12' Tepee Plans




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By Ernest Thompson Seton

If you are possessed of the true spirit of Woodcraft, you will soon or late make your camp into an Indian Village-modified, no doubt, and equipped with several things not usually found in the primitive camp, but still colored with the picturesque ways, and dominated by the picturesque dwellings and decoration of the Indian.

The outstanding feature among these will doubtless be the tepee. The superlative advantages of the tepee are the open fire, the perfect ventilation, the warmth in cool weather, the "coolth" in warm weather, the lung balm and disinfectant supplied by the wood-smoke, and maybe the strongest of all--its beauty and romance.

For general use in fine weather or in winter, especially in the West, we find the old Sioux tepee very satisfactory. Therefore, I shall first tell you how to make that, planning a 12-footer as a judicious middle size.

rrm080.gif (4786 bytes)
FIG. 80.

The original Indian tepee cover of old style was not a part of a true circle; was not even half a circle. This gave it more height and less width inside than the Woodcraft tepee which has been simplified into a true half circle; a change which results in its being easier to make and to manage.

Get 32 yards of 6-ounce duck (or heavier). Cut it into strips 8 yards long, run these together on a machine so as to form a square-cornered sheet 4 yards by 8 (BHIS). Lay this flat on the ground or floor. Then from a peg at A, with a stringy; and a chalk, sketch the dotted half circle BCS (Fig. 80). Cut along this line, and hem the edge with a stout cord in it.

Cut out the two triangles AFE and ARG; also the two rounded pieces marked "door." From the scraps left, cut out the two smoke flaps as shown. Hem these, and stitch them on to the tepee cover, so that of smoke flap No. 2 is fast to GQ of the cover; and LM of No. I is fast to EP of the cover.

Cut a piece of canvas 4 feet long and 9 inches wide (when hemmed), sew it on to the edge at Q (q' q') ; and another 9 inches by 9 to sew on at DS.

rrm081.gif (4435 bytes)
FIG. 81.

Now, sew a peg-loop to the corner under each end by the door (B and S); and also one every 4 feet around the ground-line of the whole cover. These peg-loops may be of light rope, but are easier to sew on if made of canvas strips, each 18 inches long and made by folding canvas about 1 inch wide and 3-ply thick. Note that there is a peg-loop at the bottom of each smoke flap; also at the central point A.

In the top corner of each smoke flap, make a 2-inch hole. These should be bound. On the edge at P and at q' q' are. rows of holes ached through the cover. These are for the lacing pins. Those sit supposed to fit exactly on those at Q, and those at B over the two at D.

An important reinforcement is a small rope sewn into the upper edge of the smoke flap No. 2, and extending across the cover to the top of smoke flap No. 2. Without this, the flaps will surely tear off soon or late. 

The cover is now as in Fig. 81. The best and easiest time to paint low, as it lies on the ground.

Having made the cover, we need 12 lodge poles, each 14 feet long, sight and slender; and 2 smoke poles, each 16 feet long and even more slender; as well as 8 lacing pins and a dozen stout stakes.

The poles should be about 2 1/2 inches thick at the base, and run out to about 1 inch thick at the top. If you are in a country where you can get lodge-pole pine, jack pine, cedar, spruce, or tamarac poles, slim and straight enough, you are lucky. Trim off all knots, all roughness, and all bark; and dry them out before using.

I have several times sent to a lumber yard for hop poles of the desired size. Many times I have gone into a thicket of soft maple or black birch saplings and cut the needed poles. But they are never very straight, and will surely rot in a few years.

I have seen bamboo poles used, but they must be tied very securely. They are too slippery for ordinary knots. Anyway, they are scarce, and not Indian.

Often, I have built my Indian Village of poles procured as follows: Go to the nearest lumber yard, select 6 pieces of 2 X 4 spruce, each 12 feet long, and one piece 14 feet long. They must be clear of all large knots. Have the mill man rip each piece diagonally, so as to make of it 2 pieces 1 1/2 inches thick at one end and 2 1/2 at the other. Then, with a sharp drawknife, trim off the corners--and you have your poles, clean, white, straight, and seasoned. This method I have found particularly serviceable in the East where dressed lumber abounds, and poles are unknown.

The lacing pins, 8 in number, should be of any straight slender shoots --willow or arrow-wood-- 15 inches long, a little thicker than a pencil, sharp at one end, and decorated, if you will, with rings of bark on the blunt end; or a tassel, or rings of red paint anywhere.

The pegs should be ordinary tent pegs, about 2 feet long, with a notch on one side near the top. There should also be one extra large heavy peg for an anchor. ,

The Setting Up.

Now, we are ready to set up the tepee.

At a point 12 feet from their heavy ends, tie together 2 of the lodge poles, passing the rope once around. Then, on this, tie a third. (The Crows use 4 instead of 3. ) An old squaw or a sailor could tie these so they would not slip; but it is wiser for the novice to drive a staple over the rope into each.

Measure a circle 12 , feet across on the ground selected for the tepee and set up the tripod on this. Now set the rest of the lodge poles (except one--the lifting pole) as regularly as may be, in the forks, with their butts on the ground circle. Lash these together at the top by walking around outside with the long end of the rope two or three times, tying its end to the anchor stake which is driven down firmly inside the circle to the west of the center--that is, away from the door which always faces east.

Now, lay the cover down just west of the poles; and with inside upwards on that lay the last-the lifting pole. On this pole, 12 feet from the ground, tie the cover by the peg-loop A, at the top of the cover. With this pole, lift the cover up to place, carrying the two sides around till they meet at the east side, and overlap, permitting the lacing pins to go through, then out level through its mate; thus the canvas is laced together. (See Fig. 82.)

On each of the two long or smoke poles is a cross-piece of wood 6 inches long, nailed or lashed on at a point 18 inches from the top. Put the sharp end through the hole at the top of the smoke flap, till it rests on the cross-piece; the other end rests on the ground. A stout cord from the loop at the bottom corner of the smoke flap is needed at times to complete the adjustment.

Now, our tepee is up. It needs to be pegged down all round only in case of a storm.

rrm082.gif (12239 bytes)
FIG. 82.

The fire is lighted in the middle. If the wind blows from the west, set both smoke flaps with the poles pointing east, and all the smoke will go out of the vent. If the wind changes to the south, drop the north smoke flap, and swing the south smoke pole till it points northeast, etc. If the wind blows from the east, close the smoke flaps on each other, leave the door open, and the smoke will be taken care of.

The entrance is closed with a door made of canvas on a frame, as shown. During the day this may be laid aside.

This is the old Sioux tepee-the lightest and most comfortable portable dwelling ever invented by man. It would have been used by all travelers in the West but for the difficulty of transporting the long poles.

The one weak spot is the smoke hole during heavy rain. To meet this we have the Mandan bullboat or storm cap. This is made of canvas on a willow frame, and is lifted into position by means of a long pole.

The Chipewyan Tepee

This requites a cover like that of the Sioux, but has no smoke flaps; and the whole of the portion above the topmost small circle (Fig. 81) is cut out. Its place is taken by a movable smoke flap on two poles as shown.

Further, the Chipewyan tepee has a bedroom or extension in the form of an A-tent tacked on. In one case I saw two of these annexes on the same tepee.

Since these side-rooms have a rain-tight roof, are wind-proof, often are provided with a mosquito curtain in front to make them fly-proof, and have the warmth and cheer of the open fire, they are the perfection of comfort for all weathers.

See Also: 

Painting the Tepee

Smaller 10' Teepee Plans

Woodcraft 4-Pole Teepee

Indian Shelters

Indian Communal Shelters

Bark Teepee

Rhythm of the Redman






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.