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Housing Of The Plains Indians

Matthew Knight By Matthew Knight on
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The main housing of the Plains Indians were tipis. These tents consisted of sewn together buffalo hides lain on frames of angled poles. This made them cone shaped with a hole at the top. This was so smoke from a fire burning inside could escape. Tipis could be quickly collapsed and were easily transported.

Tipis could be easily set up and taken down. They were built by putting three or four poles as a foundation and putting about fifteen poles around those poles. Then the buffalo hides, which had been tanned and smoked to make them water proof, were wrapped around the poles leaving a hole at the top. Stones or pegs were used to secure the hides to the ground. There would be an oval shaped hole, which was used for entering and exiting the tipi. The tipis were always built so the doorway was facing the east and the rising sun and the back facing the westerly winds.

One tipi could often accommodate ten people. The whole family would live in the tipi, but it was the possession of the woman and was passed down from mother to daughter. This meant that if a husband left his wife he would have nowhere to live.

The outsides of tipis differed from tribe to tribe. Some tribes left the hides bare, but others such as the Blackfeet decorated and painted the outer sides of the tipis with symbols. Different symbols, such as rainbow stripes or a buffalo head, could supposedly protect the owner of the tipi from things such as illness or bad luck.

Inside the tipi everything had its place. The man sat in the north of the tipi with all of his weapons and other possessions and the woman sat in the south with all of her belongings. Religious items were usually put at the back (west) of the tipi. The only chairs they had were propped up backrests made of laced-together willow rods. They would normally sleep on hide or fur mats on the floor. Around the lower edge of the tipi a second layer of hide (called dew cloth or liner) was hung to keep out moisture. During the winter they sometimes stuffed the gap between the outer hides and the dew cloth with grass insulation.

Although the tipi was used by many of the Plains Indian tribes, it was not used by all of them. Tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Kansa and Oto often lived in structures called ‘earth lodges’. These dome shaped buildings were about one or 2 metres high from the ground and about 40 feet in diameter. However, when they were built, the Indians dug down into the earth, sometimes up to four metres, to start with and then constructed a frame over the top whereon they laid bark and then a thick layer of soil (sod).

Other Plains Indian housing included wigwams and hogans. Wigwams are structures similar to tipis but are not covered with animal hides but with bark; they were also meant to be more permanent. They were cone or dome shaped depending on which tribe built them. Hogans were dwellings constructed using logs and then covered in adobe or mud. Like the tipis hogans were built facing east and the rising sun and were the possession of the woman.