It is not surprising that an owl effigy pipe was buried at a Mississippian site in Missouri. There is abundant evidence that the Osage Nation, who once occupied the area south of the Missouri River, held the owl in great reverence. La Flesche (1925:592; 1932:80, 301) recorded several specific Osage words related to owls: i-ton (horned owl), i-ton-ci-hi (yellow owl), i-ton-cka (yellow owl), wa-po-ge (gray owl), and mon-thin xo-dse wa-da-ghte (burrowing owl). The great horned owl is singled out by La Flesche (1932:80) as a symbol of significance in the tribal war rites. Dorsey (1904:31) recorded one Osage oral tradition about a woman who wanted to name her child, so she asked an owl to gather all of the birds in order to select the child's name: the owl assembled all the birds (with the exception of eagle that was late), then decided to give the child its own name - owl! In another story, Dorsey (1904:42) recorded the tradition that an owl once stole a baby and took it to its nest where it taught to the infant to call out "halloo." LaFlesche and Bailey (1995:53) note that owl feathers were one of several items needed to decorate the stems of the seven sacred pipes used by the Osage. Great horned owl and gray owl are specifically mentioned by LaFlesche and Bailey (1995:98) in relationship ceremonies related to the blessing of a war party: the horned owl symbolizing courage to stand forever and the great gray owl as a symbol of courage that rushes forward in an attack. The Wa-po-ga Wa-thon (Osage, Songs of the Gray Owl) are a series of three songs that speak of the nightly vigil of a sacred warrior and the fact that he listens to messages given to him by the gray owl, horned owl, gray wolf, or snake (LaFlesche and Bailey 1995:206-8). An interesting Osage story linking an owl and a warrior was told by Shon-ton-ca-be (Black Dog) in the 1890s: an owl hooted after the victory dance that the war party leader was "mixu'ga" - a man living the gender role of a male in battle but living female gender role in his home.
Warfare conducted at night would have been the right/honor of warriors who would have felt a strong kinship with the owls. An example of nighttime warfare was recorded in April 1682 when the Quenipisa (also called the Cene-pisa) attacked the exploration party under La Salle in the Lower Mississippi Valley; the French believed the war party to have been approximately 300 warriors who arrived by foot and by nine canoes (Anderson 1898: 51; Hall 1997:15). The warriors who attacked La Salle occupied 7 towns in the area of Lake Ponchartrain; the language and heritage of the Quenipisa was linked to the Chowtaw (Hodge 1907:9-10)
Another Native American tradition concerning owls was recorded by George Bird Grinnell (1892:275); he noted that the Blackfeet consider owls "to be the ghosts of medicine men."
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2013 Ceramic Owl Effigies from Ancient East St. Louis. Illinois Antiquity 48(3):10–13.
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Edwards, Tai S.
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1880 The Ancient Pottery of Southeastern Missouri in Contributions to the Archaeology of Missouri, by the St. Louis Academy of Science. George A. Bates/Naturalists' Bureau, Salem, MA.
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1987 Two Effigy pipes from the Davis Site, St. Louis County. Missouri Archaeological Society Quarterly 4(1):6-8.
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Webpage Created 3 May 2020
Updated 31 August 2020
The owl pipe from 23SL18 was shown to Gerard Fowke at the Missouri History Museum between 1911 and 1930. The site form for 23SL18, probably completed by Leonard Blake, observed that Fowke had seen traces of faint red pigment on the beak and neck of the owl pipe. The red pigment would be symbolic of blood from a fight/kill involving the owl and its prey. Owls can be fierce! dStretch analysis of the front and back of the pipe shows a trace of red pigment around the beak, chest and the tobacco hole as well as the pipe stem hole. What species of owl? Jeffrey S. Meshach (personal communication 11 May 2020), Deputy Director of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park (MO), proposes that the prehistoric artist was basing the pipe on the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) based upon the shape of the bird's face.
Two parallels to the owl pipe from 23SL18 were found at Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. A fierce looking composite animal-bird pipe was published by Henry Hamilton (1952:Plate 16a) as well as a more sedate (resting?) owl effigy pipe (Hamilton 1952:Plate 19). It appears that the composite animal-bird pipe (owl-like body with puma-like face) is just slightly smaller than the owl pipe from 23SL18. Brown (1976:250) noted the presence of the owl pipe in his discussion of the artifacts from Spiro Mound.
Owls decorating tobacco pipes is a tradition that goes back to the Middle Woodland Period (500 BC - AD). Mills (1916:172 - 7) and Medlin (1967:62) noted that great horned owls, screech owls, long-eared owl, barred owls and saw-whet owls are represented on among the platform pipes from the Tremper mound in Ohio.
Owl Pipe photograph courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. dStretched image created by Michael Fuller.
The Fierce Owl pipe would change hands between many collectors until it finally became part of the Edward Waldron Payne collection. It would be sold at auction after Payne's death in 1932 and purchased by Dr. Paul F. Titteringon, a physician and well respected amateur archaeologist in St. Louis. Titterington would donate the owl pipe to the Missouri Historical Society. David Lobbig, Curator of Environmental Life at the Missouri Historical Society Museum, has carefully studied the pipe in the MHS collection; a dStretch image of the pipe shows the faint traces of red pigment (appearing as blue in dStretch) that was observed by Fowke. The presence of paint to represent blood on an effigy pipe is not unusual. A frog pipe from the Lilbourn Site in SE Missouri has red paint on its mouth and throat. See...http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/moarch/Harvard73LilbournFrogFaceSm.jpg. The Fierce Owl pipe fits into the "figure pipe" category of Cahokia style statuettes and pipes (Emerson et al. 2000:517).
The Fierce Owl Site (23SL18) entered the archaeological literature in 1910 when Warren K. Moorehead published a picture of two pipes from the site in volume 2 of The Stone Age in North America. The two pipes were attributed to the collection of H. M. Baun and reported to have come from a small mound, a short distance south of St. Louis, MO. In reality, the Fierce Owl Site had been illegally excavated on public property in the Missouri River Valley in 1903/1904 by Julius August Meyer. Leonard Blake interviewed Meyer before his death in 1959 and recorded all the relevant details. Mr. Meyer was a 26 year old carpenter who was employed making kegs and dressers during 1900. Pool (1989:36-38, Figure 13) provides an important summary of the site based upon her interview with Leonard Blake.
Independent evidence of the Mississipian occupation of the site was obtained by a the discovery of a Mississippian point on the ground surface of the site by Richard Martens (2015: Figure 7o, 19); he published the arrow point as a "Nodena-like" point in the Missouri Archaeological Society Quarterly. The arrow point from the Fierce Owl site measures 22.6 mm in length, 9.3 mm in width, 4.3 mm in thickness and weights 0.94 grams. The Nodena point type is associated with the Middle and Late Mississippi Periods (Chapman 1980:310). Nodena Points are fairly uncommon in Missouri with one example published from the Rice Rock Shelter - 23SN200 (Chapman 1980:310), three from the Langdon Site in Dunklin County (Dunnell 1998:217, Figure 9-9f), one example in the Early Lubensky collection from the Utz Site -23SA1 (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/utzStone.html), and one example in the Mike Fisher collection from the Cloverdale Site - 23BN2 (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/cloverdale/Nodena.JPG),
One of the interesting finds from the Fierce Owl Site (23SL18) has a blank-faced hooded bottle made to resemble either a gourd vessel or an owlet. Meyer reported that this vessel was found associated with a child's burial at 23SL18; all other burials at the site were adults. An estimate from the photographs for the height of the hooded bottle is 7.9 cm and its estimated diameter is 7.7 cm.
Meyer interpreted the iconography of the vessel as representing a frog; that seems unlikely. Hooded bottles appear in the Lohmann Phase (AD 1050 to 1100) and disappear at the end of the Stirling Phase (AD 1100 to 1200) in the American Bottom (Milner et al. 1983: Figure 57). The use of hooded bottles in the American Bottom probably extended beyond the Sterling Phase; Patricia O'Brien (1972:45, 84, Figure 71a) illustrated the neck and head of a "serpent" effigy hooded water bottle from Period V (AD 1200 - 1400) in her study of the ceramics from the Powell Tract at Cahokia.
In Missouri, hooded bottles appear in the Late Baytown/Emergent Mississippi Period and continue into the porto-historic period; they initially mimic bottle gourd vessels, but they eventually evolved into more complex, effigy forms such as kneeling humans and owls (James E. Price, personal communication 7 May 2020).
A hooded bottle resembling the vessel from the Fierce Owl site was recently excavated during the I-70 mitigation in East St. Louis, Illinois (Brennan et al. in press:cover page). Hooded bottles were a rare pottery form in the East St. Louis excavation; Pauketat (2005:195, 218) reported in his study that only one sherd out of 1,672 diagnostic Sterling Phase sherds (rims, shoulders and decorated body sherds) was a hooded bottle sherd (reg. no. 468-1). Benson and Galloy (2013:10 - 13) described 2 hooded vessels (reg. no. 5-2916-35 and 5-1276-4) decorated to represent owls from the East St. Louis Mound Group and they infer a strong connection between the owl imagery and Mississippian beliefs about death, afterlife and supernatural beings.
A hooded vessel of the owl-effigy type was found associated with burial 192 at Dickson Mounds (Harn 1980:20, Figure 29.d389. Two factors are of particular interest concerning the hooded bottle at Dickson Mounds. First, it was found associated with the burial of an infant that probably died at the age of 6 months. Second, that only one hooded bottle was found as a grave offerings out of the 248 complete and fragmentary individual burials. Several owl-effigy hooded vessels were illustrated by Evers (1880:29, Plate 18, Plate 19.1, 455).
Published hooded bottles from Missouri include an example out of Bell Plain paste from the Langdon Site (Dunnell 1998: 217, Figure 9-11a) in Dunklin County, MO. Thermoluminescence dates (TL) from six sherds at the Langdon Site range from AD 1233 +/51 to AD 1609 +/-34 with majority falling in the period AD 1300 to 1400 (Dunnell 1998:216). The hooded bottle form is discussed by O'Brien and Wood 1998:307, Figure 6.10) in their discussion of the "explosion in vessel form after AD 1200); they illustrated an example from New Madrid County, MO. A hooded bottle that measured 3 5/8 inches (9.2 cm) tall was recovered during the University of Missouri - Columbia rescue excavation during 1954-5 at the Murphy Site in Pemiscot County (O'Brien 1994: Figure 5.13a); the variety of pottery designs and forms at the Murphy Site indicates that the site was an important center from at least AD 1200 until approximately the sixteenth century (O'Brien 1994:142). A hooded bottle from the Campbell Site (23PM5) was excavated by Leo Anderson (O'Brien 1994:Figure 6.22); the range off occupation at the Campbell site began as early as the Late Woodland Period and supported a vigorous Mississippian community that remained viable into the period of European contact (O'Brien 1994: 248-9). The two bumps on the hooded bottle from the Fierce Owl site closely resemble a vessel from Mississippi County, Missouri that measured 12.6 cm in height (Griffin 1952:Figure 121t). Another hooded bottle, from Pemiscot County, Missouri measures 16.6 cm in height and is decorated with the face of an owl opposite the hooded opening (Griffin 1952:Figure 121s). Chapman (1957:cover) illustrated an owl effigy hooded bottle that G. B. Broadhead had excavated in Southeast Missouri. It may be more than coincidence that several examples of "owl effigy" hooded bottles have been documented in both Missouri and Illinois.
Several owl-effigy type hooded water bottles were illustrated by Hatchcock (1976:112-116) including examples from the Hanno Site in New Madrid County, MO, the Evans Site in Scott County, MO, and the Penhook Ridge Site in Mississippi County, MO. A parallel pottery vessel, though 4 times larger, was excavated at the Spiro Ceremonial Center in Eastern Oklahoma in gravelot B99 which dated to the Spiro III = AD 1250 - 1350 (Brown 1996:161, 392, Figure 2-36i). The pottery vessel excavated at Spiro is classified as Bell Plain ware and the vessel form is classified as a "blank-faced owl effigy hooded water bottle." The vessel found at Spiro was specifically in the Craig Mound excavation by the WPA in 1937. It was discovered next to the left foot of an adult buried in a pit features with artifacts including perforated pulley-shaped earspools and three broken effigy pipes. Over 200 projectile points were associated with the individual buried in gravelot B99; their placement could suggest at least 6 quivers of arrows - a grave offering appropriate for a significant warrior/political leader. The 3 pipes include the famous Conquering Warrior, Pipe Smoker, and Rattler (Brown 1996: 514-523).
Fierce Owl Site, 23SL18
The site form for 23SL18 identifies this partially restored pottery vessel as a "small. oblong" pottery vessel found with an extended, adult burial. Estimated height of the pottery vessel is 5.5 cm.
One pottery vessel was photographed in the field and in the home of Julius A. Meyer. It is a two handled vessel with unusual carinated shoulder. Meyer reported that this vessel contained a perforated bear's canine tooth, 2 bone beads and 340 shell beads; his photograph of the beads show very typical marginalia shell beads. The small conch shells in Meyer's photograph probably were associated with the child burial that contained the hooded bottle.
A parallel to the small Whelk shells comes from the site of Dickson Mounds in the Illinois River Valley. Harn 1980:28, Figure 13) reported the Dickson records indicate that marine-shell pendants were placed with burials beyond the age of puberty.
Small whelk shells with a long "tail" (technically called the "canal") appear as offerings at a variety of sites including Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma (Burnett 1945: Plate LXVI).
Estimated height of the hooded bottle from 23SL18 is 8.6 cm and estimated body diameter is 9.8 cm.
Bear teeth have been found at other Mississippian and Oneota sites in Missouri. Examples of bear teeth have been documented from the Gravois Bluff Mound - 23SL1064 (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/gravoismound/221bearToothTwinnedlg.jpg), Tick Creek Cave 23PH145 (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/moarch/TickCreekFishHook.jpg), Utz Site - 23SA1 (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/moarch/UtzBearToothBigsm.jpg). and Dampier Site - 23SLxxx (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/Dampier/DampierDrilledTooth.jpg).
A very typical Mississippian pottery vessel was found among the offerings at the 23SL18; Meyer described this as the "rounded pot" and noted that a shell spoon was found inside the vessel. Estimated height of the vessel is 14.5 cm with an estimated rim diameter of 15.0 cm.
The owl pipe from 23SL18 was published by Emerson (1982:36) with measurements: 12.1 cm tall, 13.5 cm long, and 8.5 cm. wide. He reports the weight of the pipe as 1166 grams and that it was manufactured out of limestone. Emerson attributes of the pipe to the J. J. R. Patrick collection and reports that it was "suspected" to be from St. Clair County, Illinois. The height of the pipe is only 7 mm taller than the Squirrel Pipe from 23SL66 (Fuller and Fulller 1987:6-8).
It is worth noting that Meyers excavated and recovered a long, blade-like calcite crystal in associated with the child burial that included the conch shell beads and plain-face hooded water bottle.. Scarce minerals including calcite crystals were found as ritual offerings at the Dampier Site (Harl et al. 2011: 570) and Thornhill (Batsell-Fuller 1985) during the Sterling Phase. Harl et al. (2011:570) suggest the link between crystals and Native American devination practices; Batsell-Fuller (1985:85) interpreted the crystals and minerals cached together at Thornill as a potential medicine bundle. Calcite was among the minerals discovered during the recent CRM excavations at the East St. Louis site (Boles 2018: Tables 5.11, and 6.12.)
Professor Carl H. Chapman recognized the significance of the Fierce Owl Site after reviewing the site form for 23SL18; he discussed the site in Volume 2 of the Archaeology of Missouri (1980:173). Eleanor Chapman drew several artifacts from the Fierce Owl Site for Figure 5-24 in Archaeology of Missouri, 2. The drawing was based upon two black-and-white photographs taken by Julius A. Meyer before he sold the collection to H. M. Baun. Milner (1984:475, Figure 1, Table 2) briefly discusses 23SL18 as a "non-elite outlying cemetery" belonging to the Stirling Phase (AD 1050 - 1150).
The second pipe, excavated from a pit feature that included multiple adult burials, is a specific variety of pipe associated with Cahokia that has defined as "block pipe"; Cahokia style figurines, figure pipes, and block pipes thought to have reached "their artistic and symbolic climax during the Stirling phase, circa A.D. 1100 - 1200" (Emerson et al. 2000:517). Estimated height of this pipe is 9.9 cm and estimated base diameter is 8.3 cm. Meyer reported to Leonard Blake that he uncovered an 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) diameter copper-covered stone ear spool in the same mass grave as the block pipe. It is reported that Gerard Fowke examined the ears spool and identified the stone as from Tennessee. Such finds are rare in Missouri; another example of a copper-covered stone ear spool was excavated at the Dampier Site (23SL2296) situated only a few miles upstream from 23SL18. Copper-covered ear spools were found with the Mississippian burials at Spiro Mound in Oklahoma.
What precisely was smoked from the Fierce Owl Pipe or the Block Pipe. It is unlikely that any residue has survived inside the bowl or either pipe. It has been possible to demonstrate Nicotine (Nicotiana sp.) residue in the bowl of a shell tempered elbow pipe from the Cherry Valley Mound site (3CS40) in Cross County, Arkansas (Morrow and Steed 2021:8-11); the analytical process used to study the residue was Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry. The Cherry Valley Mound site has a pottery assemblage that may date from AD 1000 to 1200.