Students of the American Indians and of Western history are familiar with the elaborate breastplates of long, light-colored, tubular beads worn by many prominent Plains Indian men that have been depicted in photographs taken since about 1870. Yet the story of how, when, and where these picturesque ornaments originated and how the custom of wearing them was diffused widely among the Plains Indians and their neighbors has never been told. One may search in vain through the voluminous literature on the Plains tribes for a comprehensive discussion of this problem.
I recall that Dr. Leslie Spier referred to this unsolved problem in one of his always stimulating classes at the Yale University Graduate School in the period 1932-34. I obtained valuable information on some important historical aspects of the question while stationed on the Blackfeet Reservation, Mont., in the early 1940's. But it was not until after I joined the staff of the Smithsonian Institution in 1946 and became well acquainted with the wealth of ethnological specimens and dated drawings and paintings in the collections of the Division of Ethnology, United States National Museum, and with the outstanding collection of early, dated photographs in the Bureau of American Ethnology, that I began to realize that sufficient evidence might be gathered to provide a solution to this problem. As I became more familiar with the evidence obtained from these and other sources, I came to realize that the question was but one facet of a more complex one involving various Indian uses of a type of long, cylindrical ornament known to Indian traders since late colonial times as a "hair pipe."
Students of the material culture of the historic tribes commonly utilize three classes of source materials: (1) the verbal testimony of Indian informants, (2) references in the published literature, and (3) ethnological specimens in museum collections. The present study, however, required delving into the history of the Plains Indians beyond the period covered by the memories of living informants. The published literature on the subject was found to be grossly inadequate. I found, however, that the lacunae in the literature and the historical limitations of fieldwork could be overcome in large measure by careful study of dated ethnological specimens, drawings, paintings, and photographs and by tedious search of archival records. Perhaps, then, this study may serve not only as a solution to a particular problem, but [p. 34] also as a demonstration of the results that can be achieved through the exploitation of these research tools in the investigation of problems of change and stability in American Indian material culture.
In the course of this study I have incurred heavy obligations to many individuals who have generously given of their time and specialized knowledge to assist me. I am indebted to John Witthoft, Pennsylvania State Archaeologist, Harrisburg, Pa.; to Arthur A. Futer, New Holland, Pa.; to Kenneth E. Kidd, Royal Ontario Museum of Archeology, Toronto, Canada; to Glenn Black, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.; and to Raymond S. Baby, Ohio State Museum, Columbus, Ohio, for specific information on the archeological occurrences of long, cylindrical ornaments of glass and of metal in historic sites of the Eastern Woodlands. J. C. Storms, of Park Ridge, N.J., patiently recalled for me his boyhood acquaintance with the last of the shell hair-pipe makers of that town. Mrs. Mary S. Curtis, curator, Bergen County Historical Society, North Hackensack, N.J., graciously searched the county records for information on the Campbell family of wampum makers. Frank and Joseph Sherburne, merchants of Browning, Mont., told me of their father's important role in the invention of the bone hair pipe. J. V. Hurson and Edward Wentworth, both of Armour & Co., and Carl V. Otto, vice president, Missouri Meerschaum Co., Washington, Mo., kindly supplied information pertaining to the development of the bone hair pipe. The late Robert A. Boake, Indian trader of Anadarko, Okla., and John Choloff of Pine Ridge Reservation, S. Dak., told me of their trade in bone hair pipes, while Indian informants of the Blackfeet, Blood, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, and Western Oklahoma Consolidated Agency furnished information on the use of hair pipes by their respective tribes. James M. Luongo, president, Plume Trading & Sales Co., Inc., of New York City, informed me of his firm's present-day trade in bone hair pipes.
Archival records furnished the greater part of the data here presented on the early distribution of hair pipes by traders. I am indebted to Marius Barbeau, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, Canada, for a copy of his notes on trade goods taken during his studies in the Archives of the Seminary of Quebec, Laval University, Quebec, Canada; to Mrs. Alice J. Turnham, director, McGill University Museums, Montreal, Canada, for information on the sale of hair pipes contained in the account book of James and Andrew McGill; to Mrs. Frances Biese, archivist, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Mo., for locating references to trade in hair pipes in the extensive manuscript collections of that society; and to Marshall Moody of the National Archives for aid in finding references to hair pipes in the records of the Office of Indian Trade. I am grateful [p. 35] to Dorothy C. Barck, librarian, The New York Historical Society, for permission to examine the American Fur Co. papers in that library.
Mrs. Margaret Blaker facilitated my examination of the thousands of photographs of North American Indians in the Bureau of American Ethnology. The Chicago Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, kindly permitted my examination of their extensive collections of photographs of Plains Indians.
I shall always be grateful to Prince Karl Viktor zu Wied, of Munich, Germany, for permission to examine the 118 original drawings and watercolors, executed by Carl Bodmer on his visit to the Upper Missouri in 1833-34, which were brought to the United States for temporary exhibition in 1953. Dr. Josef Röder showed me photographs of 100 other Bodmer originals in the possession of the estate of Prince Maximilian zu Wied.