Although women were often absent or marginalized in western American art, Miller portrayed them with alacrity and pleasure, especially in pastoral scenes of Indian life. In this watercolor, a strong, attentive horse, standing alongside his master, echoes the attention being given by the Indian man to his wife. All eyes are directed to this woman, making her, with infant on her back, the center of attention. The teepee’s door is open, exposing some domestic activity inside. It provides a portal into the home life of this couple, a view that Miller has preserved with great dignity and honor. Even the tree on the right of the composition bows to the family’s solidarity.
There is but one larger version of this work (CR# 426B). While this domestic struck Miller as a noble theme, one worthy of including in his 1837 souvenir portfolio for Stewart that was created from early sketches made in the field and fresh work done in New Orleans, it did not find much of a place in his later, mature corpus.
Peter H. Hassrick
Translation of Tipi:
According to tipi expert, Reginald Laubin, “tipi” is a Sioux word derived from “ti” meaning “to dwell or live,” and “pi” meaning “used for,” thus the term literally translates as “for living in.”
Description of Sioux Tipi:
A Sioux tipi or lodge is almost identical to that used by the Cheyenne. Both utilize a three pole tripod for the basic pole support structure. Because these tribes were frequently allies and were interrelated, a composite style evolved using the wider Sioux smoke flaps with the addition of an extension on that flap, as seen in Cheyenne lodges. This design became popular among the Sioux and the Cheyenne, and is probably the still the most popular style among tipi users today. It used anywhere from 8 to 20 poles, depending on the tent’s diameter. A 14’ to 16’ diameter lodge required 14-16 tanned buffalo hides to make the cover. An interior lining extended part way up the poles. It helped vent smoke from the lodge’s fire pit to the opening at the top of the smoke flaps and improved drainage of rainwater that dripped down the poles. This lining, also made from hides, broke up shadows seen from the outside somewhat like closing the curtains on a window.
In comparison, the Crow style lodge is tall and stately in appearance, but more difficult to construct and harder to put up. It uses a four pole basic support structure. The Blackfoot style tipi is shorter than the Crow or the Sioux, with a somewhat squat appearance and also uses a four pole support structure.
Trapper Use of Tipi:
Trappers routinely incorporated the Indian tipi into their living habits, particularly those men who married an Indian woman. Jim Beckwourth wrote frequently about life in his lodge and how he would, “retire to my lodge to seek a season of quietude.” Joe Walker toted a tipi along on his trip from the Green River Valley to California in 1833. After being tricked into diving headfirst in what turned out to be a shallow stream and getting caked in mud, Walker washed the mud off as well as he could, returned to the tipi and put on clean clothes. Christopher “Kit” Carson liked tipi life and refused to accompany John C. Fremont unless his lodge could be brought along. Unfortunately, Carson’s wife did not go on the trip and no one in the party knew how to erect the lodge. A trader soon happened along and his wife taught Carson how to put it up.
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Laubin, Reginald and Gladys, The Indian Tipi, Its History, Construction and Use
ULC: 25. LC mat: Sioux Indian’s Lodge
The artist; Sir William Drummond Stewart (c. 1839); Frank Nichols [Chapman’s, Edinburgh, 1871]; Bonamy Mansell Power; willed to Edward Power (1900); by descent to Major G.H. Power, Great Yarmouth, England; [Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, NY, 1966]; Joseph M. Roebling, Miami, FL; present owner by gift, 1980