In my Mountain Man chapters and Rendezvos stories I have mentioned teepee’s. Teepee’s are indeed a wondrous structures. As you know they consist of a skin of some sort strecthed over a inverted cone of poles and pegged the ground. Most today are of canvas but the early homes of the Native American were made of animal hides most notably Buffalo. The Buffalo was the largest hide available and also the toughest. The hide was fleshed and de-haired and treated with a mixture of brain and ash to render it supple. Then a number were stitched together to make a teepee covering. The frame was of slender pine sapling often called lodge pole pine. The entire dwelling was constructed and prepared by the women of the tribe. The teepee belonged to the woman of the family.
WE spent a week in a twenty foot Cheyenne teepee nestled in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. By twenty foot I mean it was twenty feet in diameter at the base. The poles of a shelter of this size are at least thirty feel long. On our arrival our teepee was standing along with two others, in a small clearing among two others in a small clearing at the base of a heavily wooded hill, along side a beautifully trout stream. Luckily we did not have to erect it.
I have watched others set up at rendezvous. First a outline is scratched into the ground, then the three strongest poles are bound together at the right height. Then they are raised and spread apart with one (in Indian fashion) to the west and the other s at points a third of the way around the circle. Next the remaining poles are spaced around the outline. When all are in place except the one used to raise the skin, the rope left hanging from the original tripod is use to wrap around all and tied in place at the base of one. Next the skin has been fastned at the top of a sturdy pole and is lifted into place and wrapped around the frame work. This is done in such a fashion that the door will be facing east so the door will greet the morning sun. This was standard in almost all tribes as a regligious practice. Once adjustments were made to make a smooth sided shelter the skin was held in place by overlapping the front seam and wooden pegs were threaded into special holes and then the bottom was pegged into place. the top the teepee was open and had what were called smoke flaps with slender poles fit into pockets which were moved into different positions to control draft and closed the top in heavy rain. Many a night during our stay in Montana I was up in the middle of the night moving flaps in the rain (my wife did not subscribe to the Indian way that had the women doing this).
A properly erected teepee was very stable even in high winds. As I stated in a earlier chapter a family had spent a Montana winter in the same teepee we used. A good teepee has a liner in it this is what it implies a liner at about a height of six feet that is fastened at the base of the poles and is secured at the top to the poles by a line running around the poles at the right height. This liner usually had a ground cloth that stretched into the floor about a foot or so. Flooring could be laid down and bedding run next to the sides. The outer skin did not come all the way to the ground all the way around so a up draft was created between the skin and liner and exited the smoke hole at the top. this caused the smoke from a fire inside to be pulled up out of the shelter. The line supporting the liner also provided a place to hang things inside. The liner often was beautifully decorated. A door was framed and hung on the outside. I found our Montana and my old friend Jack’s teepee’s to be very snug and comfortable.
Now for a little teepee etiquette. You wait for a invitation to enter. Announce your presence by either scratching on the side of the skin or coughing. When you enter men go to the right and women to the left. You sit where the host indicates. Never pass between someone and the fire, always step behind. Many nights were spent in Big Jacks warm shelter sitting near the back of the teepee in a place of honor as a long time friend, with my daughter dropping off to sleep behind us as the night wore on and the stories stretched on and on. Ah I truly miss those days and my old friend. The nights at eight thousand feed got cold in September but it was snug and warm inside with good friendship and a small fire. It was cold to finally leave and head back to our cold white mans tent but the stars sure could shine in that frosty sky.
Well hope you have enjoyed this ramble come again anytime. ramblingbob