Friday, June 14, 2013

Energy Efficiency in the Old West by Ginger Simpson

Jacquie Rogers usually posts on the 2nd Friday, but she's accompanying a friend to an out-of-state funeral so I thought I would recycle a blog from my personal site to share here.  

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?  I, for one, have decided that I don't need the extra space and much prefer a small home now compared to my 2500 sq. ft. one of 25 years ago.  At the time I had two children living at home, but with just Hubby and me most of the time, I'm happy with a lot less room.  So, 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.  Back in the day, there wasn't a Walmart close by where you could pick up a new rug or liven up the decor, or a Target where you might replace a broken dish.  Since toilet practices aren't discussed in most historical research books, I can't image having my own "on suite" which is now called the adjoining bathroom, thought I definitely would have the open concept so many seek. Alas, no stainless appliances or separate play room for the kids.  Back then it was called outdoors, and it served the purpose all year long.

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. Carrying wood wasn't just a chore needed for warmth, but as fuel for meals prepared daily.

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.    

So, how would you fare living in the 1800s when the heat outside was unbearable or the cold air nipped at your nose even inside your home?  I wonder what Al Gore would have said back then.  Perhaps burning buffalo chips was bad for the ozone, but I guess we'll never know.

*I learned my historical 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 tuned.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Very interesting, Ginger. I have read that even with having to hunt to eat, the lives of those people was far less stressful with more free time than ours today.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Ginger, thanks for taking up the slack for me today. Your post sure gets us to thinking about all the wasted resources we spend. I'm sure not complaining about our soft life, but I do admire those who use nature's gifts wisely. We could take a lesson from it, for sure.

Lyn Horner said...

Ginger, thanks for sharing your research into Indian life on the plains. I discovered many of the same facts, though not all, while researching for my Native American romance, Dearest Irish. Surely those free roaming first Americans left a much smaller carbon footprint than we do.

Meg Mims said...

Great post, Ginger. Indeed, less stress but far more work to survive. I doubt if Al Gore has any idea. LOL