Central States Archaeological Societies
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The Laswell Great Effigy Pipe

by Jake Vahle,

Central States Archaeological Societies 2015 October Journal

Quincy Illinois

CSASI Oct 2015 : The Laswell Great Effigy Pipe 1
Above: One side of the the Laswell Great Pipe. It measures 10 ¾ inches in length. Collection of the Author

July 16th, 2012 was a hot summer day. But that didn’t stop James Laswell from deciding to go hunting for old bottles on the White River in Madison County, Indiana. The river runs right through the town of Anderson where he lives.

That day the White river was the lowest Laswell had seen in approximately twenty years. He headed out from the bank and was able to reach the center of the river, which that day was only a fraction of its normal depth.

Soon he spotted what he thought was an old black powder pistol. The thought of finding something so different excited him, but as he bent down and picked it up, he realized it wasn’t what he thought it was at all. It was a pipe, and a big one! He describes that day in his own words:

I guess it started about 40 years ago. Even though I was only about six years old, my Dad always had me carry the bait bucket for trapping. It had meat and muskrat carcasses in it. We went walking around the fence rows of corn fields along the creek and on the river banks. Muskrats and fox were the winter pay checks.

CSASI Oct 2015 : The Laswell Great Effigy Pipe 2
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Above: The other side and top view of the of the the Laswell Great Pipe. Notice the difference in patination from the opposite side.

Every time my Dad saw bottles or anything that was old he told me to get it, no matter how deep it was in the water or even in the sticker bushes. Sometimes the water could be cold too. Over the years we found arrowheads, lots of hardstone axe heads and thousands of old bottles. I still look for Indian stuff whenever I go somewhere I think bottles might be, My hobby is finding the oldest bottles I can. The best place to look is in your local creeks and rivers. The older the bottle, the deeper in the muck I have to probe (with a potato fork). They are always on the hard bottom covered maybe with a foot or more of ever changing mud and muck, always up against the upstream side of any rock or obstacle that is in water.

The other day I was walking, looking for bottles in the river, which was so low that I could see bottom areas that I never could before. I couldn't believe how low the water level was. The sun was at 12 o clock , which was perfect for seeing deep. I've been lots of times to same place, but this time it was deeper than when water was normal. I saw what I thought was an old pistol handle, like the black powder kind from way back. I knew Mother Nature didn't make things that looked like that. so I reached down into water to about shoulder depth and grabbed it by the head, for it looked like a handle. At the same time my ole lady was upstream feeding the carp in a deep hole some Skittles she had. Usually she hollers at me so I don't go looking too far away, but I am so glad she never said a word this time. I looked at what I had and I started yelling to her but she was too far away to understand. She said she thought I found another amber coke bottle or something.

He soon realized what he had found was a Woodland period "Great Pipe" made from steatite. It measured a huge 10 ¾ inches in length and stood almost 3 ½ inches tall at the bowl. It depicted a bird with an engraved feather pattern, as well as deep holes for the eyes. Most probably these were once inlaid with shell. The details of the pipe had been softened somewhat from water weathering, since it had probably been in the river channel for at least a thousand years or more.

So how did the pipe get into the river? That answer will never be known. It could have once been placed or buried on the bank and then eroded into the waters. It may have been given as a "gift" to the waters by those who utilized it at one time. It may have accidently been dropped and because of its weight it quickly fell to the bottom, out of reach and without any possibility of recovery. It is interesting to note that slightly upstream of the find location is "Mounds State Park" featuring the famous Hopewell Great Mound.

CSASI Oct 2015 : The Laswell Great Effigy Pipe 4 At left: A close up of the head, showing the cutout area for the eye, that most probably once held a shell insert. At right: A closeup of the bowl. Notice the "tally-marks" at the upper right. CSASI Oct 2015 : The Laswell Great Effigy Pipe 5