Since the colonial era, the tomahawk has served as a symbol of Indian savagery in American arts and literature. The pipe tomahawk, however, tells a different story. From its backcountry origins as a trade good to its customization as a diplomatic device, this object facilitated European-Indian exchange, giving tangible form to spoken metaphors for war, peace, and alliance. The production, distribution, and use of the pipe tomahawk also illustrated contrasting Indian and European notions of value and utility in material objects, exposing the limits of such goods in promoting cross-cultural mediation and understanding.

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