A common material for calumet pipe bowls is red pipestone or catlinite, a fine-grained easily-worked stone of a rich red color of the Coteau des Prairies, west of the Big Stone Lake in South Dakota. The quarries were formerly neutral ground among warring tribes; many sacred traditions are associated with the locality.
A type of herbal tobacco or mixture of herbs was usually reserved for special smoking occasions, with each region's people using the plants that were locally considered to have special qualities or a culturally condoned basis for ceremonial use.
Some northern Sioux people used long, stemmed pipes for ceremonies while others such as the Catawbas in the southeast used ceremonial pipes formed as round, footed bowls with a tubular smoke tip projecting from each cardinal direction on the bowl.
Sioux ceremonies included saying a prayer to each of the four cardinal directions and the earth and sky (reportedly viewed as female and male principles, respectively), then a little bit of tobacco would be sprinkled on the ground in recognition of the relationship connecting humans to all other parts of existence. Other Indian peoples used and use pipes in different ways, according to their personal or group beliefs, ceremonies, purposes and habits.
It should be clarified that the television image of a "chief" with long braids smoking a long, feathered "peacepipe" is a false, Hollywood fabrication that absolutely does not convey the variety of practices, pipe forms, or beliefs and ceremonial procedures of the thousands of Indian groups in pre-European North (and South) America.
Similarly, the word "peace pipe" is a European construct based on only one type of pipe and one way it was used. Ceremonial pipes were used by the northern Lakota Sioux Indians as a means of conveying prayers or wishes to the originating force/s or being/s, with construction of the pipe and the smoking mixture symbolically forming a bridge believed necessary for successful communication with non-human beings that influenced fates or outcomes.
In that world view, the pipestem was the Male Principle as well as the Animal World, hence sometimes a piece of fur was wrapped around it. The pipe bowl in that view represents the Female Principle and Plant Kingdom, while the pipe as a whole represents Creation in a sacred form that embodies as soon as the pipe bowl and stem are connected.
The tobacco being burned in a pipe under this belief system was thought to carry prayers to the attention of the being or beings or forces that create everything. Lakota tradition has it that White Buffalo Calf Woman, the aboriginal source of the pipe, instructed the Lakota people to hold the pipe stem upward during ceremonies as a sacred bridge between this and Wakan Tanka the creator's world.
According to oral traditions, and amply illustrated by pre-contact pipes in museums and tribal and private holdings, pipes were (and are now) adorned with feathers, fur, human or animal hair, bird wings, plants, beadwork, quills, carvings and other items having significance for the owner. "Peacepipes" may be palm-sized, short, round, horn-shaped, animal or human figurines, or short pipes as well as two foot long feathered reeds ending in an upright rather than round bowl. There are, of course, as many individualistic pipe-using traditions as pipes, and the formulaic, often-repeated "Lakota" way used in contemporary popular culture and intertribal pow-wows should not to be misunderstood as an historically accurate, universal, or reliably sourced practice, but rather as a means of forming a modern unifying tradition through the use of ceremonial constructs, repetition and an assertion of authority that permits inclusion if the rules are known and followed.
Several Native tribes make ceremonial pipes. The types of stones used vary by tribe and locality. Some of the known types of pipe stone and pipe materials are:
Clay - The Cherokee and Chickasaw both fashioned pipes made from fired clay that also employed small reed cane pipestems made from river cane. These pipes were made from aged river clay hardened in a hot fire.
Red Pipestone - Catlinite is an iron-rich, reddish, soft quartzite slate typically excavated from below groundwater level, as the stone erodes rapidly when exposed to the weather and outside air. Red pipestone was used by the Eastern Tribes, Western and Great Basin Tribes, and the Plains Tribes, with sources of the stone in Tennessee (South Central), Minnesota (Pipestone), and Utah (Delta, Uinta). Sacred pipestone comes from Pipestone, Minnesota. The quarry itself is located just north of the town at the Pipestone National Monument. Today only people of Native American ancestry are allowed to quarry the pipestone from this quarry. The pipestone or catlinite from this quarry is softer than any other catlinite.
Blue Pipestone - Also a form of catlinite, blue pipestone was used almost predominantly by the Plains Tribes for ceremonial pipes. Deposits of the stone are also found in South Dakota. The use of blue pipestone coincided with the arrival of the horse among the Plains Tribes.
Bluestone - a hard, greenish-blue quartzite stone from the southern Appalachian Mountains. After being worked, it takes on a decidedly greenish cast. This stone was used by several Eastern Woodlands tribes for pipemaking. Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw made pipes from bluestone. Several ancient Mississippian bluestone pipes have been discovered.
Green Pipestone - A white on green marbled cupric pipestone found in Wyoming and South Dakota and used by the Shoshone, Ute, and Plains Tribes for personal and ceremonial pipes. This stone was also used to carve sacred effigies and religious items.
Black Pipestone (South Dakota) - a soft, brittle, white on black marbled pipestone found in South Dakota and used by the Plains Tribes for ceremonial pipes.
Black Pipestone (Uinta) - an extremely hard black quartzite slate which has undergone metamorphic compression and is found in the southeastern drainage of the Uinta Mountains in Utah and Colorado. This stone was used by the Great Basin Tribes for war clubs and beautiful pipes that are jet black with a high gloss when polished. Stones which had tumbled down creeks and drainages were always selected, since these stones typically contained no cracks or defects.
Native Americans who learned the use of the bow and arrow rapidly advanced the concept in early pipemaking and employed bow drills that used hard white quartz points which, when combined with water, could bore out even the hardest of pipestones.
Early Native Americans employed moistened rawhide strips rolled in crushed white quartz and stretched with a bow handle to shape and rough the pipes. The efficiency of such bow stone saws in cutting and slabbing a large piece of red pipestone is quite surprising given their seeming simplicity. Pipes were also shaped and roughed with hard sandstones, afterward polished with water, then sanded with progressively finer and finer abrasive grit and animal hide, finally being rubbed with fat or facial oils to complete polishing.