Mystery Pipes from Sand Springs, Oklahoma
Nothing is as symbolic of American Indian culture as the "peace pipe". This Native American invention was used by
cultures from Maine to California, from Florida to the Great Lakes. Pipes were made for over 2,000 years, and in
many styles. For surface collectors such as myself an intact pre-contact smoking pipe is a rare find indeed. We
dream of finding such an artifact, and sometimes we do. I have three authentic stone pipes from my home county,
found by 3 different fellow hunters, but have never found one myself. Two are made of sandstone, one of a black
My quest for native pipes has lead me to examine a number of modern pipes found in the river that runs though
Tulsa Co. Oklahoma. I have also been asked to look at a number of pipe like natural geofacts and modern
artifacts with pipe like characteristics. I have looked at an amazing variety of pipe candidates, made of wood, antler,
glass, porcelain, stone., and other materials. But recently I have been involved , along with a number of local
collectors, in the most interesting mystery yet.
I call it the mystery of the Sand Springs Tube Pipes. For me it began about 5 years ago when a fellow hunter
called, very excited. "I think I found a pipe" he said. He described it as a sandstone tube with a slightly flared larger
end. I agreed that it sounded like a pipe, and told him I couldn't wait to see it. Who knew it would be years before I
actually laid eyes on it! You see my friend was an ex foundry worker, and he noticed similarities between his pipe
and tubes used in the process of casting metal. Before I could arrange to see his find, he had convinced himself his
pipe was modern industrial waste from the nearby manufacturing plants in Sand Springs, Ok. He was embarrassed
to show it to his fellow collectors, and put it away.
A few months ago I attended a get together at the home of a local arrowhead collector. While visiting I met a long
time hunter from our area. He showed me some of his many finds from the river, including some outstanding points
and fossils. Among his treasures were a half dozen or so sandstone pieces, heavily eroded by the river. They had
been found one at a time, over a period of a few years. All were from the same area. To me, it looked like four very
eroded ear spools and two mostly intact tube pipes, all made of a reddish sandstone stained with algae from
immersion in the water. I was surprised and excited to see such a complete set of artifacts from the river
environment, and made the gentleman an offer on his artifacts. He accepted, and we both felt good about the
transaction. I left hoping I would see my new friend again soon.
Just a few days later I got a call from my new friend. He had found another pipe! It was from the same area and
made of the same material. It was also a tube form, slightly larger than the others. It seems our transaction
reminded him he hadn't hunted the pipe spot for a long time and he decided to go check it out. And so I acquired
that pipe to go with my others.
Now this sudden and suspicious plethora of pipes remained me of my foundry friend and made me curious about
the pipe I never saw. So I called and asked my foundry friend if he still had the artifact he found. He did, and
explained that he had agonized over what it really was for years before putting it away. "If you can find out what it
really is you can have it. I just want to know for sure!" Then he reminded me that a friend of his had also found
strange sandstone artifacts in the Sand Springs area. We made arrangements to bring all the known pieces to the
up coming Sand Springs Artifact and Fossil Show.
Before the show I sent all my pieces to a well know eastern authenticator for a objective opinion. I included an
authentic sandstone pipe from the river for comparison. The authenticator kept the pieces for quite a while, then
returned them along with my check. "I've never seen anything like them" he said. "If you find out what they are, let
me know!". For me this was defiantly not a good sign. This authenticator has seen most authentic pipe forms.
Microscopic examination of the material was also raising red flags. All the pieces seemed to be made of exactly the
same stone, not likely in a group of artifacts from an alluvial setting. No traces of manufacturing processes could be
found, either ancient or modern. A lot of things weren't adding up. Yet these artifacts look so much like pipes! And
they were unquestionably found in the river, by arrowhead hunters looking for artifacts. How could they not be
So, on to the show! The first annual Sand Springs Fossil and Artifact Show, in Tulsa County near the Arkansas
River, was a well attended beginning for what we hope will become a local tradition. As promised, all the Mystery
Artifacts known were together under one roof. And, as we hoped, the larger group made more sense.
My foundry friend's artifact was the most pipe like. In fact, by itself I doubt it would ever be questioned. It showed all
the hallmarks of great age, appeared quite highly styled, and was an appropriate size. His friend's collection was
quite another story! One of his pieces was a square box like thing with a hole in the bottom. And the two of his
pieces , showing less river wear, had opposing seams from a mold. Knowing where to look, and what for, I was able
to see the faint remnants of similar opposing seams on the rings in my collection. So now we knew they weren't
ancient artifacts. But what are they?
Tulsa, Ok. is the former "Oil Capital" of the world, and home to many geologists. Our local arrowhead club,
Oklahoma Bones and Stones (OK.BS) has co-operated with the Tulsa Geological Society in bringing together
geologists and amateur archeologists. Our presentation last year was attended by 113 geologists and their
guests. With resources like this, it was possible to conduct a thorough, professional investigation of the
"sandstone" material. Our volunteer Phd. geologist was of the opinion it was not a naturally occurring stone. The
sand grains showed signs of being chemically treated prior to their formation of the rock. Additionally, signs of
possible thermal alteration were present. The grains were unusually uniform," as if they were put through a sieve".
The material also lacked the lamination, or layering of naturally deposited sedimentary rock. And, most telling of all,
the material was the same in every piece examined.
It's my opinion that the "Mystery Tubes" are a modern artifact, made of a sieved silica sand and cast in a mould.
The softer artificial material erodes much faster than a natural sandstone, giving the piece the appearance of
centuries of age in a matter of decades. What these tubes were made for remains to be seen. Oklahoma Bones
and Stones, with help from the Sand Springs Cultural and Historic Museum and local collectors, will continue to
investigate until the "Case of the Sand Springs Mystery Tubes" is solved.
An authentic sandstone pipe from the Arkansas River in N.E.
Oklahoma (obtuse angle, probably Mississippian) on the left. One of
the "Mystery Tubes" on the right.
Close-up of the authentic piece above. Sandstone is a commonly used
material in our area.