Setting Up Our Teepee

The jewels of the Graham Ranch hide in the grass that waves in the prairie wind.

They lay silent while cattle, sheep and horses graze, waiting for someone to notice and wonder.

The teepee rings tell of another time, another people, in the same place.

The smaller rings are older, noting families who packed their belongings on travois pulled by dogs.

The larger rings signal times when the Blackfeet ruled the countryside with horses as their partners, beginning about 1750.

The teepee rings at the ranch always lay on hills above springs. I guess the Indians wanted to stay away from biting mosquitos and deer flies. I know I do.

This summer, it is time to put a teepee back into a ring.

My husband, Steve, bought a teepee with poles in May.

Our Mother’s Day project should have been simple and fun, but my daughter, Abby, relates the true story.

“Mom cussed,” she said.

We did manage to get the poles erected that day, but a gust of wind knocked everything to the ground a few days later. The brittle poles shattered.

Good thing we did not get the canvas around them.

Steve got a screaming deal on some freshly cut lodgepole pine logs as substitute poles.

When my friends, Katie and Jillian, visited last week Abby and I had the labor force to attempt a teepee rising again.

The logs were about 20 feet long so we loaded everything on the flatbed trailer and drove out to the teepee ring.

The Blackfeet use four foundation poles so each of us grabbed a log and drug it to a corner.

Try to find a corner in a ring sometime.

Thirteen-year-old Jillian was the first to lift her log into the air, walking her hands toward the center of the log as she lifted.


Jillian looked like a gymnast beginning a backflip right before she stepped out from under the log, letting it crash to the ground.

Ten-year-old Abby looked from Jillian to her log on the ground, speechless.

We went back to the shop for saws.

Each of us lopped off about 5 feet of log and tried again.

We managed to get four logs in place. The girls each stood under a log, holding it in place and Hercules Katie held two while I tied them together.

Ten more logs created the teepee cone and we smiled at one another, proud of our accomplishment. Abby and Jillian danced inside the ring of poles. We talked about all that we needed to bring to our teepee campout that night – sleeping bags, pads and marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers for smores.

Then we spread the canvas around the poles.

It only reached half way around.

The girls sighed in unison.

We dismantled everything except the four foundation poles.

“If we all lift and move a pole in four steps, we should have it about right,” I coached.

“One, two, three!”

The center sagged.

We all collapsed on the ground laughing.

“How much do those poles weigh anyway?” Katie asked.

“Probably about 80 pounds,” I guessed.

We decided it was lunchtime.

After lunch, we measured the height of the canvas and marked all of the poles.

“The rope should be just above the mark,” I said.

Katie, Jillian and Abby held three poles while I pushed and twisted the fourth into place. Then we moved to the next pole. Eventually, the crisscross was centered.

We decided such a small teepee only needed ten poles.

By 7 p.m., the canvas fit.

We were so tired, we postponed our campout for a night.

The next night, Katie and I tested cots while the girls slept between us on air mattresses.

I watched the sun rise and touch my face the next morning.

Sleeping in the teepee was worth all of the effort to put it up.

I now have a new appreciation for the women who could set up a teepee in 20 minutes.

Lisa Schmidt