How to Build an Earth Lodge

Learning how to build an earth lodge is a good activity to learn about the past.

Earth lodges like this Pawnee home were fairly common dwellings among Native American people. Image via Wikicommons:

Earth lodges like this Pawnee home were fairly common dwellings among Native American people. Image via Wikicommons:

 One of the interesting things about studying history is how geography influences human culture. Geography has influenced what clothing people make, what resources they had available, what tools they needed, what foods they ate, and so on. Although geography doesn’t determine entirely how people behave, it certainly can play a role. One way to study this principle is by studying Native American societies.

 Oftentimes, most people seem to correlate the tipi with Native American people. I mean, that’s what we see in the movies, right? Like most topics though, the truth really is a bit more complicated. There were many people who lived in tipis, but those people were generally nomadic hunters inhabiting the Great Plains and Great Basin. These folks needed homes they could put up and take down easily as they followed the herds. As a result, the tipi was a perfect solution.

 In other areas though, people were not necessarily nomadic hunters. Some were semi-nomadic, which means they moved around at certain times of the year. Others were agriculturalists, meaning they grew and tended crops for food. Other people were fishermen, and could stay in an area as long as the sea life supported them. People were also influenced by the materials available. Would you build a log home in the Southwest? Probably not. In fact, the people there used the soil to build their adobe homes. However, in the northeast, where people farmed and trees were abundant,  the Iroquois developed the longhouse. Basically, there were lots of different Native American societies, and lots of different homes they lived in.

 In Ride to Rendezvous, Jemmey Fletcher meets people of the Kansas tribe early in his adventure. At the time the story takes place, the Kansas tribe occupied portions of western Missouri, eastern Kansas, and into southeastern Nebraska. These people were semi-sedentary, meaning they planted crops, but also went out on annual buffalo hunts. Being agriculturalists, they did stay in one spot for extended periods of time. That being the case, they wanted comfortable homes to live in. The result was the earth lodge.

 There were many tribes that knew how to build an earth lodge, including the Kansas, Pawnee, Ponca, and Otoe. Earth lodges used a little bit of timber, and plenty of dirt, to create large, and very comfortable, shelters. In fact, the Native American earth lodge is thought to have been the precursor to the sod house made famous by homesteaders in later years.  Settlers were so impressed with the Native American homes; they decided to copy them as they moved west.

 If you’d like to learn how to build an earth lodge, you can follow along with this replica build video below. While there were different varieties of earth lodges, most followed a fairly similar pattern. Follow along with the video to see how to build your own. As you build, think about what it would have been like to build one big enough for 30 people to sit in. Also, think about making one using only stone tools, as Native Americans first did.

 As you can see, learning how to build an earth lodge replica isn’t that difficult. If you were to try and build a life-size one however, you’d have to pay close attention to detail so your structure would be structurally sound enough.

 At the end of the day, learning how to build an earth lodge is a great way to deepen your understanding of a historical time period. A person in Jemmey’s situation would undoubtedly have seen these earth lodges. However, as Jemmey’s geography changes in the story, so does the style of Native American homes he saw. Without realizing it, Jemmey would not only ride to rendezvous, but he would also be changing geography, and seeing very different Native American cultures as well.

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