To cut off a bend of the Platte we once more left the valley, ascended sundry slopes of sand and clay deeply cut by dry creeks, and from the summit enjoyed a pretty view. A little to the left rose the aerial blue cone of that noble landmark, Laramie Peak, based like a mass of solidified air upon a dark wall, the Black Hills, and lit up with the roseate hues of the morning. The distance was about sixty miles; you would have guessed twenty. On the right lay a broad valley, bounded by brown rocks and a plain-colored distance, with the stream winding through it like a thread of quicksilver; in places it was hidden from sight by thickets of red willow, cypress clumps, and dense cool cotton-woods. All was not still life; close below us rose the white lodges of the Ogalala tribe.
These Indian villages are very picturesque from afar when dimly seen dotting the verdure of the valleys, and when their tall white cones, half hidden by willow clumps, lie against a blue background. The river side is the savages' favorite site; next to it the hill foot, where little groups of three or four tents are often seen from the road, clustering mysteriously near a spring. Almost every prairie-band has its own way of constructing lodges, encamping and building fires, and the experienced mountaineer easily distinguishes them.
The Osages make their lodges in the shape of a wagon-tilt, somewhat like our gipsies' tents, with a frame-work of bent willow rods planted in the ground, and supporting their blankets, skins, or tree-basts.
The Kickapoos build dwarf hay-stack huts, like some tribes of Africans, setting poles in the earth, binding them over and lashing them together at the top; they are generally covered with clothes or bark.
The Witchetaws, Wakoes, Towakamis, and Tonkowas are described by the “Prairie Traveler” as erecting their hunting lodges of sticks put up in the form of the frustrum of a cone, and bushed over like "boweries.”
All these tribes leave the frame-work of their lodges standing when they shift ground, and thus the particular band is readily recognized.
The Sacs, Foxes, Winnebagoes, and Menomenes build lodges in the form of an ellipse, some of them 30—40 feet long, by 14 15 wide, and large enough to shelter twenty people permanently, and sixty temporarily.* The covering is of plaited rush-mats bound to the poles, and a small aperture in the lodge acts as chimney.
The Delawares and Shawnees, Cherokees and Choctaws, prefer the Indian pal, a canvas covering thrown like a tente d'abri over a stick supported by two forked poles.
The Sioux, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Utahs, Snakes, Blackfeet, and Kiowas use the Comanche lodge covered with bison skins, which by dressing become flexible as canvas. They are usually of a shining white, save where smoke-stained near the top; the lodges of great chiefs are sometimes decorated with horizontal stripes of alternate black and white, and ornamented with figures human and bestial, crosses, circles, and arabesques. The lodge is made of eight to twenty-four straight peeled poles or saplings of ash, pine, cedar, or other wood, hard and elastic if possible, about 20 feet long; the largest marquees are 30 feet in diameter by 35 feet high, and are comprised of 26–30 buffalo skins; and they are sometimes planted round a “basement” or circular excavation two or three feet deep. When pitching, three poles lashed to one another with a long line, somewhat below the thinner points, are raised perpendicularly, and the thicker ends are spread out in a tripod to the perimeter of the circle which is to form the lodge floor; the rest of the poles are then propped against the three first, and disposed regularly and equidistantly to make a steady and secure conical frame-work. The long line attached to the tripod is then wound several times round the point where the poles touch, and the lower end is made fast to the base of the lodge, thus securing the props in position. The covering of dressed, hairless, and water-proof cow-buffalo hide—traders prefer osnaburg—cut and sewn to fit the frame like an envelope, and sometimes pinned together with skewers, is either raised at first with the tripod, or afterward hoisted with a perch and spread round the complete structure. It is pinned to the ground with wooden pegs, and a narrow space forms a doorway, which may be closed with a blanket suspended from above and spread out with two small sticks. The apex is left open with a triangular wing or flap, like a lateen sail, and is prevented from closing by a pole inserted into a pocket at the end. The aperture points to windward when ventilation is required, and, drawing like a wind-sail, it keeps the interior cool and comfortable; when smoke is to be carried off, it is turned to leeward, thus giving draught to the fire, and making the abode warm in the severest weather; while in lodges of other forms, you must lie down on the ground to prevent being asphyxiated. By raising the lower part so as freely to admit the breeze, it is kept perfectly free from musquetoes, which are unable to resist the strong draught. The squaws are always the tent-pitchers, and they equal Orientals in dexterity and judgment. Before the lodge of each warrior stands his light spear, planted Bedouin-fashion in the ground, near or upon a tripod of thin, cleanly-scraped wands, seven to eight feet long, which support his spotless white buffalo-skin targe, sometimes decorated with his "totem" — we translate the word “crest”—and guarded by the usual prophylactic, a buckskin sack containing medicine. Readers of “Ivanhoe" - they are now more numerous in the New than in the Old Country - ever feel" a passing impulse to touch one of these spotless shields with the muzzle of the gun, expecting a grim warrior to start from the lodge and resent the challenge." The fire, as in the old Hebridean huts, is built in the centre of the hard dirt floor; a strong stick planted at the requisite angle supports the kettle, and around the walls are berths divided by matted screens; the extremest uncleanliness, however, is a feature never absent. In a quiet country these villages have a simple and patriarchal appearance. The tents, which number from fifteen to fifty, are disposed round a circular central space, where animals can be tethered. Some have attached to them corrals of wattled canes, and a few boast of fields where corn and pumpkins are raised.
The Comanche lodge is the favorite tenement of the Canadian and Creole voyageurs, on account of its coolness or warmth when wanted, its security against violent winds, and its freedom from musquetoes. While traveling in an Indian country they will use no other. It has been simplified by Major H. H. Sibley, of the United States Army, who has changed the pole frame-work for a single central upright, resting upon an iron tripod, with hooks for suspending cooking utensils over the fire; when folded up, the tripod admits the upright between its legs, thereby reducing the length to one half-a portable size. The “Sibley tent” was the only shelter of the United States Army at Fort Scott, in Utah Territory, during the hard winter of 1857–8, and gave universal satisfaction. The officers still keep to the old wall-tent. This will, however, eventually be superseded by the new form, which can accommodate comfortably twelve, but not seventeen, the usual number allotted to it. Captain Marcy is of opinion that of the tents used in the different armies of Europe, a none in point of convenience, comfort, and economy will compare with the ‘Sibley tent for campaigning in cold weather.” In summer, however, it has, like all conical tents, many disadvantages: there is always a loss of room; and for comfortably disposing kit-chair, table, and camp couch—there is nothing equal to the wall-tent. The price of a “Sibley," when made of good material, is from $40 to $50 (£8—£10), and it can be procured from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.