The Look of the Historic Tipi Camp Set Up

or.... what you want to see in a Historic 1840 to 1890 tipi camp.

Traditional tipis represent the era from around 1840 to about 1920. They can be from any tribe or area where hide or cloth tipis were built. A cloth tipi was considered a status symbol because of the cost, lightness of material, and increase in size of the lodge. This is the time of the American Indian and his travels through the Great Plains into the reservation period. The primary purpose was to live in the tipi, not to show it off at a Wild West show or trade fair. But when on dis≠play, the tipi was shown to its finest.


I wish to thank Ken Curtis, Kenny Weidman, Krista Swanson for the use of their tipis/materials and Kathy Fleming for taking  the photos

What you might see in a Historical/Traditional Tipi set up and camp.
  • Cover is down to ground all the way around. If not, wood, sticks, and wood boxes can cover the areas to prevent airflow.
  •  Set for weather. If hot, sides are up; if cold, cover is down to the ground.
  •  No fitted liner of any type. Rectangular muslin (beaded), calico cloth, robes, blankets, shawls, and leather liners are attached at the top by
    rope or pole (not attached at bottom in any way except by articles placed on top of bottom under turn).
  •  Liner can be optional.
  •  Use of smoke-flap poles optional.
  •  No door poles out front. Smoke flaps can be tied to pegs that hold the cover down or not at all.
  •  There can be some cloth, undecorated or lightly decorated, and streamers on poles. There can be use of feathers or hair locks.
  •  Pegs for holding down cover are pounded in at an angle.
  •  Door can be blankets, rawhide, beaded panels, fur hides, or framed cloth over wood sticks bent.
  • One or two sets of backrests with buffalo hides/blankets for beds.
  • Built-up beds that are off the ground with backrest for head and foot.
  • Clothing and most material in rawhide parfleches are pushed around inside the bottom of the tipi either holding lining in place or not. Some items can be hanging inside or displayed in lodge. Not overly done.
  • Cooking herbs hang from poles to the left as you go inside.
  • Outside cooking area can be a covered brush arbor or with blankets.
  • Tripods, horse gear, and traveling items can be stored outside along with childrenís toys.
  •  Inside/outside can be a mess or in some disarray. No skulls unless this is a society or medicine lodge. Then it needs to be set up in this manner with all decorations and materials.




Actual outside living area shown in photo taken by George W. Scott, Fort Yates,  late 1880s Sioux


Wife of Phil McCusker, interpreter, Indian Territory 1875


What you do NOT  want to find in a traditional tipi.
 1. Mandela's and dream catchers. Not part of a traditional tipi or camp. Mandela's came out of the 1960's.
 2. Lawn chairs.
 3. Plank wood backrests.
 4. Modern cooking equipment.
 5. Leg bone lacing pins. Lacing pins were wood and not much bigger than a #2 pencil in thickness.
 6. Very decorated pegs.
 7. Highly decorated streamers.
 8. Cow or buffalo skulls or any skulls for that matter. The use of the Buffalo skull is for the Sun Dance
    ceremony and not usually an everyday item in or around a tipi. These are ceremonial and not generally for
    the public view.
 9. Awning attached to the front of a tipi. This is a Buckskinner item that has just come around in the last 20
       years or so.
10. Any modern materials. Very interpretive area.
11. Large rawhide boxes. The Sioux were the only ones who had the boxes and those came around in the
      1870's or so. Sizes were about 15"x15"x18" or so. There were some other type boxes, but they are special
      folded rawhide in the shape of a box. Very rare.
12. Large wrought iron cook sets inside the tipi. Remember, you are cooking in your bedroom/living room, so think about it.
13. Lots of items hanging around the tipi.  If you want to impress the neighbors...OK...but if you are portraying a nomadic  camp,                
       all material is in containers ready for the next move.

These are only here to make you think. Do your own research. Be sure they are first person. That means,                                                      original material, not a copy or hear say. There are exceptions to every rule, but donít make the exception, the rule!


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