Diplomatic Gifts from First Nations

Calumet pipe stem. This elaborate calumet stem is ornamented with an eagle feather fan, woodpecker beaks, strips of wool trade cloth, French silk ribbon, and horse hair. Plains. PM 99-12-10/53101.2
Pipe bowl, Plains/Prairie. This red pipestone bowl represents a style often used in diplomatic meetings between tribes. PM 99-12-10/53138
This famous bison robe depicting inter-tribal combat along the Upper Missouri River was probably painted by a Lakota man and collected by Lieutenant Hutter. PM 99-12-10/53121

Robes and pipes were customary diplomatic gifts among many Indian peoples, and Lewis and Clark brought back more of them than any other kinds of objects.  As representatives of the United States, Lewis and Clark received pipes from more than a dozen leaders of the Native nations they encountered. Ceremonial pipe smoking was a central ritual in both inter-tribal and cross-cultural diplomacy throughout much of North America.  Lewis and Clark both wrote at length about the etiquette and meaning of pipe ceremonialism, Lewis describing the ritual space created by smoking together as a "magic circle." Pipe smoking formalized relations between people and solemnized their interactions, binding the participants to honor their words until they next met.   Indian leaders presented pipes to Lewis and Clark so that the United States would recognize and remember their people and treat them with equal generosity.  Understanding this message, the explorers transferred fourteen pipes from native nations to the Peale Museum, where they were displayed as diplomatic symbols.   

Tanned bison robes were also customary diplomatic gifts. This painted bison robe, collected by either Lewis and Clark or by Lt. Hutter, depicts battles between Sioux men and warriors from Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara villages along the Upper Missouri River.  It is an example of Biographical Warrior art, which was drawn by men to record their martial achievements.  The Upper Missouri trading sphere, militarily controlled by powerful Lakota Sioux bands, was of great strategic interest to Jefferson. Lewis and Clark hoped to undermine Lakota influence there, while Lakota leaders sought to discourage the American's passage up the river.