Monday, August 1, 2011

Native American Indian Houses, Illustrated


Native American Indians
By
Frederick Starr
D. C. Heath & Co., Publishers
Boston, New York, Chicago
1898

. Houses.


The houses of Indians vary greatly. In some tribes they are large and intended for several families; in others they are small, and occupied by few persons. Some are admirably constructed, like the great Pueblo houses of the southwest, made of stone and adobe mud; others are frail structures of brush and thatch. The material naturally varies with the district.

Illustration.
Iroquois Long House. (After Morgan.)
Iroquois Photo Gallery
An interesting house was the “long house” of the Iroquois. From fifty to one hundred or more feet in length and perhaps not more than fifteen in width, it was of a long rectangular form. It [pg 008]consisted of a light framework of poles tied together, which was covered with long strips of bark tied or pegged on. There was no window, but there was a doorway at each end. Blankets or skins hung at these served as doors. Through the house from doorway to doorway ran a central passage: the space on either side of this was divided by partitions of skins into a series of stalls, each of which was occupied by a family. In the central passage was a series of fireplaces or hearths, each one of which served for four families. A large house of this kind might have five or even more hearths, and would be occupied by twenty or more families. Indian houses contained but little furniture. Some blankets or skins served as a bed; there were no tables or chairs; there were no stoves, as all cooking was done over the open fire or the fireplace.
Illustration.
Algonkin Village of Pomeiock, on Albemarle Sound, in 1585. (After John Wyth: Copied in Morgan.)
The eastern Algonkins built houses like those of the Iroquois, but usually much smaller. They, [pg 009]too, were made of a light framework of poles over which were hung sheets of rush matting which could be easily removed and rolled up, for future use in case of removal. There are pictures in old books of some Algonkin villages.
These villages were often inclosed by a line of palisades to keep off enemies. Sometimes the gardens and cornfields were inside this palisading, sometimes outside. The houses in these pictures usually have straight, vertical sides and queer rounded roofs. Sometimes they were arranged along streets, but at others they were placed in a ring around a central open space, where games and celebrations took place.
Many tribes have two kinds of houses, one for summer, the other for winter. The Sacs and Foxes of Iowa, in summer, live in large, rectangular, barn-like structures. These measure perhaps twenty feet by thirty. They are bark-covered and have two doorways and a central passage, somewhat like the Iroquois house. But they are not divided by partitions into sections. On each side, a platform about three feet high and six feet wide runs the full length of the house. Upon this the people sleep, simply spreading out their blankets when they wish to lie down. Each person has his proper place upon the platform, and no one thinks of trespassing upon another. At the back of the platform, against the wall, are boxes, baskets, and bundles containing the property of the different members of the household. As these platforms [pg 010]are rather high, there are little ladders fastened into the earth floor, the tops of which rest against the edge of the platform. These ladders are simply logs of wood, with notches cut into them for footholds.
Illustration.
Winter House of Sacs and Foxes, Iowa. (From Photograph.)
The winter house is very different. In the summer house there is plenty of room and air; in the winter house space is precious. The framework of the winter lodge is made of light poles tied together with narrow strips of bark. It is an oblong, dome-shaped affair about twenty feet long and ten wide. Some are nearly circular and about fifteen feet across. They are hardly six feet high. Over this framework are fastened sheets of matting made of cat-tail rushes. This matting is very light and thin, but a layer or two of it keeps out [pg 011]a great deal of cold. There is but one doorway, usually at the middle of the side. There are no platforms, but beds are made, close to the ground, out of poles and branches. At the center is a fireplace, over which hangs the pot in which food is boiled.
The Mandans used to build good houses almost circular in form. The floor was sunk a foot or more below the surface of the ground. The framework was made of large and strong timbers. The outside walls sloped inward and upward from the ground to a height of about five feet. They were composed of boards. The roof sloped from the top of the wall up to a central point; it was made of poles, covered with willow matting and then with grass. The whole house, wall and roof, was then covered over with a layer of earth a foot and a half thick. When such a house contained a fire sending out smoke, it must have looked like a smooth, regularly sloping little volcano.
In California, where there are so many different sorts of climate and surroundings, the Indian tribes differed much in their house building. Where the climate was raw and foggy, down near the coast, they dug a pit and erected a shelter of redwood poles about it. In the snow belt, the house was conical in form and built of great slabs of bark. In warm low valleys, large round or oblong houses were made of willow poles covered with hay. At Clear Lake there were box-shaped houses; the walls were built of vertical posts, with poles[pg 012]lashed horizontally across them; these were not always placed close together, but so as to leave many little square holes in the walls; the flat roof was made of poles covered with thatch. In the great treeless plains of the Sacramento and San Joaquin they made dome-shaped, earth-covered houses, the doorway in which was sometimes on top, sometimes near the ground on the side. In the Kern and Tulare valleys, where the weather is hot and almost rainless, the huts are made of marsh rushes.
Illustration.
Skin Tents. (From Photograph.)
Many persons seem to think that the Indian never changes; that he cannot invent or devise new things. This is a mistake. Long ago the Dakotas lived in houses much like those of the Sacs and Foxes. At that time they lived in Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. From the white man they received horses, [pg 013]and by him they were gradually crowded out of their old home. After getting horses they had a much better chance to hunt buffalo, and began to move about much more than before. They then invented the beautiful tent now so widely used among Plains Indians. The framework consists of thirteen poles from fifteen to eighteen feet long. The smaller ends are tied together and then raised and spread out so as to cover a circle on the ground about ten feet across. Over this framework of poles are spread buffalo skins which have been sewed together so as to fit it. The lower end of this skin covering is then pegged down and the sides are laced together with cords, so that everything is neat and tight. There is a doorway below to creep through, over which hangs a flap of skin as a door. The smoke-hole at the top has a sort of collar-like flap, which can be adjusted when the wind changes so as to insure a good draught of air at all times.
Native Americans: Languages of the Sioux Indians
Among many tribes who used these tents, the camp was made in a circle. If the space was too [pg 014]small for one great circle, the tents might be pitched in two or three smaller circles, one within another. These camp circles were not chance arrangements. Each group of persons who were related had its own proper place in the circle. Even the proper place for each tent was fixed. Every woman knew, as soon as the place for a camp was chosen, just where she must erect her tent. She would never think of putting it elsewh
ere. After the camp circle was complete, the horses would be placed within it for the night to prevent their being lost or stolen.
This sort of tent is easily put up and taken down. It is also easily transported. The poles are divided into two bunches, and these are fastened by one end to the horse, near his neck—one bunch on either side. The other ends are left to drag upon the ground. The skin covering is tied up into a bundle which may be fastened to the dragging poles. Sometimes dogs, instead of horses, were used to drag the tent poles.
  

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Lewis H. Morgan.—Lawyer. One of America's earliest eminent ethnologists. A special student of society and institutions. Author of important books, among them,Houses and House-life of the American Aborigines, and The League of the Iroquois.
Stephen Powers.—Author of The Indians of California.