Omaha Indian Earth Lodge
The primitive domiciles of the Omaha were chiefly (1) lodges of earth or, more rarely, of bark or mats, and (2) skin lodges or tents. It may be observed that there were no sacred rites connected with the earth lodge-building or tent-making among the Omaha and Ponka.
Omaha Indian Earth Lodges.
When earth lodges were built, the people did not make them in a tribal circle, each man erecting his lodge where he wished; yet kindred commonly built near one another.
The earth lodges were made by the women, and were intended principally for summer use, when the people were not migrating or going on the hunt. Those built by the Omaha and Ponka were constructed in the following manner: The roof was supported by two series of vertical posts, forked at the top for the reception of the transverse connecting pieces of each series. The number in each series varied according to the size of the lodge; for a small lodge only four posts were erected in the inner series, for an ordinary lodge eight were required, and ten generally constituted the maximum. When Mr. Say1 visited [P]the Kansa Indians, he occupied a lodge in which twelve of these posts placed in a circle formed the outer series, and eight longer ones constituted the inner series, also describing a circle. The wall was formed by setting upright slabs of wood back of the outer posts all around the circumference of the lodge. These slabs were not over 6 feet in height, and their tops met the cross timbers on which the willow posts rested. Stocks of hard willow about 2 inches in diameter rested with their butts on the tops of the upright slabs and extended on the cross timbers nearly to the summit. These poles were very numerous, touching one another and extending all around in a radiating manner, supporting the roof like rafters. The rafters were covered with grass about a foot thick; and over the whole lodge, including the sides or slabs, earth was piled from a foot to 2 feet in depth. Such a covering lasted generally about twenty years. A hole in the middle served as an exit for the smoke.
Making an Earth Lodge
In addition to the lodge proper there was a covered way about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, the entrance to which had a covering of tanned or dried buffalo hides. This covering consisted of two hides hanging side by side, with the inner borders slightly overlapping. They were fastened to the passageway at the top and at the outer sides, but were loose at the bottom where they overlapped. This part was raised by a person entering the lodge. A similar covering was placed at the interior end of the passageway.
Subsequently to 1855, the Omaha dwelt in three villages composed of earth lodges, as follows: (1) Biku′de, a village near the agency; (2) Windja′ge, Standing Hawk's village, near the Presbyterian mission house; and (3) Janȼa′te ("Wood Eaters,") named after an insect found under the bark of trees Sanssouci's village, near the town of Decatur, Nebraska.
Earth lodges were generally used for large gatherings, such as feasts, councils, or dances. Occasionally there was a depression in the center of the lodge which was used as a fireplace; but it was not over 6 inches deep. Each earth lodge had a ladder, made by cutting a series of deep notches along one side of a log. On a bluff near the Omaha agency I found the remains of several ancient earth lodges, with entrances on the southern sides. Two of these were 75 feet and one was 100 feet in diameter. In the center of the largest there was a hollow about 3 feet deep and nearly 4 feet below the surface outside the lodge.