Red Horse's Tipi Maker Bundle

     Mrs. Red Horse used her bundle's contents to direct the making of buffalo hide tipis among the Miniconju Sioux.  Her family is known for pictographic drawings from the buffalo days, published as Red Horse Owner's Winter Count

     Red Horse purchased this bundle and was apprenticed to guide tipi construction.  When a Lakota woman needed a new tipi, Red Horse was invited to a meal along with women who volunteered to sew the tipi.  Following the meal, each woman was given hair-off buffalo rawhides, prepared by the host, to be tanned.  On a selected day, each woman brought completed hides so Red Horse could position hides of the first row and cut them to fit.  Hides were stitched together in various places by Red Horse using sinew to hold them in place.  Women were assigned where to work and given sinew threads by the host.  Bone or metal awls  poked holes to insert sinew threads for whip-stitching hides on their flesh side.  The size of the tipi was determined by how many hides had been prepared.  A 16-foot tipi required about eleven large buffalo hides.

     Mrs. Red Horse's tipi making contents were housed in a rawhide bag from a buffalo calf with orange hair and white on its belly. The upper is of tanned buffalo.  A half-inch gusset allowed the bag to expand.  The lazy-stitch beading is in size 12 white, navy blue, green and periwinkle blue.  Tin cones on one side have red horse hair while the reverse are yellow.  A single thong closed the bag using two holes on each side of the top.

     Inside the bundle is a semi-tanned rope of buffalo having three red buckskin loops at various places, according to tipi sizes.  A 1/4 inch-wide buffalo hide rope was broken and is temporarily held with a sinew.  The rope begins with a red-ochre buckskin thong where a bone pin is placed into the ground as a pivot point.  Distances to various markers on the rope are at 11 feet 1 inches, 16 feet 6 inches and 19 feet 4 inches.  Sioux use a pivot point a foot or more above the tie area, so these measurements served for planning approximately 10, 15, or 18-foot lodges.  The Lakota spoke of a tipi size according to the  rows of hides required, so a 18-foot tipi was a three-row tipi or "two wife tipi."

     A buffalo bladder contains a round bone pin as an anchor pin.  A sliced leg bone stores bone pins used to mark sizes of lodges.  These correspond with reddish loops on the main rope.  The bone has a sharpened front to press into the buffalo hide, which leaves a temporary indention line marking where to cut.  This leg bone has a scratched image of a tipi on its upper part.  The bundle housing the markers is secured with a two-ply buffalo string, a remnant from making a buffalo wool (hair) rope.  A  tongue from a shoe serves as a "palm" for pushing an awl.  A down feather is a medicine piece.

   In the bottom of the bladder bag are pieces of birch fungus.  These are waxy and ignite quickly from an ember into a flame.  They were for making a cooking fire, since the host was expected to cook three meals a day for the workers.  The mirror in the bag is a wotawe (medicine piece) to flash at storm clouds to keep Thunder Beings from bringing lightning, rain, wind, and/or hail.  The tipi would be smoked after erected, but if hides get wet before smoking, they dry stiff.  They must be under cover at night from the dew and when it rains.  A tipi might be completed during five days of dry weather.  

     Wrapped in a deer hide are Mrs. Red Horse's working tools.  Her metal awl with sinew-wrapped handle was stuck into a buckskin wrap.  Red Horse kept deer sinew as threads for tacking hides.  A stone knife cut threads, after tacking hides, and a bone-handled knife cut marked-out buffalo hides before sewing.

A 16-foot tipi with Red Horse's rope marker stretched for an 18-foot lodge.

A 16-foot tipi with Red Horse's rope marker stretched for an 18-foot lodge.

   A faded red cloth holds two leaf-shaped stone arrowheads, rusted iron arrowhead, numerous flaked chips, and back half of a wasp.  These sharp pieces were to deter  Iktomi (spider trickster) from causing puncture wounds as women poked holes during sinew sewing.  An herb bag contains "medicine" to ward off injuries. The white fungus was burned and inhaled to ease headaches from eye strain during sewing in bright sunlight.  

     When the tipi was completed, warriors walked across the tipi to honor it before being set up and smoked.   Those helping with the sewing would receive gifts of food; Mrs. Red Horse would receive a robe and food for directing the tipi making.


c. Larry Belitz, Plains Indian Material Culture Consultant

(This article was printed in Whispering Winds, an Indian hobbyist magazine)