The most common type of hair pipe in use among the Plains Indians for three-quarters of a century prior to 1880, was one made from the lip of the West Indian conch (Strombus gigas) by Whites in New Jersey. Traders who supplied the Indians with these shell hair pipes sometimes referred to them as "wampum hair pipes."


The center of commercial manufacture of shell hair pipes for the Indian trade was the little town of Pascack (now Park Ridge) in Bergen County, N.J. Dutch settlers in Bergen County made clamshell wampum for the Indian trade in colonial times. Manufacture of hair pipes appears to have been a development from that earlier wampum industry. The apparent absence of these commercially made hair pipes of shell in historic Indian sites of the pre-Revolutionary War period in the Northeast and in the Great Plains, coupled with the lack of contemporary records of trade in these artifacts prior to 1799, suggest that manufacture of these articles was begun between the years 1776 and 1798.

In the history of shell hair-pipe making in Bergen County one family has played a dominant role. They were the descendants of Irish-born William Campbell who settled at Schraalenburg in 1735. "His son John, two grandsons, four great-grandsons, and two or more great-great-grandsons became the renowned family of wampum makers. The original homestead of John W. Campbell and wife, Letitia Van Valen, of one hundred acres, was at Pascack, 25 miles from New York. They settled there prior to 1775, and began manufacturing wampum" (Westervelt, 1924, p. 9). Doubtless the Campbells [p. 43] learned the methods employed by their Dutch neighbors of working clamshells into wampum and did not begin to make hair pipes until after they had become proficient in shaping and drilling clamshells. Although the name of the inventor of the shell hair pipe is not definitely known, it may be that this distinction belongs to John W. Campbell (born July 1, 1747, died March 15, 1826), founder of the Campbell wampum business. The invention may have been inspired by a desire on the part of Indian traders to obtain a cheaper substitute for the silver hair pipe which would be acceptable to the Indians.

At the hands of successive generations of Campbells, hair-pipe making developed from a simple, hand-tooled, home industry into a factory operation in which the most difficult and precise work was performed by crude machinery which they invented. In the mid-19th century the making of hair pipes for the Indian trade was considered one of the important industries of Bergen County. Yet the thrifty, industrious Campbells continued to regard it as a seasonal occupation. They worked hard at it from October to April. The rest of the year they farmed. A contemporary map of Park Ridge, N.J., about 1876, shows the location of the Campbell Brothers' Wampum Mill on Pascack Brook, a tributary of the Hackensack River. (See pl.14.) This map also depicts the farms of three of the four Campbell brothers (pl.14). The mill had been built in 1860 to utilize waterpower for turning the grinding and polishing wheels. Plate 15, a, shows the exterior of this factory as it appeared while still in use in 1886.

The making of hair pipes required the use of a larger and thicker shell than the Rockaway clam previously employed in the manufacture of clamshell wampum. In the West Indian conch (Strombus gigas) the Campbells found a shell suitable for hair pipes. According to Westervelt (1924, p. 16) these shells were brought from West Indian ports as ballast to New York City docks, where the Campbells purchased them in lots of five and ten thousand. The large 5-pound shells were preferred.

It was common for the Campbells to sell quantities of these shells to other workers in the neighborhood. In their homes the neighbors broke out long sections of shell from the lips of the conch with pick and chisel. Then the Campbells bought back the thick, roughly shaped pieces for drilling and finishing. The Campbells regarded their finishing methods as trade secrets. Among these were the baking of shell pipes in the family oven to whiten them, the soaking of pipes in buttermilk to soften them for drilling, and the tempering of metal drills in sheep's tallow. The pipes were ground to shape by holding them against grindstones with wooden pinchers. They were highly polished with Rockaway sand and water.

[p. 44]

By far the most difficult step in the manufacturing process was that of drilling the long central holes. In the early period of hair-pipe making the Campbells used the same tools and methods of drilling that had been used in drilling clamshells in the manufacture of wampum. As Daniel Campbell explained it, the drillers "used to wear a sort of breastplate against which they rested a block to hold them. Then they had a spool with a string around it to revolve it. The drill was put into this spool and the end placed in the pipe. Then the string was pulled back and forth and the drill went into the pipe. Halfway through, the pipe was reversed and the drill sent through the other end. The trick was in making the two holes meet in the middle. Lots of pipes were spoiled by the drill getting in crooked" (Newark Evening News, 1923, p. 2-x) .

I am indebted to J. C. Storms for the photograph of this simple bow drill shown in plate 16, a. Drilling hair pipes with such primitive equipment was undoubtedly a difficult, time-consuming operation. Yet some skilled workers were able to drill 100 pipes a day with this hand tool.

The most ingenious, laborsaving invention of the Campbells was the pipe-drilling machine, capable of drilling 6 pipes simultaneously and increasing an individual's output to 400 pipes per day. This crude but effective machine was the product of the combined skill of James Campbell, the family's mechanical genius, and Daniel Campbell, an able carpenter. Daniel's son claimed this machine had been in use for some time before he began to make hair pipes about the year 1866.

The pipe-drilling machine was made entirely from materials found on the Campbells' farms - wood, metal, and leather belting. To a crude wooden framework was attached the mechanism, which consisted of six handmade steel drills so placed as to make precise contact with the centers of the ends of six hair pipes fastened in metal troughs opposite the drills. Pipes and drills were lowered by a lever into a metal tank containing water, and a crank was turned rotating the drills and drilling the pipes halfway through. The drills were withdrawn, the pipes reversed and drilled from the other ends to the center. The water kept the pipes cool and washed the particles of shell from the bored holes. Drills were sharpened on a grindstone attached to the framework of the machine itself. They were held in a candle flame until red hot and then thrust into melted sheep's tallow to temper them. The tallow was from sheep raised on the family farms. The entire mechanism was so simple that boys of the family could, and often did, operate it.

This ingenious machine was the closely guarded secret that enabled the Campbells to maintain a near monopoly of hair-pipe drilling and [p. 45] thus virtual control of the production of hair pipes. J. C. Storms, octogenarian resident of Park Ridge, who as a former neighbor of the Campbells knew the last two generations of hair-pipe makers, told me that they kept one machine on the upper floor of an outbuilding. That floor was entered by a trapdoor through which only members of the family were permitted to pass. Mr. Storms said two of these machines were made and used by the Campbells. He recently secured the only remaining pipe-drilling machine for the collections of the Pascack Historical Museum, Park Ridge, N.J. Mr. Storms has kindly furnished the photograph of this machine reproduced in plate 16, b.

Shell hair pipes were manufactured in lengths ranging from 1 inches to 6 inches. They are characteristically barrel shaped, with center diameters about 3/8 inch, tapering to end diameters of less than 1/4 inch. The longitudinal hole is about 1/8 inch in diameter.

On plate 17 are illustrated the successive stages in the manufacture of a shell hair pipe. At the left is an unworked shell of the Strombus gigas (a). Next to it is a portion of the thickened lip of the shell (b) broken out for making into a hair pipe. Plate 17, c, shows a fragment of a hair pipe blocked out preparatory to drilling; d, a drilled but only partially finished pipe; e, a shaped but unpolished pipe 4 7/8 inches long; and f, a polished and completed hair pipe 2 inches in length. All specimens shown, other than the unworked shell, were collected at the Campbells' Wampum Factory and are now in the Division of Ethnology, United States National Museum. The drilled specimens were obtained by Erminnie A. Smith on a visit to the factory in 1884. At that time four aged Campbell brothers, the youngest of whom was about 70 years old, were still making hair pipes for the Indian trade. In 1886, the artist Frank M. Gregory visited the factory and made the illustrations appearing in plate 15. Plate 15, b, shows the four brothers at work. It clearly indicates a pile of conch-shell debris in the lower left-hand corner. The man at the far right is shaping a shell gorget, known to the trade as a "moon," on a grindstone. The moons were also made from the Strombus gigas. They were turned out in considerable quantities by the Campbells. Abraham, last of the four brothers, died in 1889. Although several members of the next generation of Campbells had participated in hair-pipe manufacture they did not continue to produce them. With the death of Abraham, the making of shell hair pipes for the Indian trade came to an end.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which other residents of Bergen County engaged in the manufacture of shell hair pipes. Westervelt (1924) acknowledged that neighbors of the Campbells played active parts in the early stages of manufacture, but she did not mention their production of finished hair pipes. However, the records [p. 46] of the American Fur Co. reveal that there must have been at least one rival concern in 1836. Beside an order for 3,000 inches of hair pipes placed by P. Chouteau & Co. of St. Louis, with the New York office of the American Fur Co. in that year, appears the notation "Wm. Hopper 1000 and S. Campbell 2000" (N.Y. Hist. Soc. MS. A, pp. 5-6) . There were several William Hoppers at that period in Bergen County. It is not possible to determine which one of them was the maker of hair pipes or to learn more of the extent of his output. There is also a suggestion that others made hair pipes in the laconic statement attributed to a member of the Campbell family in the mid-eighties, to the effect that "none of 'em ever could make hair pipe equal to our'n" (Norton, 1888, p. 594). 2


The New Jersey hair-pipe makers did not sell their products directly to the Indians. Rather they sold hair pipes wholesale to New York City merchants, some of whom were representatives of the great trading companies and others middlemen who resold the hair pipes to firms of Indian traders in the United States and Canada.

Descendants of the Campbell shell workers claimed that John Jacob Astor, the most enterprising of all Indian traders, "laid the foundation of his great wealth through the Campbells' wampum" (Westervelt, 1924, p. 23). This statement grossly underestimates both the variety and complexity of Astor's business interests in the years following his arrival in New York from Europe in 1784. Nevertheless Astor did play an important role in the marketing of hair pipes at an early period. In the mid-eighties he collected furs in the Hudson Valley, at which time he may have met the Campbells and taken an interest in marketing their shell products. As early as 1788, Astor began to make annual trips to Montreal to buy furs from Canadian traders (Porter, 1931, vol.1, pp. 27-50). However, the earliest reference I have found to his trade in hair pipes appears in a letter from Daniel Sutherland, in charge of the Montreal office of the XY Co., to J. J. Astor, Esq., dated November 27, 1802, requesting him to purchase clamshell wampum and "one thousand Hair pipes" for his firm (Archives Sem. of Quebec., MS. A).

Three years earlier, in March 1799, the Montreal firm of James and Andrew McGill was purchasing wampum and hair pipes from [p. 47] Thomas Delves, listed in the New York City Directory for 1799 as "merchant, 56 Wall and Store 133 Front" Street. The quantities purchased were not listed (McGill Univ. Mus., MS. A, p. 259).

On April 1, 1802, the Montreal firm of Forsyth, Richardson & Co., then operating in opposition to the Northwest Co., purchased "695 Hairpipes" for its trade. In 1804 the Northwest Co. ordered "3971 Inches Hair Pipes at 4d NYK Cy." for its 1805 trading outfit (Archives Sem. Quebec. MS. B, C).

The Northwest Co. was the first Canadian trading company known to have offered hair pipes to the Plains Indians of the Upper Missouri. During his sojourn among the Crow Indians in the summer of 1805, Francois Larocque purchased eight beaverpelts and a horse from a member of that tribe. Among the articles he gave in return were "two Wampoon hair pipes" (Larocque, 1910, p. 36). In July of the next year Alexander Henry, also of the Northwest Co., gave "2 wampum hair pipes" and other articles to a Hidatsa Indian in exchange for a horse (Henry and Thompson, 1897, vol.1, p. 355).

Evidence that Auguste Chouteau, leading St. Louis trader, was employing hair pipes in the Indian trade west of the Missis- sippi prior to the Louisiana Purchase appears in an invoice of trade goods which he purchased from Rd. Pattinson & Co. at Michilimakinac, June 17, 1802. This order included "200 white hair Pipes" (Mo. Hist. Soc., MS. A).

We know that Chouteau sold hair pipes to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, as a letter from Meriwether Lewis to William Clark in April, 1804, stated "I can't find Hair pipes purchased of Mr. Chouteau. Mr. Hays says they are necissary [sic]" (Mo. Hist. Soc., MS. B). The explorers either must have located the missing hair pipes or purchased more of them before they set out on their voyage of discovery, May 14, 1804, for their baling invoice of "Sundries for Indian Presents" listed "24 Wampum Hairpipes." They planned to distribute these hair pipes systematically among prominent Indians encountered, thus: 2 hair pipes for the first chiefs of the Oto and Pawnee, 1 for the first chief of the Ponca or any other tribe they might meet down river from the Omaha, 1 for the second chief of the Omaha, and others for chiefs of tribes as yet unknown to them whom they might meet beyond the Mandan (Lewis and Clark, vol. 6. pp. 270-276) .

In June 1807, the Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Territory of Louisiana, sitting in St. Louis, considered the case of one Francis Hosler, accused of unlicensed trading with the Omaha. Among the articles he was charged with illegally selling the Omaha were "forty two Hair pipes" and 5,300 pieces of wampum (Mo. Hist. Soc., MS. C).

The United States Government supplied some shell hair pipes to their factories operated on or west of the Mississippi River in the [p. 48] first decade of the 19th century. The hair pipes apparently were purchased directly from New Jersey manufacturers by Joseph Lopes Dias, New York agent for the Superintendent of Indian trade. In May 1808, "50 Hair Pipes 179 1/4 Inches at 4" were purchased and sent to the Lemoin Factory at Fort Madison in present Iowa (National Archives., MS. B, p. 9) . That post supplied the Sauk and Fox Indians. Evidence that shell hair pipes were furnished Fort Osage on the Missouri, westernmost of the Government Factories, appears in an inventory of merchandise on hand at that establishment, September 30, 1810, listing:

   32 silver hair pipes at 40 _____________________$12.80
   1 wampum hair pipe at 15___________________________.15
                                           [National Archives, MS. D.]

Perhaps the relative cheapness of the shell hair pipes (3/8 the value of silver ones) accounted for the fact that the supply of them was nearly exhausted at the time of inventory.

When John Jacob Astor's American Fur Co. opened its Western Division in St. Louis and thus entered the Upper Missouri trade, shell hair pipes were among the manufactured items offered by that firm. An inventory of its stock remaining on hand in St. Louis, October 21, 1822, lists:

   100 Wampum Hair Pipes.  350 inches at 4_______$15.75
                                        [Mo. Hist. Soc., MS. D, p. 16]

The ledger book of that company listed the quantities and inventory values of shell hair pipes furnished to its individual outfits trading with specific Upper Missouri tribes between the fall of 1831 and the spring of 1833:

   Ree (Arikara) Outfit of Dominique Lachapelle, Oct. 17, 1831:
      15 pairs Wampum H. Pipes.  140 in. at 6_____$8.40
   Poncau (Ponca) Outfit of Louis Lafleur, Oct. 31, 1831:
      11 Pairs Wampum Hair Pipes.  88 in. at 6____$5.28
   White River Outfit (Sioux) under D. Papin, Feb. 23, 1832:
      60 in. Wampum Hair Pipes at 6_____________  $3.60
   Ogallallah (Oglala) Outfit of Colin Campbell, Oct. 1832:
      17 Prs. Wampum Hair Pipes.  69 in. at 6_____$4.14
   Brule Outfit of Gabriel P. Cerre, Nov. 1832:
      10 Prs. Wampum Hair Pipes.  60 in. at 6_____$3.60
   Honcpapas (Hunkpapa) Outfit of Emille Punceau, Nov. 11, 1832:
      28 in. Wampum Hair Pipes at 6_______________$2.88
   Fort Clark (Mandan) Outfit, 1832, Nov. 23, 1832:
      45 Hair Pipes.  200 in. at 5 New York______$10.00
   Honcpapa (Hunkpapa) Outfit of E. Punceau, March 1933:
      60 in. Wampum Hair Pipes at 6_______________$3.60
   Fort Union in charge of James A. Hamilton, March 28, 1833:
      1011 in. Hair Pipes at 6 10/100____________$61.67
                              [Mo. Hist. Soc., MS. D, pp. 23-88.]

[p. 49]

These figures show that the company then carried hair pipes at an inventory value of 5 cents per inch in New York, 6 cents per inch in the Sioux country and 6 1/10 cents per inch at the upriver post of Fort Union. The increases represent transportation and handling charges. In none of the orders listed did the length of the hair pipes average greater than 4 2/3 inches. It is significant that the quantities of hair pipes furnished the Arikara, Mandan, Ponca, and the several Teton Dakota tribes were small in comparison with the number of pipes consigned to Fort Union where the Assiniboin, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Crow, and some Blackfoot traded. In fact the single consignment to Fort Union was almost double the quantity supplied all the other outfits combined. Perhaps this greater demand for hair pipes on the part of the northern tribes was due to the early stimulus to trade in these articles exerted upon those tribes by Northwest Co. traders a quarter century earlier. These figures support the statement of the experienced trader, Edwin T. Denig, made about 1854, to the effect that the upper nations (i.e., those trading at Fort Union and above) preferred shell ornaments, while the Sioux showed a greater fondness for silver ones (arm and wrist bands, gorgets, brooches, ear wheels, finger rings, and ear bobs) (Denig, 1930, p. 591) .

After Astor retired from the fur trade his successors in the trade of the Upper Missouri, Pratte, Chouteau and Co. of St. Louis, continued to purchase shell hair pipes through the American Fur Co's. New York office. Let us follow a typical transaction:

On December 12, 1834, Pratte, Chouteau and Co. placed an order with the American Fur Co. in New York for "6000 inches Wampum Hair pipes assd. size, mostly large," with instructions for the order to be shipped early the next February via New Orleans. They complained that some hair pipes of their previous order had not been "bored through." In the New York office the notation "S. Campbell" was placed beside this order. On December 31, Ramsey Crooks, of the American Fur Co., wrote to Samuel Campbell, Pierson's Post Office, Franklin, Bergen County, N.J.:

We want 3250 inches Wampum Hair Pipes, none less than 5 inches long, and not many of them over 6 inches - You must have them here by the first day of February next, or say 4 weeks from this time, and we shall pay you the same price as last season - Some of those you furnished last winter were not bored entirely through - This will not do, and I hope such deception will never be practiced again. [N.Y. Hist. Soc., MS. B, pp. 3, 29]

Presumably these hair pipes were received in St. Louis in time to reach the upriver posts on the Missouri the following summer for [p. 50] trade to the Indians through the ensuing winter months. On September 9, 1835, Pratte, Chouteau & Co. placed another order:

   2000 inches wampum hair pipes 3 in. Ea.
   5000 inches wampum hair pipes 4 to 6 in. Ea.

In placing this order they also commented:

The Hair Pipes in spite of the assurances of the makers and sellers are but little better this year than last years were. They appear very well drilled at both ends, but the holes don't meet in the middle. Be a little more particular in receiving them, and you will be able to detect the cheat. [N.Y. Hist. Soc., MS. B, pp. 154-155.]

In 1836 Pratte, Chouteau and Co. placed two orders totaling 5,000 inches of wampum hair pipes. New York office notations on these orders indicate that all but 1,000 inches of the hair pipes were purchased from the Campbells (New York Hist. Soc., MS. A, pp. 5-6,23) .

This correspondence of the middle 1830's reveals an increasing demand for hair pipes in the Upper Missouri trade over the period 1831-33. It also shows the difficulties encountered by the manufacturers in producing greater and greater numbers of hair pipes, each of which had to be laboriously drilled with the hand-operated drill. Possibly this pressure for greater output was responsible for the production of the inaccurately drilled pipes complained of. Probably it was this increasing pressure for more and more hair pipes to satisfy the demands of the Indians that led eventually to the perfection of the time- and labor-saving drilling machine by the Campbells.

A letter from the American Fur Co. to Samuel Campbell, dated November 21, 1838, designated the current price for shell hair pipes paid the makers as 3 cents per inch (New York Hist. Soc., MS. D).

Although it is most probable that hair pipes began to reach the Southern Plains Indians through Indian intermediaries, itinerant white traders, or traders operating from fixed posts, such as Natchitoches, La., Fort Gibson or Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River, before 1830, the earliest specific reference I have found to the purchase of shell hair pipes for trade with the Indians of that section is dated June 10, 1836. On that date Auguste P. Chouteau, of St. Louis, placed an order with the American Fur Co. in New York for "2,000 inches of Wampum Hair Pipes, longest size 4" to 6" " for use in "trade with the Prairie Indians of Arkansas" (New York Hist. Soc., MS. B, p. 253) . Colonel Chouteau had established a trading post among the Comanche and their neighbors at Camp Holmes on Cache Creek near present Fort Sill, Okla., in 1835 (Van Zandt, 1935, pp. 319-322) . Probably many if not all of the hair pipes Chouteau purchased in 1836 were traded to Indians at that first American post in the Comanche and Kiowa country. This post was abandoned in 1838. However, in 1839 or 1840 an American named Abel Warren built an independent trading [p. 51] post near the mouth of Cache Creek. In 1842 a part of his stock included "wampum beads, which they [Comanche] wore around their necks in great quantities. These beads were from two to four inches long, pure white and resembled clay pipe stems in size. They were highly esteemed and served the part of currency in their dealings" (Clift, 1924, p. 139) . The length of these articles indicates that they were hair pipes.

Among the presents given to Comanche Indians by Capt. R. B. Marcy's Red River Exploring Expedition in 1854 were "long wampum beads." W. P. Parker, a member of the party, noted the lively demand for these items "which are procured but in one place, a small town in New Jersey," and observed that Naroni, a Southern Comanche chief, was wearing "a wampum necklace almost equal to a breast plate" (Parker, 1856, pp. 194, 201-202) . These "long wampum beads" must have been hair pipes.

This brief review of the available evidence on the distribution of shell hair pipes among the Plains Indians prior to 1855 is sufficient to show how this product of New Jersey industry was distributed widely over the area by enterprising white men of the great trading companies from both Canada and the United States, by independent traders, and by agents of the United States Government.

During the first half of the 19th century, Plains Indian demand for hair pipes increased. Nevertheless, our data suggest that the Indians were not uniformly interested in hair pipes. Prior to about 1850 the greatest demand for these articles appears to have occurred among the tribes in the vicinity of Fort Union on the Upper Missouri and among the tribes living on the Southern Plains. The mighty, warlike Teton Dakota were then but mildly interested in these baubles.

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