Native Americans have a rich history in North America. Among all the things that we have learned about their vibrant cultures and heritage, their tepees are one of the most iconic symbols that represent these communities.
Indeed, most of us will instantly recognize a tepee upon first glance. The cone-shaped tents were easy to set up and disassemble, making them the ideal home. Made out of animal hide and wooden poles, tepees provided warmth and shelter while sometimes also allowing for symbolic expression. Thanks to Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, we are able to get a glimpse of what some of these tepees looked like back in the 1890s.
Photographer Walter McClintock created a series of glass lantern slides showcasing these beautiful homes back in 1896. They were later hand-colored by Charlotte M. Pinkerton so that viewers can appreciate just how vibrant and extraordinary these tepees truly were.
A “magic lantern” device was used to view the contents of these glass slides. They would project the images onto a screen or wall for viewing – not unlike the slide projectors with which we are familiar.
McClintock had been sent by the government to explore the national parks and forests in the west. During this time, he became friends with William Jackson, a scout of the Blackfoot nation who also went by the name Siksikakoan.
When he had concluded his governmental tasks, Jackson invited McClintock to Montana with him, where he became acquainted with the Blackfoot people.
And that’s where McClintock would spend his next 20 years – capturing the Blackfoot community’s way of life and culture through a camera.
During this time, he took more than a thousand photographs.
Among the various subjects that he photographed, tepees were of particular interest to him. The land was adorned with many of these vibrant, colorful homes.
The tepees were usually made out of buffalo skin. They would often have a flap at the top for smoke to exit. They also help to keep the rain out.
Some of them were plain, while others were intricately decorated with meaningful images and distinctive colors. Then there were the tepees that painted a vivid picture of a battle scene or a symbolic dream.
While Native Americans don’t generally reside in tepees anymore, some communities still use them for ceremonial purposes.
McClintock’s collection of photos only shows us a small glimpse of what the Native American tepees looked like. Other nations and communities had their own unique and original designs and interpretations.
These precious photographs were not the only thing that McClintock brought back from his incredible experience with the Blackfoot community.
He also learned a great deal about the culture and traditions of this community through one of its elders, Mad Wolf. McClintock was able to transcribe what he learned and communicated his knowledge through books and lectures later on.
Aside from the tepees, he also documented other aspects of their lives. This included Blackfoot ceremonies and day-to-day activities.
Thanks to McClintock’s tireless efforts, the Blackfoot community’s heritage continues to live on.
To view all 1,413 images that McClintock captured of the Blackfoot community, check out Yale’s library website here.
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