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KID'S PAGE

TIPIS

The information quoted and many of the ideas are from the excellent book THE INDIAN TIPI Its History, Construction and Use. Second Edition by Reginald and Gladys Laubin. This is the best book on Native American lodges available today.

"The American Indian was a strictly practical man. But he was also a born artist. As a result, his inventions are commonly as beautiful as they are serviceable. The Sioux word tipi is formed of ti, meaning to dwell or live, and pi meaning used for; thus tipi means used to live in. It is well named."

"Other tents are hard to pitch, hot in summer, cold in winter, badly lighted, unventilated, easily blown down, and ugly to boot."

"---other tents are made to sell. The tipi was made to live in."

"Other tents are just contrivances of stakes, and ropes and canvas; the tipi preserves the memory of great men, heroes, orators , and warriors, of wild freedom, lavish hospitality, and intimate family life."

"---the true tipi is not a symmetrical cone---, but is always a tilted cone, steeper at the back, with the smoke hole extending some distance down the more gently sloping side, of front of the tent, and with two flaps---called smoke flaps, ears or wings---flanking the smoke hole and supported by movable outside poles to regulate the draft, ventilate the tent, and carry off the smoke."

"---dogs transport their houses for them ---like pack animals, carrying (supplies) on their back, and dragging (the) poles."

Stanley Vestal

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ARE TIPIS AND WIGWAMS THE SAME THING?
No - Tipis are a portable conical shelter made from canvas (or hides) and long poles. A wigwam is a fixed shelter made from branches and bark or mats. tipi, hogan, wigwam longhouse, plank house, adobe hut
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STONE RINGS

There are many archaeological sites where rings of stones are found. These usually are places where tipis were set up, with stones holding down the edges of the liner, and then when the Indians moved their tipis, the rings of stones were left in place. Most rings have no religious significance.

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SIZE

Most tipis were smaller than those that you see here, these are a 19 1/2 foot tipi and a 17 1/2 foot tipi. Most were 12 to 17 feet in diameter, (though the actual floor space is really egg-shaped), except for the occasional larger ceremonial or "medicine" tipi.

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POLES

On the plains, tipi poles were a very valuable commodity. Later on, when horses became available to transport them, five poles were equal in value to a horse.

The poles in our tipis are lodgepole pines, so named because they were so commonly used in the Indian tipis or lodges. They grow tall and slim in dense forests, and are amongst the best poles to use.

We use 15 poles, about 25 to 30 feet long in a 19 1/2 foot tipi plus two shorter smoke flap poles. We prefer to cut dead standing poles because they are already dried straight when we choose them. They are also much lighter weight than live poles. We peel the bark off with a drawknife and rub them with boiled linseed oil.

Different tribes used different pole structures, some based on a tripod, and others on a quadruped. Any of you who are engineers can testily to the greater strength of the tripod.

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CANVAS

As soon as canvas became available for tipis, the labor intensive buffalo skins ceased to be used. (Old movies where the Indians were shown attacking wagons or trains, taking the canvas, with it trailing behind their horses, were somewhat true.)

These tipis are made of the very finest quality of canvas available today, mineral treated army-duck. And with the best threads, webs, and sewing techniques.

Today the quality of our tipis is recognized, especially by the Sioux, and at least half of the tipis we make are for Indians.

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TIPI IS THE CORRECT SPELLING

The Sioux word tipi is formed of ti, meaning to dwell or live, and pi meaning used for; thus tipi means used to live in. It is well named.

The word wigwam refers to a dome-shaped or oval shelter covered with bark or reed mats. Tipi is the plains type shelter as you see here, with the correct Sioux spelling.

When the Indian people were forced by the government to give up everything that represented their culture, many forgot the ways of their fathers. "The tipi represented savagery," and the Indian people were encouraged to live in uncomfortable wall tents, and eventually crude little houses foreign to their lifestyle and beliefs.

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TILTED CONE

After today you will always be able to tell if an artist knew anything about real tipis when you see his picture. Does it look like an inverted ice-cream cone? If so, he did not understand how tipis are really made.

"---a real Indian tipi is always a tilted cone, steeper in the back than the front."

"A tilt braces the shorter length of the tipi against the wind, it makes more head room in the back of the lodge, where most of the activity is carried on, places the poles in the smoke hole, where they belong, and places the hole itself near the center so that it comes directly over the fireplace. The fireplace should be Just a trifle nearer the door than true center, giving additional room in the rear."

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EAST?

Are tipis always faced to the east? No, though there is religious significance in having the lodge face the east, only if the site and weather is in harmony will the tipi be set up in that direction. Often a group will place their tipis in a circle, with the doors facing the center

Sites to set up their tipis were carefully chosen to allow drainage in case of rain.

"A storm makes it plainly evident why a tipi should have its back to the prevailing storm winds with the doorway and the long smoke hole down the front facing the opposite direction usually, but not always east."

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RAIN

Doesn't the rain come in through the open top? What do you think they do when a storm approaches? Someone goes outside and moves the smoke flaps with the smoke poles by walking around the tipi while carefully wrapping the smoke flaps around the opening and over each other to make a snug fit. The Cheyenne smoke flap extensions cover the top of the lacing pins. The small hole remaining around the tied poles allows very little rain in, and the few drops, because of the location of the bundle, is right over the fire pit area, and will harm no one.
In a heavy storm, little dribbles go harmlessly down the poles, behind the liner, which extends to the ground, and drain away-unless you set your tipi in a depression.

Under most circumstances the fire can still be used as there is enough of an opening and the correct draft to carry the smoke away.

How safe and secure you feel with a wind blowing the tipi against the poles; and the sound of rain is a lullaby.

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WHO MADE THE TIPIS

"In most tribes the man spoke of the tipi as 'mine,' but actually the women made them, Just as they made most of the furnishings. And it was the women who selected the campsite, erected the tipi, and determined the arrangements inside. --- the Indian woman's tipi was her castle."

"There was keen rivalry among the women" and they maintained high standards of housekeeping and child-rearing skills. They chose a cheerful elderly woman to teach them, for the spirit in the tipi was basic to their beliefs.

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LINING

"The lining, besides keeping away drafts and dampness," increased ventilation and shadow-proofing for privacy and safety.

Someone has said that the Indian lived in his chimney. If so, it is the most comfortable "chimney" of all, and this is because of the liner. It controls the airflow to and from the fire.

"The greatest Joy in the tipi is the open fire. A tiny fire, properly laid and cared for, is enough to keep the average tipi warm and cozy even in very cold weather. A large fire is not only unnecessary but dangerous."

My Father loves to say he can toast marshmallows right from his sleeping bag. And Mom just loves the fire in the tipi!

The fuel, dry wood that does not spark and burns cleanly, is piled left of the door with the pots and pans and water container.

"Anyone who has camped in an ordinary tent knows how wet and damp everything is in the morning after a cool night- almost as wet as if he had camped out under the stars and the dew had settled directly on him. The same is true in a tipi without a lining, but is all different with one. With a lining a tipi is almost as dry as a house - dryer than most summer cottages. The lining keeps the dew from condensing inside, and so is often spoken of as a dew cloth."

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CUSTOMS

Indians were very generous to each other and their guests. "Remember, to be a good Indian you must learn to receive as well as to give."

"When a young couple was married, it was customary for the bridegroom's 'fathers' - his father and his father's brothers- to provide horses for the new household, but the bride's family provided the new tipi and it's furnishings. In some tribes the young couple camped with the bride's family, and her husband was expected to contribute to their support."

"Of course, a mother never entered her daughter's lodge if her son-in-law was inside."

The grandmother slept to the right of the door, and saw that the young people behaved themselves when courting.

"The old time tipi was a temple as well as a home. The floor of the tipi represented the earth on which we live, the walls of the tipi the sky, and the poles the trails from earth to the spirit world- the links between man and--the Great Mystery."

There were definite rules of etiquette. If the door was open, friends usually walked in. If the door was closed, they spoke, called out, or rattled the door covering. ("Hello, the lodge!" is a current greeting.)


Much interesting information on child-rearing, family dynamics, and living in the tipi, plus patterns and many illustrations, is available in Laubin's book.

We have met the Laubin's and feel that they would definitely be pleased with the way we make what could be called "authentic modern top quality Sioux tipis".

Are you interested in how the tipi is made?

There is much better information on fabrics and on the paints to use in painting a tipi today in the book THE 20th CENTURY INDIAN TIPI. "How to Choose and Use a Tipi Today" by Frank Pond Reese.

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© 2001 - Frank Reese - All Rights Reserved.