What Are Tepees Made of?

The Plains Indians were the only American Indians to use tepees. The tepees kept them warm in the cold months and cool during the warmer months. The materials used to make them varied depending on the region they were in at the time.

  1. History

    • Tepee is the European form of the word "tipi." The Lakota language is where tipi originated. "Ti" meaning "dwell" and "pi" meaning "they dwell." Tepees are very similar to tents and were a form of housing. Tepees were convenient because these Native Americans did not settle in one place. They followed the moving buffalo.


    • Three or four long poles, made from narrow branches or trees, were used for the frame of the tepee. The outer covering was layered from buffalo. Depending on the area they were in, they also used grass, birch bark or the skins from other animals to make the covering. The poles for the frame were tied to pegs with rope to anchor the tepee.


    • The Crow, Sarsi, Blackfoot, Omaha and Commanche tribes tied four poles as a support before assembling the rest of the tepee. The Cheyenne, Kiowa, Pawnee and Mandan used three poles as a support for their tepees.


    • During the winter, tepees were easy to keep warm with only a small fire. During warmer months, tepees provided shade from the sun. Tepees were used by mostly nomadic tribes because tepees were easy to disassemble, pack onto a horse and assemble again at the next destination.


    • The tepee interior had bedding, a rug for babies, fuel, a hanging cooking bag, medicine and various household gear. Weapons and shields were also housed inside the tepees. The inner linings were painted with pictures or designs depicting things that went on in the lives of those living in the tepee.

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