Saturday, May 1, 2010

Energy Efficiency in the Old West

In an age where we are concerning about rising fuels costs, going green and saving energy and the earth's resources, I often wonder why builders continue to construct such huge homes.  Does a family a four really need a 4000 square-foot home?  Or is the size of a person's home these days symbolic of their success or failure in life? Let's look at how a family of four might have lived had they been Lakota Sioux back in the 1800s.

For the Plain's Indians, portability was a must.  They migrated from summer to winter camps, following the buffalo herds. Everything the tribe owned was easily packed and readied for travel by horseback.  The poles used to create the tepee structure were used over and over again, and also served as the travois on which personal belongs were loaded, much like a trailer today, and pulled behind the animal.  Upon construction, the tepee usually faced east and had a slight slant in that direction to combat the sometimes prevalent prairie winds.  The door--a flap that when closed signaled a desire for privacy.

Buffalo served many purposes for the tribe.  Usually as many as twenty hides covered the pyramid structure, and were held together by wooden lodge pins.  Furry and warm hides also served as bedding and were rolled and stored during the day.  A smoke flap at the top of the tepee could be adjusted to ventilate or retain heat, depending on the season.  Bags known as parfleches and made from animal skins, served as closets and drawers.    Heated stones kept the interior warm, but firewood was kept close at hand when readily available.

During the winter months, more skins, sometimes brightly painted to reflect family or tribal history, were added along the bottom to hold in the heat. Tepees were viewed by the Indians as *"a good mother who sheltered and protected her children." 

Backrests made from woven willow bark or other materials served as chairs for the family.  Bows, arrows, medicine bags, and other belongings might be suspended on the interior walls.  The woman's sewing bag usually held sinew thread and needle shaped bones, made from the buffalo, and her cooking was done in a buffalo paunch pot. 

Unlike the white trappers and traders who killed buffalo for sport and their pelts, the American Indian prized everything about nature and nothing was wasted from their kills.  Every part of the animal served some function necessary to life. Everything from the string on their bows, the fur that sheltered them from cold winter winds and snow, and the bladder in which they toted their water came from one shaggy beast.  When the herds began to disappear, so began the tribe's sojourn into oblivion.   

*I learned all these fantastic facts from a Reader's Digest book entitled, America's Fascinating Indian Heritage and I've woven some of these facts into a few of my historical novels. There's so much more to share, so stay turned for more.  I'm on a roll.


Jen Black said...

Sometimes the simplest life is good, but then I start to ponder what would happen if we all lived in tepees or the equivalent now ...
Are we allowed sanitation, and gas stoves?
But yes, small really is beautiful

Jannine said...

Ginger, I prefer a house with a huge amount of square footage because anything smaller makes me claustrophobic. Our home is only 1900 sq. feet. I'd prefer 2500 to 3000 square feet. Plus, there are more walls to decorate and more furniture to buy, in a larger home lol. I'm a design junkie.

It's amazing what people got by on over 100 years ago and beyond. I doubt anyone could survive today on what they did back then.

Loved the post subject, Ginger.

Cheryl said...

Yeah, my house isn't easy to clean. With 10 rooms there's always something that doesn't get done.


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