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What Materials Were Used to Make Teepees?

Updated April 17, 2017

The tepee, 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 tepee was used year-round as a place for families to live and cook food, and the size of the tepee indicated the number of horses owned by the family or tribe. This is because transporting tepees required the use of several horses.

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Buffalo Hide

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

Wooden Poles

Tepee 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 tepee construction.

Dew Cloths

Every tepee had a dew cloth tied on the poles along the inside of the structure. In addition to adding colour and design to the tepees, dew cloths kept water from running down the poles in wet weather. The cloths also prevented drafts from blowing across the tepee. 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 tepee 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 tepee. During bad weather, the smoke flaps were folded over the opening to completely close the opening and prevent rain from getting into the tepee.

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About the Author

Megan Kelly started writing professionally in 2007 when she was published in the anthology, "Lit Kids: Mama Bird and the Electric Rabbit" through Mill City Press. She is also a submissions reviewer and grant writer for "Spout Press," an independent magazine in Minneapolis. Kelly is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Minnesota.

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