CINCINNATI, OHIO — Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. has sold privately the presentation style pipe tomahawk carried by Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809).
The identity of the purchaser, as well as the price paid, remain confidential. Wes Cowan, president of Cowan’s Auctions, says, “The price paid for the pipe tomahawk is commensurate with its historical rarity, and importance.”
Placing it among the most historically significant objects of American history, circumstantial evidence suggests that this tomahawk accompanied Lewis during his famed exploration up the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean and back (1804–1806).
The new owner plans to eventually donate the artifact to an institution for its safekeeping and protection, Cowan said. “The (consignor’s) family is delighted that it has found a home with someone who recognizes the great responsibility that comes with owning such a national treasure” said Cowan. “The Lewis tomahawk is quite simply an icon of American history.”
The Lewis tomahawk is one of a handful of items that can be reliably identified as belonging to a member of the Corps of Discovery. Besides a rifle belonging to co-expedition leader Captain William Clark, it is the only weapon that has survived. Historical documentation indicates that the tomahawk was with Lewis when he died in Tennessee in September 1809 at the age of 35. At the time of his death, Lewis was traveling to Washington from St. Louis where he was serving as the governor of Louisiana Territory.
After his death, the tomahawk was returned to his family in Virginia, becoming the property of his mother, and then his half-sister Mary Garland Marks. When Marks married and moved to Alabama early in the Nineteenth Century, she took the tomahawk with her as a prized heirloom. It has remained in the hands of her descendants since. The tomahawk was featured in “Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition,” 2004–2006, which traveled nationally to four major museums, ending at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
The tomahawk came to Cowan’s directly from the family, who knew of Cowan’s reputation in selling American Indian and Western art and historic Americana. As a history expert, Wes was tapped to research and write about the tomahawk, which he did over a few weeks, in order to put together a presentable booklet on the history and importance of the piece. The booklet did the job and the buyer flew in to purchase the piece May 1.
Lewis’ pipe tomahawk is no mere utilitarian tool designed for daily use. Rather, it was crafted to reflect the status of its owner and for use as a tool of diplomacy with Native Americans. Diplomatic relationships were often cemented by smoking tobacco, and as an Army officer schooled in encounters with Native Americans, Lewis would have been well aware of the war-peace symbolic dualism of the pipe tomahawk.
For more information, www.cowans.com or 513-871-1670.