History of Colonial Clay Pipes

History of Clay Pipes from Fort Union National Historic Site

© 2002-2009 J. Byron Sudbury
Fort Union National Historic Site, North Dakota


Fort Union National Historic Site is located near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers in western North Dakota. This important historic site, occupied from 1828-1867, was the major trading post and staging area on the Upper Missouri River during the American Fur Trade.

This trading post site has been studied via historical research and archaeological excavation for decades. Since the excavations, this impressive structure in a beautiful setting has been faithfully reconstructed. The site, which includes living history exhibits as well as museum display and conservation area, is open to visitors year-round.

During the excavations, a large quantity and wide variety of artifacts were recovered. A publication covering the glass trade bead assemblage (some 38,496 specimens) was written by De Vore (1992), and a CD is also available which contains the color plates of the beads (Ross 2000). Smoke Pfeiffer (1982) and De Vore and Hunt (1993) reported some pipes from the early excavations in their manuscript reports. Much of the rest of the collection-especially from the later excavations-has remained uncatalogued and unstudied. The Fort Union pipe collection is thought to be the largest pipe collection from a National Historic Site.

J. Byron Sudbury documented and analyzed the clay tobacco pipes and pipe fragments from Fort Union. This research project is funded through a grant by the NPS with a matching donation from J.S. Enterprises.

The results of this study were reported in a contract report in November 2008. An expanded version of this study is in press with release expected in early 2009 as Historic Clay Tobacco Pipe Studies Research Monograph 2: Politics of the Fur Trade: Clay Tobacco Pipes at Fort Union Trading Post (32WI17). For availability, check with Byron. A sample of the photographic plates in this final report may be seen here. The final report will be available in color (hard cover) and black and white (paperback) editions. It can ordered from the printer (Lulu press) or at a discounted rate from theauthor. The volume includes 108 photographic figures, and 6 appendices including a number of additional illustrations. The Fort Union Trading post pipe report table of contents can be seen here. [The contents of other volumes in the HCTPS series can be seen here.] A summary of pipes of the fur trade is also included. A separate CD of the digital figures used in the book will also be available.


De Vore, Steven LeRoy, 1992. BEADS of the BISON ROBE TRADE: The Fort Union Trading Post Collection. Friends of Fort Union Trading Post, Williston, North Dakota.

De Vore, Steven LeRoy, and William J. Hunt, Jr., 1993. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site (32WI17) Material Culture Reports Part IX: Personal, Domestic, and Architectural Artifacts.” NPS Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Pfeiffer, Michael A., 1982. “Clay Tobacco Pipes and the Fur Trade of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains.” Masters Thesis, University of Idaho, November.

Ross, Lester A., 2000. Trade Beads from Archeological Excavations at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.

Sudbury, J. Byron, 2009. Politics of the Fur Trade: Clay Tobacco Pipes at Fort Union Trading Post (32WI17). Historic Clay Tobacco Pipe Studies Research Monograph 2. 225 pages. Clay Pipes Press, Ponca City, Oklahoma 74602-2282 USA.

Clay Tobacco Pipes – Related Products

The following items are used in the above-article, or may provide added reference and helpful information.

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