What is a Teepee?

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  • Written By: Nychole Price
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 May 2020
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A teepee, also known as a tipi, is a dwelling that was, and still is, used by Native Americans. Tipi is a Sioux name that means "house." The teepee is a conical structure made from poles that is covered by buffalo skins. Rope is used to secure the dwelling together at the top. During periods of heavy winds it is fastened to the ground with pegs.

Although Indians are known for using teepees, this isn't true of all tribes. Tribes such as the Iroquois and Algonquin preferred setting up permanent residences, using structures such as brush shelters or wigwams. Only nomadic tribes, who hunted buffalo, used teepees. Their dwellings needed to be quickly assembled and taken down in order to follow the migration of the herd. Great Plains Indian tribes such as the Lipan Apache, Comanche and Kiowa popularized the teepee.

Before horses were introduced to the Indians, the tepee was built compact in size. Five or less people could fit comfortably in the tepee before it became overcrowded. The chief's teepee was usually much larger, fitting 12 or more people. This is because tribal meetings were usually conducted in his home.

During periods of relocation, the teepee was disassembled and made into a travois. Due to the compact size, this was able to be done by two women, in less than one hour. The poles were assembled into a frame and covered with the buffalo skins. The travois was packed with the Indians' belongings and pulled by the dogs like a sled.

When horses were introduced to the Plains Indians by the Spanish in the 1500s, tepees were able to be built much larger in size. With the strength of the horses, much larger poles could be gathered and used in the construction of the teepee, making it taller and larger in circumference.

Teepees were designed to accommodate a small fire in the middle of the dwelling. The hole at the top allowed the smoke to escape, while smoke flaps helped provide oxygen to feed the fire. The structures were faced towards the wind, to help blow the fire up and out the chimney hole. During periods of warm weather, the sides of the teepee were rolled up to allow the breeze to flow through.

Teepees are rarely painted unless in times of war. During these times they are painted in tradition tribal designs, usually involving animals. Many teepees though, were decorated with items such as buffalo horns, tails, horse hair or bear claws. Due to the need to relocate quickly, furnishing were scarce and usually just included a bear skin rug on the ground for sleeping purposes.

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Post 2

Your definition could be of any structure: Sibley tent, Pyramid tent, or a one pole tent.

No matter how you spell tipi-tepee-teepees-etc., it is a conical portable nomadic structure with two adjustable smoke flaps, multiple poles, and a detachable cover over the structure.

It is the smoke flaps that really set the tipi apart from almost all other structures.

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