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Earth Lodges

Arikara earth lodgeThe earth lodge (or mud-lodge as the Pawnees refer to it) was the dominant dwelling of Central and Northern Great Plains village Indians. These earthen structures were circular, dome-shaped dwellings with heavy timbered framework covered by layers of branches, grass, and lastly earth. The round-shaped lodge emerged in the 1500s and remained in use until the early 1900s. Historic tribes most frequently associated with earth lodges are the Pawnees, Mandans, Hidatsas, Arikaras, Otoes, Kansas (or Kaw), Omahas, and Poncas.

In what would become the state of Kansas the tribes that lived in earth lodges were the Pawnees and the Kansas. These houses were only used in the spring and fall as both tribes utilized the skin tipi in the winter and summer when they were on extended bison hunts in the short grass prairies.Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site, Republic near Republic in north central Kansas is the site of a late 18th century Kitkihahki (Republican) band Pawnee village that originally was home to at least 40 lodges and 1,000 or more Pawnees. This unique museum is built over the excavated floor of one of the largest dwellings. Everything uncovered by archeologists was left in place: support posts, corn, scrapers, gun fragments, bones, and other items are all visible. Outside the museum visitors can still see lodge depressions, storage pit depressions (caches), and a fortification wall from the Kitkihahki village.

Earth lodge construction began with the excavation of a shallow circular area of roughly one foot in depth with a diameter of 20-60 feet depending on the size of the lodge. There were always four center posts but the larger houses had six, eight, 10 and sometimes even 12 center posts. These center posts were forked at the top and connected by horizontal beams. A secondary row of posts was set around the perimeter of the floor several feet inside the outer wall. These posts were shorter than the center posts and were connected to the top by a series of cross thatched branches. Closely spaced posts spanned the area from the secondary row to the ground outside the house depression. Rafters then covered these posts and were then covered by grass thatch and then a heavy layer of sod and clay. A hole was left at the top of the structure to allow for the fireplace smoke hole, light, and for the Pawnees a celestial view of the stars. A vertical walled tunnel-like entry passage extended from one side of the lodge, typically to the east.

The interior of the lodge held the beds, arranged around the edge. As many as 40 people from two extended families lived in a large dwelling. The beds were usually portioned for privacy but not always. The beds were built off the ground, providing storage beneath. There was usually one or two storage pits in the lodge to store dried meat, vegetables, and clothing. The women constructed these lodges and they also owned them.

Entry: Earth Lodges

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2011

Date Modified: December 2015

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.