How the Pipe Came


"The sacred woman then took leave of the people, saying:
"Toksha ake wacinyanktin ktelo,  I shall see you again." …
The people saw her walking off
in the same direction from which she had come, 
outlined against the red ball of the setting sun.
As she went, she stopped and rolled over four times. 
The first time, she turned into a black buffalo;
The second into a brown one;
The third into a red one;
And finally, the fourth time she rolled over,
She turned into a white female buffalo calf.
A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter…"

~~From The Legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman
by John Fire Lame Deer with Richard Erdoes
Read The Legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman


From the late 1800s until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, the practice of traditional Indian religious ceremonies were prohibited by the government.
    In the early days of enforcement, many American Indians were severely punished, and in some cases imprisoned, beaten or put to death for practicing the ancient rites.

    As a consequence of brutal treatment by government agents and Christian missionaries, the ceremonies were held "underground" or in secret places far away from the angry eyes of the government.
    In many instances around the country, traditional leaders held ceremonies in conjunction with national holidays such as the 4th of July, while government agents looked on approvingly as the Indians danced and sang during celebrations.

    All this began to change in the 1960's as traditional leaders began to openly practice the holy ceremonies. Unfortunately after many generations of persecution many of the ancient rites had been forgotten and most of the old medicine people had died.
    At the same time, the policies of the government and Christian churches had turned the people away from "pagan beliefs" and there was little interest among the people to return to the old ways.

    Other more insidious plots were underway that could undermine efforts to revive ancient ceremonies.
    Various militant political factions were battling for positions of control that bled over into the religious sector. And, the social, cultural and moral fabric of the Lakota were being torn by rampant alcoholism and the welfare state.

Frank Fools Crow    Fortunately for the Sioux, Cheyenne, Cherokee and other tribes much of the culture had been retained through perseverance and the preservation of the language

Wise elders such as the Ceremonial Chief of the Western Teton Sioux, Frank Fools Crow, (PICTURED ON THE LEFT) shepherded his people through these years and in 1970 presided over the first White Buffalo Calf Pipe Ceremony and Sun Dance to be held in many years at Green Grass, South Dakota . These were the first major ceremonies done openly by the Lakota after government bans were imposed.
John Fire Lame Deer and Chauncey Dupris, both noted Lakota  Heyoka medicine men and Sun Dance leaders, assisted Fools Crow with this key event.
    Other brave men such as Pete (Catches the Enemy) Catches, Sr. also finally were able to fulfill a 1948 dream with the first Spotted Eagle Sun Dance held in 1964.

     Fools Crow knew that much of the sacred artifacts had been taken across the "Medicine Line" into Canada in the 1800s to protect them from the U.S. government.
    He also knew that serious steps must be taken to protect the ceremonies for future generations.
    Militant political factions of the nation were demanding positions in ceremonies and the morals of the people had degenerated to a point where there was little support for traditional ways.  
    Fools Crow was a man of great faith and spiritual abilities and he knew that somehow, some way the Great Mystery, Wankan Tanka, would provide a message or a vision that would allow the Sacred Pipe and the ceremonies to continue in a good way.
    The steps he must take would be guided by Spirit.

[Read more about the religious prohibitions and why in “Survival of the Sun Dance”.]


In their book "Walking In A Sacred Manner" St. Pierre and Long Soldier report that Martha Bad Warrior, also known as Red Eagle Woman (1854-1936) took possession of the C'anupa from her father, Old Man Elk Head, when he died in 1916.
    Curiously, Wilbur A. Riegert, director of the Wounded Knee Indian Museum, wrote in his book, "I am a Sioux Indian," that Martha Bad Warrior was the 3rd Keeper and the Pipe was about 300 years old in 1936.

    In the book "Walking In A Sacred Manner," Martha Bad Warrior said she was going to show the Pipe during the Dust Bowl years to end the drought.
    Everyone came to see it [the White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe] but instead she brought out an ordinary pipe.

    From Martha the bundle went to her son, Ehli Bad Warrior, born in 1882.
    It is alleged by some that Ehli had only minimal knowledge of the ceremonies that were the duty of the Keeper, and much was lost during his term.
    It is said that Ehli did not want the responsibility and did not always fulfill his obligations.
    The daily duties were performed by his sister Lucy (Bad Warrior) Looking Horse. When he died in 1959, the Pipe went to his sister, Lucy Looking Horse, who was born in 1891.

    From 1959 until her death, Lucy took sole care of the bundle.
    Lucy chose to skip over her own son, Stanley, and shortly before her death on April 12, 1966, she named her 12-year-old grandson, Arvol Looking Horse as the Keeper.

    It should be stated here that in Lame Deer's book, "Seeker of Visions," that there were two very old Pipes.
    One was made from a buffalo leg bone and the second was a catlinite [pipestone] carved buffalo calf Pipe.
    It is generally accepted that the two Pipes were kept together, but the first Pipe given to the Sioux, the Buffalo Leg Bone Pipe, had either deteriorated with age, was broken beyond repair or was stolen.

     There is a strong possibly that remnants of the Buffalo Leg Bone Pipe described by Lame Deer in his book is in the bundle at Green Grass kept by the Looking Horse family.


In 1968, two years after Lucy Looking Horse passed what is regarded as the First Pipe or the White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe to her grandson, this Pipe or one very similar to it was allegedly in the possession of Frank Fools Crow.  
    However, a 1971 newspaper article clearly stated that the Sacred Calf Pipe would be used by Fools Crow in ceremony.
    Then again, some say Fools Crow wanted the First Pipe photographed so that future generations could identify it.
    Which Pipe was it that Fools Crow held? Certainly, it was not the Holy Leg Bone Pipe. But, which Pipe did Fools Crow transfer to Calvin Dupree?

    Dupree claims Fools Crow wanted the Pipe in his possession photographed, to have it recognized as the Sacred Calf Pipe.
 NOTE: The description of the Sacred Calf Pipe changed, after the passing of the Pipe from Martha Bad Warrior to Andrew Dupris and his wife in 1936, and after he passed it to Fools Crow. , by respected Lakota Elder Black Elk, and others.
    Arvol Looking Horse, perhaps unwittingly, adds to the mystery — and controversy — by declining to allow the Pipe in his possession to be examined by qualified experts.
    According to Looking Horse, the Sacred Pipe must not be seen or held by skeptics or by those with "unclean" hands or by a person who has taken a life.
    And, Looking Horse is legally obligated to show the Sacred Pipe.
    People can come to their own conclusions as to why he wouldn't want to show the Pipe.
    There have been occasions when a pipe bundle was presented to a select few invited guests on the Looking Horse ranch, but many guests report the bundle was never opened.
    Those who report they saw a Pipe cannot or will not provide a detailed description.
     Looking Horse has been asked on many occasions over the years to show the Pipe to experts and qualified elders. He has also been asked to bring the Pipe to public ceremonies.
    In both cases, he has declined, stating the bundle is too sacred to be opened and examined by non-religious people.
    One story says that Fools Crow was fearful of the Pipe falling into the wrong hands, into the hands of Lakota militants or those who would not bring it to public ceremonies. So Fools Crow kept the Pipe after one of the ceremonies and refused to return it.

    The second story comes from Arvol Looking Horse who in a May 2002 interview in "Native Voice" magazine, says that [when he was barely a teenager] all the valuable material possessions of the Looking Horse family were removed from his home by Cheyenne River Band elders. He does not say the Pipe was taken.

According to Lakota protocol, the only time the pipe can be removed from the Pipe Carrier is in a case of extreme breach of protocols. This is the situation described by Looking Horse.
     In this case, only Fools Crow with other medicine men and women present could transfer a Pipe from one family to another.
    The removal and transfer had to be acted out in front of a large body of Lakota, such as the White Buffalo Calf Pipe and Sun Dance ceremonies.

 In the book "Fools Crow" written by his good friend Thomas E. Mails (assisted by Dallas Chief Eagle; University of Nebraska Press; Lincoln; 1979), Fools Crow is quoted as saying:
"In the spring of 1976, my long and passionate desire to see the Sacred Pipe was realized. It was the fourth time I had gone to Green Grass, and while I was there, the bundle was opened by the Keeper, and I saw the pipe.
Until now I have told no one about this except my wife, Kate. There were many people in the vicinity of the building at the time, including Kate and Everett Lone Hill, but I was taken inside, I prayed with my hand on the bundle, and then it was opened for me.
“When I saw the pipe, I really crumbled inside. I felt completely humble, pathetic, pitiful. I don't know how long I looked at the exposed pipe, and I don't like to talk about it.I am still afraid of its sacred power, and I am thinking again about what just happened to one of our medicine man who spoke of things he shouldn't.
I will not describe the pipe, except to say that it was a very good-looking pipe.
“I will tell you one more thing, and it will be the last thing I have to say about the pipe.When this lady (Calf Pipe Woman) came and gave the Sioux the pipe, she told them to go and kill four warrior members of another tribe.
They were to remove a little hair from each man's head and to tie it to the pipe. Also an ear was to be removed from one victim and attached to the pipe.
Then they were to get two tail feathers from a golden eagle and tie these to the stem. They followed her orders completely, and those things are there.
When I saw the pipe, the hair, brittle from age, was breaking in places, and the two feathers were so worn away that only the quills remained. The ear was still in perfect condition, although it was as white as tanned deer skin.
After I looked at the pipe, the Keeper placed it back in its wrappings …. I placed my hand one last time upon the robe, and after a few minutes, I left.This day marked the crowning achievement of my life, and I could not have been happier."
Fools Crow goes on to compliment Looking Horse for his good works.
    There can be no doubt he spoke the truth and his statement is a realistic depiction of the facts. We have heard no other credible explanation that would detract from his written words.
    It is obvious from his words however, that he was speaking strictly about the Buffalo Leg Bone Pipe and not about the First Pipe.
    He makes no mention of the subject of this article, the Sacred First Pipe.


On the appointed day, dozens of Sun Dancers and their families and supporters made their way to Green Grass for the first Sun Dance and Calf Pipe Ceremony to be held in several generations.
    Hundreds of Sioux families and their guests were greeted by fancy regalia, the sound of drums and the Ceremonial Chief of the Teton Sioux, Frank Fools Crow and his entourage of respected elders.

    Russell Means and Calvin Dupree were there as dancers. So was Calvin's beautiful daughter, Suzanne Dupree.

    The dancers and Sun Dance officials had already completed fasting and purification ceremonies very early that morning.
    After all the other preparations were ready and the crowd had settled in, the drums suddenly stopped and a hush came over the crowd as the Ceremonial Chief entered the circle leading many dancers and opened the event with a solemn prayer.

The pictures below are from the 1971 White Buffalo Ceremony and Sun Dance. This was the first public celebration, although it was not legal to perform the Ceremony until 1978.









At that moment, an elder entered the circle allegedly carrying the most holy object of all the Sioux nations. It was Fools Crow's own Ceremonial Sun Dance Pipe. The oldest remaining Lakota Pipe useable for ceremony, that he wanted recognized as the WBCP.

Fools Crow, John Fire Lame Deer, Floyd Hand, Sr. The crowd grew very quiet and Fools Crow, John Fire Lame Deer (PICTURED AT RIGHT), Floyd Hand, Sr. and other spiritual elders offered many prayers of thanksgiving in the Lakota language as the Sacred Pipe was shown to all the people. It was a time of great joy and reverence.

  Then, Fools Crow called for the C'anupa Wakan as he and other elders walked toward one of the Sun dancers. He stopped in front of Mato Tanka, a Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation, Calvin Dupree. He extended the pipe toward Dupree and spoke quietly

Dupree Sun danced from 1970 to 1975Dupree Sun danced from 1970 to 1975, a five-year commitment, not the usual four-year commitment.  It was in his first year dancing (1970) that he had a vision to rebuild the "Hoop of Life" with all living things upon Mother Earth.  Fools Crow listened intently to Dupree's vision and at the White Buffalo Ceremony and Sun Dance in 1971 he did  something about it.

Formally placing the Pipe in the young man's hands, Fools Crow passed the White Buffalo Calf Pipe (C'anupa Wakan) to the Calvin Dupree family according to Lakota spiritual protocols.  (See Pictures of Calvin Dupree doing the WBCP Ceremony with the Pipe)
    A new chapter in Lakota spiritual history was being written.
    After Dupree was presented the C'anupa Wakan, he brought the Sacred Pipe to Fools Crow whenever it was needed.
    Many times in the coming years, Dupree drove great distances to take the Pipe to ceremonies. Very few knew where the Pipe was actually kept.