By Melissa Wynn and Randy Nelson
Many people today believe that all historic Native Americans lived in Tee Pees. I recently learned that this is not true. Originally tee pees were used by the tribes living in the Great Plains.These brave buffalo hunters used small tee pees as portable, temporary housing when following the majestic herds of bison. They also used the poles and covers to make dragging their kill easier. Many used dogs tethered to the “sled”, manufactured by strapping the cover over the poles, much like the sleds used for ski hill rescues. As the Native Americans were displaced from their homelands tee pees became more the norm.
These days tee pees have been mostly replaced by manufactured tents because they are lighter and more portable. However, the ancient tee pee has several advantages over today’s nylon tent, the most prevelent being the smoke flaps that allow ventilation for an inside heat source be it an open fire or camp heater. During summer the cover can be raised on the shady side creating a canopy so that cool air blows in. Being made of hides, or today heavy canvas, these more durable, primative structures are much better at keeping out the wind and much more water resistant.
Tee Pees are comprised of four basic components, poles(number dependant on size 12-18), cover, liner and floor. The poles stand upright with the bottoms fanned out and are bound together at the top with straps or rope. Next the cover is wrapped around the exterior with the smoke flaps at the top and then laced up the front like a tennis shoe. The liner goes on the interior of the structure from the bottom about half way up. This creates a void between the liner and cover for ventilation. Finally the floor canvas covers the bare ground providing insulation from the cold ground and protection from soiling your things.
Tee Pees are popular with the Mountain Man Rendevous crowds but anyone can enjoy these primitive structures. The larger tee pees can sleep ten and sometimes more. They say love grows best in small spaces so fill your tee pee with those you love and see what grows.