Pueblo County, Colorado
A Family and Their Tipi

A Family and Their Tipi

Dr. Calvin Hunter with the help of his sons have constructed a tipi in front of his ranch home on Boulder Road in Rye for the past several summers. His six children with their spouses and his fifteen grandchildren gather around a fire in the tipi to roast marshmallows, share family history, and hear Native American folk stories told by Dr. Hunter's wife, Marilyn.

The word tipi is Sioux, "ti" meaning to dwell or live, "pi" meaning used for. A tipi is a roomy, well lit and ventilated dwelling. It's cool in the summer and snug in the severest of winter weather.

Dr. Hunter learned about tipis and their construction from lifelong friends, Reginald (Tatanka Wanjila) and Gladys (Wiyaka Wastewin) Laubin. They were adopted by the the family of One Bull, son of Sitting Bull and are recognized authorities on Native American life, dances and ceremonies. Now in their nineties, the Laubins live in Wyoming.

Their book, "The Indian Tipi, It's History, Construction, and Use", is still the best guide for constructing a tipi according to Dr. Hunter. He checks almost every step with the book as he puts his tipi together.

A tipi starts with poles. Dr. Hunter and his son, Craig, made a trip to LaVeta Pass this spring to cut lodge-pole pines 23-24 feet long. Native Americans had to replace their poles every other year. The poles were dragged on the ground causing them to shorten. Dr. Hunter needed to replace his poles after they were damaged last year in a storm.

The Sioux and Crow use four support poles. Dr. Hunter prefers three support poles like the Cheyenne. Feathers are tied, (hammered) onto the top of the support poles for decoration and to discourage the birds.

The three support poles are tied together with rope and pulled up. The tipi is egg-shaped, flat on the back, not a cone. The tipi faces east to allow the prevailing west wind to blow the smoke away. The distance from the center to each pole is carefully measured with a measuring rope to ensure the shape is correct.

Fifteen additional poles are placed in position, resting against the support poles. Using a section of rope, the poles are tied together at the top, by circling the structure four times clockwise, "with the sun", whipping or snapping the rope up into place and drawing it tight. Four is the scared, or lucky, number in Native American cultures, but it is also practical providing more leverage for tightening the rope.

Dr. Hunter's canvas outer covering was specially made by a tent and awning company in Denver. It's folded, triangular fashion, towards the center where the lifting pole is placed. The tapes of the tie flap are tied to the pole and then the entire bundle with the pole is lifted into position.

The cover is unrolled from each side and carried around to the front so the two sides meet, the south side lapping over the north side. The choke-cherry lacing pins fasten the two sides together.

Smoke-flap poles, which are cut to size and rounded on the end so they don't puncture the pockets in the canvas, are inserted into the smoke flaps to allow the smoke hole to be opened and closed. A pole is placed directly in front of the door, five feet away from the tipi to hold the smoke flaps in position.

From the inside the poles are pushed out against the cover to make the tipi floor plan symmetrical. The canvas is staked to the ground using pegs and the stake loops. A liner is tied to ropes wrapped around each pole on the inside. The liner provides insulation, making the tipi cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter. A tipi's brave decorated his liner with pictures of battles and hunts. Dr. Hunter had his grandchildren paint the liner of his tipi.

Once the structure is complete, it is ready to move into. Dr. Hunter's grandchildren wait, watching patiently as the work is completed.

The Plains tribes furnished their tipis with buffalo robes and elaborate back rests. The floor was covered with rugs, mats or skins, creating a "seal" with the liner. Stanley Vestal in the introduction to the Laubin's book says, "A tipi preserves the memory of great men, heros, orators, and warriors, of wild freedom, lavish hospitality, and intimate family life." The Hunters are preserving a memory of the plains and its people and creating an intimate family tradition.

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