Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eastern Woodland Lean-to

Over the summer I had the privilege of working on the reconstruction of a traditional Eastern Woodland Native American lean-to. Fort Ouiatenon park in Tippecanoe County Indiana is home to a reconstruction of an 18th century blockhouse which I featured earlier but, it is also home to a reconstructed Native Village which comes to life every fall at the Feast of the Hunters' Moon. Lean-to's provided protection from the sun, wind, and rain. In these sheltered spaces, women would weave mats from rushes and cattails, and make and decorate clothing and baskets. Lean-to's were also used to store extra food, wood, and clothing.
Over the winter the old lean-to collapsed and the members of the tribe reached out for volunteers who would be willing to help them rebuild the lean-to in time for the feast. Since I volunteer as a docent in the blockhouse it was no problem for me to lend a hand. As you can see the basic frame is built of poles that have been cut green and stripped of their bark. We were allowed to harvest trees from another county park property down the road from Ouiatenon. This assured the tribe that they would be using local, authentic materials. We cut down several Maple trees with an average butt diameter of about six inches. Fifteen of these were cut into lengths between nine and twelve feet. We buried the butt ends three feet deep to create the posts that would hold the roof.
Inside the lean-to are two fire pits which are used during the feast to boil large kettles of water for cooking and cleaning. These stones where also harvested from the riverbank just a few yards from the village. In this photo you can see that we incorporated a couple of live trees in the design. See the root base in the upper right hand corner. Cross pieces were loosely tied to these living trees so that they can be re-adjusted as the tree grows.
The cross pieces are made of the tops of the maples we harvested and stripped. Tied together and lashed to the uprights they make a very sturdy framework. The lean-to has a pitch of about two feet from front to back. The posts at the front are nine feet high, in the middle seven, and at the back six. This is done to prevent rain from collecting on the roof.
Here you can see the finished lean-to at the begining of this year's feast. The top and back sides have been covered with canvas which was used traditionally once trade had been established between Natives and Europeans. In more ancient times the covering would have been made of trees bark or woven mats made of cat-tail reeds.If you look closely you can see the kettles boiling over the fire-pits. The village has about six wigwams like the one you can see next to the lean-to.
During the feast the public is invited into the Native Village to learn more about how Eastern Woodland Native Americans lived in their traditional homeland.