Saturday, July 9, 2016

Singleton tells of unusual Indian pipe found in south Monroe County cave

Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa.
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Early Indian pipe found in Monroe County cave” was originally published in the July 13, 1972 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

There are many stories that have been spun around the Indian clay pipe. Some of the great events of history were discussed and settled with the pipe playing a major role. The American Indian regarded the smoking of the pipe with high esteem, and held a special place of importance in their lives and events. When an issue was agreed between tribes, or between the Red or White man, most always the smoking of the pipe sealed the agreement.

The rulers of each tribe or clan always kept a special pipe for such occasions. These pipes carried different names, though most times, the meanings were the same. Through the years the “Peace Pipe” has become the common word to identify these special pipes.

With the migration of the white man into the Indian’s territories, came the manufacture of the clay trade pipe, which was sold to the Indians by the white traders who roamed the lands of the Red Man. Then there were the homemade pipes that were designed and shaped by the individuals who were making them. These represented different animals or birds, or reptiles, depending upon the thoughts of the person making them. These pipes were usually smoked by the older members of the family or tribe. The use of tobacco was common by both male and female. The smoking of the pipe was thought to be a cure for several ailments that plagued the early Indians. Some of these were toothache, headache and several others.

The pipe was smoked when the food supply was low, or when the tribe was on the move. This would kill the desire for food to a certain degree, thus conserving the food supplies, and cutting down on the bulk and weight of each individual.

The pipe pictured was found by this writer in a small cave in the lower part of Monroe County. I was asked not to give directions to this spot because the landowner doesn’t want anyone digging and destroying this beautiful spot. The pipe bowl is carved to resemble the head of a man, maybe a chief or priest, because of the head piece that he is wearing. If you observe closely, you will notice that the left eye is somewhat disfigured. The maker of this pipe probably copied the facial features of someone who looked a lot like this. Whether or not this has any bearing on the pipe remains to be seen, but the great Indian chief and prophet Tecumseh had a brother who had been wounded in the left eye by a blow from a tomahawk. According to the information that is available, he had a terrible scar where his left eye used to be. Whether this pipe was intended to resemble this warrior is pure speculation, nothing more.

I do know that this pipe has been used a great deal. When I found it, the reed cane stem was gone. To replace it would be a simple matter of cutting a desired length of cane and fitting it into the pipe. By doing this, the old pipe would be good as new. Probably this pipe has worn out many, many stems through the years.

As I examine this pipe from the past, I wonder who the owner was. Was he a chief or prophet, or was she an old crippled woman who had been left to die along the trail, and had found shelter in this small cave, where she spent her last hours? Only the face with the disfigured eye knows the secret – and it’s not telling.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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