch in diameter, and has a narrow hole less than 1/16 inch in diameter through the center of its length. The twist is gradual, forming not quite a complete revolution in the length of the specimen. Figure b is a little shorter (5 3/4 inches) and a little thicker (1/4 inch diameter), but the center hole has the same diameter. The twist is more pronounced. A complete revolution is made in 1 3/4 inches of length. Witthoft has informed me that these beads have been found in close association with the skulls in burials [p. 40] at the Strickler site. There were never more than four of them at the sides of a single skull. Probably the Indians used them for hair ornaments.

Cadzow (1936, p. 82) mentioned the finding of tubular, conch-shell beads in association with a burial at the Strickler site. This would suggest that among the Susquehanna the tubular glass beads may have been accepted as substitutes for earlier, native-made, conch columella beads.

The case of the tubular glass beads as here presented is of particular interest as an indication of the progress made by white traders among the Indians of the northern woodlands before the middle of the 17th century in getting Indians to accept long, tubular beads manufactured by white men as substitutes for tubular ornaments of native origin. We can only speculate as to the motives of the Indians in accepting the glass substitutes. We have no information on the relative cost of native-made and European-made tubular beads in trade at that time. Perhaps the Indians were attracted to these early, glass, tubular beads because of their attractive colors and their initial rarity. Certainly the fragility of the glass material was not in its favor. Surely they were much less practical ornaments than were the manufactured tubular ornaments offered Indians by traders in later colonial times.


The first recorded use of the term "hair pipe" in the Indian trade of which I have knowledge, had reference to silver ornaments furnished Indians of the Ohio Valley in 1767. On October 18th of that year George Morgan of Fort Pitt ordered from Boynton and Wharton of Philadelphia two dozen silver hair pipes (Gillingham, 1934, pp. 114-115). The same article may have been known to traders in the Ohio Valley by the name "hair bob" as early as 1760. In that year several dozen hair bobs made by Philadelphia silversmiths were sent to Pittsburgh (Gillingham, 1936, pp. 14, 16-19). I find no contemporary use of the terms "hair bobs" and "hair pipes" in the lists of silver ornaments employed in the Pennsylvania Indian trade of the 1760's. The name "hair bob" seems to have disappeared from these lists after the name "hair pipe" first appeared in 1767.

Apparently the numbers of silver hair pipes furnished the western Indians in colonial times never was great. By far the largest order for these articles, dated August 27, 1784, listed by Gillingham (1934, p. 122) comprised 12 dozen hair pipes to be used in the purchase of land in the State of Pennsylvania.

No specimens of silver hair pipes are known to have been found in archeological sites in Pennsylvania. Nor does there seem to be a record of the finding of these specimens in documented historic sites [p. 41] lower down the Ohio Valley. There is, however, a rolled silver tube 3 3/16 inches long, tapering slightly toward one end from a maximum diameter of inch, in the Ohio State Museum. The silver is 0.023 inch thick. This specimen was excavated in 1899, from an Indian grave on the Blanchard River, 1 mile east of Ottawa, Ohio. The specimen bears no touchmark and cannot be dated. It may be an example of the article known to colonial records as a "silver hair pipe," but we cannot be positive of this identification. I am indebted to Raymond S. Baby, of the Ohio State Museum, for calling my attention to this specimen and for the photograph of it reproduced in plate 13,d.

Much more closely approximating the tapered form of articles known as hair pipes in the later Indian trade is an ingeniously made brass ornament found in an intrusive burial at the Angel site, Vanderburgh County, Ind., in 1940. The specimen is of rolled brass, 3 3/16 inches long, tapering from the center toward each end, and so cut that the overlap forms a straight line. Glenn Black, who kindly informed me of this find, stated that the specimen was found at the base of a skull on the left side, and that other grave goods associated with this burial appeared to date it after 1750 and probably about 1800. The shape of this ornament, illustrated in plate 13, c, closely resembles that of later and better known shell hair pipes made by Whites for the Indian trade.

There is evidence that both Canadian and American traders were offering silver hair pipes in the Indian trade during the first decade of the l9th century, and that these articles were then made in Montreal as well as in Philadelphia. On January 26,1801, Angus Mackintosh, at Sandwich, on the Detroit River, wrote to Robert Cruickshank, Montreal silversmith, placing an order for silver trade objects which included 12 hair pipes (Barbeau, 1940, pp. 128-130). On January 16, 1807, the United States Office of Indian Trade, Georgetown, D. C., placed an order for silver objects with John McMullen and Samuel Williamson, Philadelphia silversmiths, which included $25 worth of hair pipes (National Archives, MS. A). That silver hair pipes were furnished to Government Factories1 west of the Mississippi is proved by the record of a shipment of "142 P. Hair Pipes" valued at $52.58, or a little more than 38 cents each, to John B. Treat, agent in charge of Arkansas Post in 1807 (National Archives, MS. A). In the next year, 33 hair pipes were sent from the Office of Indian Trade in Georgetown, D.C., to the United States Trading House at Osage River. They were valued at 40 cents each (National Archives, MS. [p. 42] B, p.7). In 1809, 20 silver hair pipes, valued at 75 cents each, were forwarded to Fort Osage by William Clark (National Archives, MS. C, p. 278). An inventory of merchandise on hand at Fort Osage, September 30, 1810, listed 32 silver hair pipes, valued at 40 cents each (National Archives, MS. D).

These records show clearly that silver hair pipes were furnished to Government Factories trading with the Plains Indians in the first decade of the 19th century. However, the quantities of these articles involved in that trade seem to have been small. I have found no reference to any silver hair pipes traded to the Plains Indians in subsequent years, nor do there seem to be contemporary records of trade in silver hair pipes by private traders who were the competitors of the Government Factories for the business of Indians in the Osage Country in the first decade of the 19th century. Private traders appear to have favored less expensive hair pipes made of shell.

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