Indian Grass House

Grass house. A dwelling having the shape of an old-fashioned beehive, often described by Spanish and French travelers of the 16th and 17th centuries, which was the typical habitation of the Caddoan tribes, except the Pawnee and Arikara. Its construction was begun by drawing a circle on the ground, and on the outline setting a number of crotched posts, in which beams were laid. Against these, poles were set very closely in a row so as to lean inward; these in turn were laced with willow rods and their tops brought together and securely fastened so as to form a peak. Over this frame a heavy thatch of grass was laid and bound down by slender rods, and at each point where the rods joined an ornamental tuft of grass was tied. Two poles, laid at right angles, jutting out in four projecting points, w r ere fastened to the apex of the roof, and over the center, where they crossed, rose a spire, 2 ft high or more, made of bunches of grass. Four doors, opening to each point of the compass, were formerly made, but now, except when the house is to be used for ceremonial purposes, only two are provided, one on the E. to serve for the morning, and one on the w. to go in and out of when the sun is in that quarter. The fireplace was a circular excavation in the center of the floor, and the smoke found egress through a hole left high up in the roof toward the E. The four projecting beams at the peak pointed toward and were symbolic of the four points of the compass, where were the paths down which the powers descend to help man. The spire typified the abode in the zenith of the mysterious permeating force that animates all nature. The fireplace was accounted sacred; it was never treated lightly even in the daily life of the family. The couches of the occupants were placed against the wall. They consisted of a framework on which was fitted a woven covering of reeds. Upon this robes or rush mats were spread. The grass house is a comely structure. Skill is required to build it, and it has an attractive appearance both without and within. It is adapted to a warm climate only, and is still in use among the Wichita. Temporary dwellings of poles covered with grass were common among the Plains tribes, and similar houses for storage purposes were used by tribes on the Coast of Oregon (Boas). See Earth lodge, Habitations. 


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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