Early Native American Houses with Wattle Work
The term wattling is applied to such constructions as employ by interlacing, plaiting, etc., somewhat heavy, rigid, or slightly pliable parts, as rods, boughs, canes, and vines. Primitive shelters and dwellings are very often constructed in this manner, and rafts, cages, bridges, fish weirs, and inclosures of various kinds were and still are made or partly made in this manner. As a matter of course, few of these constructions are known to us save through historic channels; but traces of wattle work are found in the mounds of the lower Mississippi valley, where imprints of the interlaced canes occur in the baked clay plaster with which the dwellings were finished. When we consider the nature of the materials at hand, and the close correspondence in habits and customs of our prehistoric peoples with the tribes found living by the earliest explorers and settlers, we naturally conclude that this class of construction was very common at all known periods of native American history.
The constructors of native dwellings generally employed pliable branches or saplings, which are bound together with vines, twigs, and other more pliable woody forms. John Smith says of the Indians of Virginia that—
Their houses are built like our Arbors, of small young springs bowed and tyed, and so close covered with Mats, or the barkes of trees very handsomely, that notwithstanding either winde, raine, or weather, they are as warm as stooues, but very smoaky, yet at the toppe of the house there is a hole made for the smoake to goe into right over the fire.
Butel-Dumont also, in describing the dwellings of the Natchez Indians of the lower Mississippi region, speaks of the door of an Indian cabin "made of dried canes fastened and interlaced on two other canes placed across."
A singular use of wattle work is mentioned by Lafitau. He states that the young men, when going through the ordeal of initiation on attaining their majority, were placed apart in—
Of a somewhat similar nature was the construction of biers described by Butel-Dumont. Speaking of the Mobilians, he says:
When their chief is dead they proceed as follows: At 15 or 20 feet from his cabin they erect a kind of platform raised about 4½ feet from the ground. This is composed of four large forked poles of oak wood planted in the earth, with others placed across; this is covered with canes bound and interlaced so as to resemble greatly the bed used by the natives.
According to John Lawson, similarly constructed "hurdles" were in use among the Carolina Indians.