Community Blog

Have You Ever Wanted to Build a Tipi?

We live in the Land of Enchantment. One item that contributes to that enchantment is the Western Plains Tipi.

Have you ever wondered how tipis were created ? Well, John McCauley, an Aldean resident, knows first-hand about building tipis and he has shared his tips below. The Plains Indian tipi is probably one of the most practical utilitarian nomadic structures ever invented. It could be erected quickly, dismantled, and moved to follow the buffalo herds. Women did most of the assembly and dismantling of tipis while the men hunted.

Layout three long lodge poles.

Layout three long lodge poles.

Here is how it’s done: layout three long lodge poles on the ground and lash them together in the proportion shown on the right, then start adding poles equally spaced around the near-circle base while another person continuously walks around with a rope, lashing them all together as shown below.

When all the poles are in place, the top of the tipi will look like this. Finally, the rope is pulled all around to secure all the poles together. Tie the rope to one of the poles for easy removal later when the tipi is dismantled.

All of the poles are in place.

All of the poles are in place.

The covering is then lifted in place with two poles and wrapped all around the poles. The original coverings were made of tanned buffalo hides which were heavy, limiting the size of a tipi to 12’-15’ in diameter. When canvas was introduced, the lighter weight allowed tipis to be 15’-25’ in diameter, as well as erected much quicker.

Tipi 4.jpg

Make sure the smoke flaps and the door entry fall between the front two poles. The key to success is laying out the base of the tipi which is not a perfect circle but rather an ellipse. The front door and the smoke flaps also face downwind and the bottom of the covering doesn’t touch the ground. Later, an interior lining will be added.

Tipi 6.jpg

Then, stitch together the two edges of the covering through the pre-prepared holes, as shown on the left, and secure the door flap in place.

The completed covering will look like the photo below, with the bottom of the covering held slightly off the ground but secured with stakes .

Tipi 8.jpg
Tipi 7.jpg

Finally, the interior lining is lashed in place. When the wind blows against the outside of the covering, the open smoke flaps at the top act like the top of a chimney, drawing in the air between the outside covering and the interior lining, thereby removing any smoke from the interior. The liner also acts as insulation in the winter. The original coverings were made of tanned buffalo hides which were very heavy especially when camps were moved. The coverings were later replaced by lighter canvas and painted with elaborate decorations.