White Thunder's Treaty Pipe

     Chief White Thunder was a Brule' leader at the time when Spotted Tail was head of the Sicangu or Rosebud Sioux.  This calumet pipe was smoked to ratify various treaties entered into by this Sioux band, including the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and 1868, held in Wyoming Territory. 


   After Spotted Tail died, White Thunder was killed by Spotted Tail's son regarding ownership of horses.  The pipe was then given in the early 1900s to White Thunder's grandson.  After the grandson and his wife were killed in a car accident between Kadoka and Wanblee in South Dakota, the pipe then went to the eldest son, Frank (Parson) White Thunder.  Parson worked for the Horsley family near Midland for many years and Frank entrusted the Horsley family with the pipe until his death in 1978.  After Frank's death, the pipe passed to his brother, Duane White Thunder, who died in 2012 and the pipe was sold.

Brule' treaty pipe, also called a calumet or chief's pipe of Chief White Thunder.

Brule' treaty pipe, also called a calumet or chief's pipe of Chief White Thunder.

   Only a few tribal treaty pipes exist; those existing are similar in many respects, indicating a sharing of ideas between bands.  A trait in common is they are extremely long, unlike the short prayer pipe of a medicine man.  Treaty pipes have ornately embellished stems and often lead-inlay bowls because they represent the wishes of an entire Sioux Nation.  The pipe stems are flat and wrapped using the finest quill-plaiting.  The mouthpieces of most treaty pipes have red horsehair representing Lightning from Thunder Beings.  Smoking the pipe was taking a pledge; it was believed anyone insincere touching the mouthpiece would be struck by Lightning.  Smoking this pipe required the smoker to put the red horsehair of the Thunder Being into the mouth.  Brass tacks, representing Hail, are found on the stems.  The tobacco remnant remaining from smoking at a treaty was left intact as a sign the pledge was active and ongoing.


   The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty needed three-quarters of all Lakota adult males to give their  hunting grounds in return for provisions.  All seven Lakota tribes were present, as were eastern Dakota, Yankton, Santee, northern Cheyenne and Arapaho.  An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Indians were present.  Each tribe used their own treaty pipe for smoking when they signed.  Not all Indians were in favor of selling land including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and other chiefs who did not attend. 

   The 1868 Treaty opened up land for white settlement by establishing reservations for the tribes.  This treaty is on-going, with tobacco from its last smoking a century and a half ago, still loaded in the bowl.  The White Thunder calumet was not used again after the Fort Laramie Treaty ended the Great Sioux War.