Cornplanter’s Pipe Tomahawk
On June 20, 2018, a pipe tomahawk stolen from the New York State Museum nearly 70 years ago was returned by an anonymous donor.
This tomahawk has particular significance—at one of several meetings between the U.S. and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) leaders in the years 1792–1794, President George Washington gifted it to Gy-ant-waka, or Cornplanter, a respected Seneca leader, skilled diplomat, and eloquent speaker. On one side of the blade Cornplanter’s name is engraved, and on the other side is the name John Andrus, possibly the maker. Pipe tomahawks emerged in the early 1700s and were commonly presented to Native American leaders by 18th-century colonial officials. They were considered prized objects because they could be used to smoke tobacco, a plant of cultural and spiritual significance to Indigenous people.
This pipe tomahawk was purchased around 1840 by Tonawanda Seneca Ely Parker from the widow of a Seneca named O-ya-weh-te, or Small Berry. Since the original handle, or haft, was missing, Parker replaced it to reflect what it once may have looked like, based on descriptions from Small Berry’s widow. He also added a brass plate engraved with his name on bore end of the tomahawk’s haft, just above the blade.