What Materials Were Used to Make Teepees?

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The teepee, or Tipi, was the typical dwelling of the Great Plains Native American tribes, and the word comes from the Sioux word Ti, which means "dwelling" and Pi, which means "used for." The teepee was used year-round as a place for families to live and cook food, and the size of the teepee indicated the number of horses owned by the family or tribe. This is because transporting teepees required the use of several horses.

Buffalo Hide

  • Traditional teepees were built using buffalo hide. Because buffalo herds have been reduced nationwide, many teepees are built today using domestic cow hides and canvas. The Native Americans made new teepee covers every spring because of wear from winter weather and the fires built inside.

Wooden Poles

  • Teepee supports were made by Native Americans using wooden poles. Lodgepole pine, cedar, spruce or any other straight trees were used because of their strength and durability. No flexible poles were used by Native Americans in teepee construction.

Dew Cloths

  • Every teepee had a dew cloth tied on the poles along the inside of the structure. In addition to adding color and design to the teepees, dew cloths kept water from running down the poles in wet weather. The cloths also prevented drafts from blowing across the teepee. The space between the tent walls and the dew cloths acted as passages for smoke ventilation, carrying smoke up to the smoke flaps.

Wind Control Mechanisms

  • Each teepee had smoke hole ears, also known as smoke flaps, pointing east. This was because wind on the Great Plains blows from the west and smoke flaps were pointed east to control drafts and keep wind from blowing smoke back inside the teepee. During bad weather, the smoke flaps were folded over the opening to completely close the opening and prevent rain from getting into the teepee.

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