Although there are several spellings for tipi (also teepee and tepee), to the Native American of the Great Plains it meant one thing...home. In fact, tipi is the Lakota word for "living in."
The first nomadic peoples were drawn out onto the plains by the plentiful supply of the game animals. Their lifestyle was shaped by the constant movement and migration of the great herds of bison. They needed a sturdy dwelling that could stand up against the several prairie winds and yet could be dismantled at a moment’s notice to follow the drifting herds. They invented the tepee. Before the horse, the tepee was smaller than the sizes we are familiar with form historical photos. The smaller sizes can be attributed to the only available draft animal, the domestic dog. The Plains People refer to this period in the history as the “dog days”. The dog was used to carry all camp items including the tepee. The tepees used during this period was likely to be 12-14 in diameter. The dogs not only carried the cover the dragged the poles along as well.
With the coming of the horse, everything changed for tribes of the great plains. They were no longer limited to small swellings. They lodges grew in size, housing their families in more spacious quarters. Most commonly, tepees were made from the tanned hides of bison and sometimes elk. Young female cow buffalo were preferred. Their hides were not as thick as the larger bulls and older animals. The chore of building a tepee was no small task and was usually taken on by several women skilled at tanning
and constructing the dwelling. The entire structure was derived from the animal from which the skin provided the cover. Tendons were stripped for the thread. Bones were formed into the scrapers to flesh the hides and needles to sew it all together.