How to Build a Replica Tipi

Take some time to learn how to make a replica tipi to get a better sense of how some Native American tribes lived.

 If you read my post about how to build an earth lodge, you learned that geography can influence human culture. Geography was partly why Native American people who lived in earth lodges, lived in those particular homes. As mentioned in that article, agriculturalists tended to live in stationary homes so they could tend their crops. Hunters on the other hand, needed homes that could be easily moved. Here is where the tipi comes into play.

 There is probably no more iconic Native American home than the tipi. Perhaps, it is because an entire generation of western movies depicted people wearing headdresses, living in tipis, and attacking wagon trains. Perhaps, it is because those tribes were the last to succumb to US forces, so they stick in our memory the best. Whatever the reason, tipis are a fairly symbolic home of Native American people. They were used widely on the Great Plains by tribes like the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Sioux. Each tribe had its own individual spin on the design of the lodge, but the untrained eye may not be able to detect these differences.

 Tipis were comfortable homes, and well suited to life in the West. They used timber sparingly, and were mostly constructed using the skins of the West’s most prolific animal; the buffalo. Tipis came in many different sizes, perhaps owing to the wealth of the family who owned it. You see, tipis are heavy, and would have required horses to move them from place to place. The more horses you had, the larger house you could move around the country. Horses were also the primary way to measure wealth between members of nomadic tribes. So, if you had more horses, you were wealthier, and your house was likely bigger as a result.

 The historical record has lots of pictures of Native American tipis. You can study these to make a replica tipi of your own. As with any of these projects, pay special attention to detail in the photos and paintings to try and make yours as accurate as possible. Here are a few examples of primary sources showing tipis.

Painted by George Catlin in 1850. Image via Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/George_Catlin#/media/File:Catlinpaint.jpg

Painted by George Catlin in 1850. Image via Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/George_Catlin#/media/File:Catlinpaint.jpg

Image via Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tipis#/media/File:Flathead_Family.jpg

Image via Wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tipis#/media/File:Flathead_Family.jpg

If you are interested in learning how to make a replica tipi, you can follow along with this brief video presentation showing you how. It takes only a little fabric, sticks, scissors, some thread, and a little light cordage to get the job done.

 Once you have the replica tipi made, you can watch this video to see how the Sioux might have set up theirs in History of the West with Jemmey Fletcher; Ride to Rendezvous.

 Learning how to make a replica tipi is a great way to deepen your understanding of the lives of Native American cultures of the plains. After studying the primary sources, and actually seeing how they are constructed, you should be better able to grasp that subject. Who knows, perhaps one day you may learn how to setup a life size tipi and for a few nights?

 If you found this article helpful and would like to receive notification when new content is released, please subscribe to my e-mail list below. You can also take a minute to like my Facebook page as well.