Historic St. Mary's
Mission & Museum
est. 1841

Historic Brand of St. Mary's Mission - Cross on a Hill

406-777-5734
Email: stmary@cybernet1.com
P.O. Box 211
315 Charlo Street
Stevensville, MT 59870

The Salish Tipi or Lodge
A Salish family outside of a lodge
  • The first shelters were pit houses, dug in the ground and covered with logs and rushes.
  • The home of the Salish people was called a Tipi or a Lodge. The traditional tipi door opening faces East, toward the Rising Sun although sometimes doors faced the inner circle for protection from enemies and weather.
  • The Salish moved with the seasons following the ripening of berries and roots, water, when it dried up at lower elevations and the buffalo herds. The women would break camp, taking down the tipis. They then piled the poles, cover, robes, clothing, tools, and dried food on a travois made of Lodge Poles. The travois were pulled by horses, dogs and the women and children. The entire encampment traveled together:
~ The tribal Chiefs rode in front with the hunters
~ Tribesmen came next
~ Boys 1 to 2 years old rode double in front of their fathers to become accustomed to the feel of the horses.
~ Older boys rode the colts and young horses
~ Elders of the tribe followed
~ Women and girls rode or walked behind carrying babies in back boards and household goods.
  • Lodges were cone shaped, approximately 9x6 feet and were made up of 9-10 buffalo hides. Fewer hides were needed to make a cone shaped tipi than needed to make a square or rectangular one.
~ Fewer hides made tipis easier to move because of less weight
~ Cone shape made it easier to heat because it has less surface area and there were no cold corners
~ Small fire, in the center, warmed the lower portions
~ Cone shaped top acts like a chimney and draws the smoke out
~ The shape allowed the tipi to withstand high winds
~ The cone shape allowed the size to be adjusted to accommodate additional family members
~ Snow and rain run down the sides more easily
~ Inner hide liner with outer fence made of rushes to keep out snow and wind
  • Lodge Pole Pines support the tipi cover and were also used as a travois frame for hauling goods when the tribe moved. The framework was often covered with brush to provide summer shade.
  • Women were considered owners of the lodges and all belongings inside. If a couple divorced, the man found his clothing outside the tipi and he couldn’t enter the tipi again.
  • A skilled woman could unpack and erect a tipi and have a fire built within an hour by herself.
  • When traders and military came to this area, canvas became available as tipi cover material. Using canvas,lodges were lighter and allowed larger lodges to be built without adding to the weight. Buffalo hide is 5 times heavier than canvas. 
  • Willow backrests often served as a chair in the tipi. Bull Rush mat (Toolie) was made for sitting or sleeping and provided protection from the cold, hard ground.
  • Smoke flaps and poles controlled air movement and smoke inside the tipi.
  • Each Indian Tribe was recognized by their tipis and had very specific ways of  cutting, sewing, decorating, ventilating, erecting and even entering their homes.
A Salish family outside their lodge.
Salish lodges at St. Mary's Mission
Tipis on the grounds at St. Mary's
Salish drummers and dancers - 1903
Salish -1903
Salish Encampment

Thanks to an Indian Education for All  grant a replica of a Salish Encampment was developed  in 2009 on the grounds at Historic St. Mary's. The dedication of the Encampment was held during the 175th Anniversary Celebration of the Founding of the Mission.
Dedication sign for the Salish encampment
  1. Tipis shown among native plantings
  2. Replica of Salish encampment and hot air balloons
  3. 2 tipis and native plantings in bloom