How the wigwam was built


The wigwam was more difficult to build than the simple bark tipi.


Above drawing by Bonnie Shemie from Houses of Bark (Tundra Books 1993)

Sixteen to twenty long poles were planted in the ground in a circle about fifteen feet (four and a half meters) across. They were arranged so that each pole had a mate on the opposite side of the circle. These pairs were then bent towads each other and lashed together with strips of basswood or cedar bark to form arches. Next, two or three rings of saplings were tied around the structure to increse its strength.


Above drawing by Bonnie Shemie from Houses of Bark (Tundra Books 1993)

To cover the outside, the Indians used whatever was available: bark, animal hides, even rush mats made of cattails ingeniously sewn together to make them watertight. In cold weather all of these might be combined on the same wigwam. Bark might be layered over an inside shell of mats, and then banked with leaves, green branches of snow. For the bark roof, birch was best, being light and flexible, but chestnut, oak and elm were also used.

Sometimes a foot-high platform was built around the fire pit. This platform was spread with mats and soft skins to make a warm, confortable place for sitting or sleeping. Wigwam walls in the more permanent settlements were lined with decorated mats. Like the bark tipi, the wigwam had an earthen floor covered with fir boughs that gave off a lovely scent. Skin or fur might be thrown over the branches for warmth.

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