Indian Wigwams on Long Island

Footnotes to Long Island History


MARCH 16, 1950


Thomas R. Bayles

       Contrary to popular opinion, the cone-shaped tepee, which was used on the western plains, was not used by the Indians on Long Island. The eastern Long Island Indians used a different type than that of their neighboring tribes on the west end.

       When the Shinnecock Indians wanted to build a home, one of the tribe gathered together his family and friends who brought in the materials. These consisted of long straight poles, and many bundles of a certain kind of grass that grew on the meadows, called "blue vent." The poles were bent and tied in intersecting arches with their butts sticking into the ground until a dome shaped frame was made, either round or oval. The size was sufficient to accommodate the family, and was usually 10 to 20 feet across. When all the poles had been bound firmly together, horizontal strips were put in place and fastened in the same way. The bundles of grass were sewed fast to these, row after row, shingle fashion, until the dome was completely thatched, except for a hole through which the smoke escaped. This smoke hole was plastered around with clay to keep the grass from catching fire, which according to the old Shinnecock's, happened too often for comfort. Immediately below this rude chimney a little saucer-like hollow in the ground was dug out for a hearth for the fire that furnished light. warmth and heat for cooking for the whole family. Usually the wigwam had only one room but sometimes two or three rooms were partitioned off to form an apartment. Across the low doorway was hung a skin or mat made of grass or bark, which answered every purpose until the white men came, when they found it necessary to have a wooden door with a strong lock.

       The Indians were rather short on furniture, and used mats and skins on the floor for seats, and mats of skins on a rude couch of poles which ran around the inside of the wigwam next to the wall.

       The Indian squaw stowed her wooden and gourd spoons, her clay kettles and stores of food beneath this rude bed. From the roof poles were hung the corn, braided in strings, and baskets containing medical herbs of various kinds.

       In an article written several years ago by M. H. Harrington of Columbia University, he states that while digging on the ancient village site near Shinnecock Hills. He came across the sites of the old wigwams, marked by a distinct saucer shaped hollow, as if the ground had been dug out a little below the surface of the surrounding ground.

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