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This article has to start out with an apology. I'm going to use yet another section from Daniel Beard's "Shelters, Shacks and Shanties", but times were different when he wrote it in 1914. Some of the terminology he uses was OK during his era but is now socially unacceptable. He was an older man when he wrote this book so he grew up in the 1880's and 1890's. His knowledge of shelters is vast, but by today's standards, he is a little hard to swallow. I hope my readers aren't offended by his terminology because I present this information for the knowledge it gives, not the language he uses. For example, this next piece of artwork from his book is entitled " Indian Shacks and Shelters". Today, it should be "Native American…" Times were different then, not better. When he gets to the point that he offends even me, I have taken the liberty to change a few of his words.


While the ingenuity of civilization may make improvements upon the wick-up, arbors, huts and shelters of the native Indian, we must not forget that these native shelters have been used with success by the Indians for centuries, also we must not forget that our principal objection to many lies in the fact that they are ill ventilated and dirty, inconveniences which may be overcome without materially departing from the lines laid down by the native architects. The making of windows will supply ventilation to Indian huts, but the form of the hut we must bear in mind is made to suit the locality in which we find it.

RT. My old English teacher would give the above paragraph an "F" for run-on sentences.

Apache Hogan

The White Mountain Apache builds a tent-shaped shack (Figs. 29 and 32) which is practically the same as that already described in Figs. 18 and 19, the difference being that the Apache shack is not covered with birch bark, a material peculiar to the North, but the Apache uses a thatch of the rank1 grass to be found where his shacks are located. ("Rank": Growing profusely or with great vigor.) Today, however, the White Mountain Apache has become willing to accommodate himself to modern agriculture that he stoops to use corn-stalks with which to thatch the long, sloping sides of his shed-like house; but by doing he really shows good horse sense, for corn stalks and corn leaves make good material for the purpose.

San Carlos (Apache) Shack

The San Carlos Apache Indians built a dome-shaped hut by making a framework of small saplings bent in arches as the boys did in Kentucky when the writer himself was a lad, and as shown in Fig. 30. The ends of the poles are sunk into the ground in the form of a circle, while their tips are bent over and bound together thus forming a series of loops which overlap each other and give stability and support to the principal loops which run from the ground to the top of the dome. The Indians thatch these huts with bear-grass arranged in overlapping rows and held in place with strings made of yucca leaves (Fig. 31).

Pima Lodge

The Pima Indians make a flat-roofed lodge with slanting walls (Fig. 33) which may be adapted for our use in almost any section of the country. It can be made warm and tight for the far North and cool and airy for the arid regions of the South-west. The framework, as you may see by referring to the diagram, is similar to the wick-ups we men made when we were boys, and which are described in the "American Boy's Handy Book" 1, consisting of four upright posts supporting in their crotches two crosspieces over which a flat roof is made by placing poles across. But the sides of this shack are not upright but made by leaning poles against the eves.

1 "American Boy's Handy Book. What to Do and How to Do It." First published in 1890, reprinted several times with the latest reprint in 2001, Derrydale Press.

These are the figures from the American Boy's Handy Book: Note that the cabin frame, the bedstead, and the table all use the same system of forked support posts laid across the top. This support system will be used a lot for other construction methods yet to come. The bed frame is great in the desert to get cooling air flowing under your body.

White Man's Walls

The principal difference between a white man's architecture and the Indians' lies in the fact that the white man, with brick, stone, or frame house in his mind, is possessed of a desire to build perpendicular walls – walls which are hard to thatch and difficult to cover with turf, especially in the far North, where there is no true sod as we understand in the middle country, where our grass grows thickly with interlacing roots. Boys will do well to remember this and imitate the Indians in making slanting walls for their shacks, shanties, and shelters in the woods. If thy have boards or stone or brick or logs with which to build they may, with propriety, use a perpendicular wall. The Pima Indians...thatch their houses with arrow brush and not infrequently bank the sides of the shack with dirt.

It always amazes me the arrogance of writers in this era. They completely ignore every other race in America that made it strong to begin with. The information on the walls is correct...but… Political correctness didn't exist in 1914.

Adobe Roof

If you want to put a dirt roof on a shack of this description, cover the poles with small boughs or browse, green or dry leaves, straw, hay, grass, or rushes and put the sod over the top of this. If in place of making the roof flat, as shown in Fig. 33, you slant it so as to shed the rain, this sort of shack will do for almost any climate, but with a flat roof it is only fitted for the arid country or for a shelter from the sun when it is not expected to be used during the rain.


The teepee-shaped hut used by the Navajo Indians will shed the rain. To build this shack interlock three forked sticks as shown in the diagram, then lay other poles up against the forks of these sticks so that the butts of the poles form a circle on the ground (Fig. 34). Thatch this with any material handy, after which you may cover it with dirt as the Navajos do, in which case you had better build a hallway for entrance, as shown in Fig. 35. This same teepee form is used by the California Indians and thatched with wild hay (Fig. 34 1/2).

OK, that's all I can take of Mr. Beard for now.

The Wikkiup


This shelter starts off like the teepee, with a tripod of poles put up and lashed together. Other poles are added to round out the shelter. Then, using whatever materials are at hand, the gaps are filled to create a shelter. Animal skins, birch bark, construction plastic sheeting, several ponchos, I don't care. If the outside covering could blow away, use more poles to hold it in place (as seen in this photo).

There are no rules when it comes to siding a shelter such as this. If you run out of one material, switch to another. Pretty doesn't count. The hole in the middle where all the poles attach is to let out the smoke from the cooking/heating fire kept in the center of the shelter. It gets pretty smoky in there when the fire is burning, but the heat it gives out is worth it.



In keeping with the architectural style of the Wikkiup, this is a very large debris hut. It even has a door to keep warm on the inside. The debris hut I presented in an earlier issue of the Clan of the Cave Turtle, was for a one-night stand in the forest, followed by leaving it the next day. This one not only takes more time to build, but would be used for occupancy for more than one day. The stealth factor for this hut is fair, since it will look like "debris" from a distance, unless you are looking at it from the angle this photo was taken. The one thing that JUMPS out at you are the straight lines of the doorframe. Even set in this forest setting, You will notice these lines first, saying "Ah ha! Somebody's living over there."

I would start building this hut using the frame shown in the drawings (left side) from the American Boys Handy Book. Then start piling on the branches and other debris that will eventually give you a pretty good shelter. This has got to be a world record beaver den.

You can probably tell that we are now moving into the realm of the more "permanent" shelters; that is, shelters that will be more comfortable for a period of time longer than one or two days.


Despite all the bad press the Vikings may have, they built strong, big shelters to keep them warm during the cold arctic winters.

The two photos above show the earliest form of rural Viking homes (here, being built for a museum). The sides are held up by an inside framework of 4 heavy corner posts and logs laid along the top of the side walls. The walls are solid logs laid on end and buried in the ground. The roof is covered with heavy layers of sod. A team of 4 or 5 axe men could gather the wood for this house in less than one day. Cutting the sod takes a lot longer. Also seen here, the builders are adding a layer of local rocks at the base of the wall. This house is about 9 feet wide inside, and about 20 feet in length.

The floor is dug out for additional headroom. This allows the roof beams to be made shorter, getting 2 or 3 beams for every tree cut down. Viking houses did not use any windows. The only light came from the fires inside and torches suspended from the ceilings and walls. A hole is left in the roof to let out the smoke. At museums, visitors complain about the smoke in the house burning their eyes. It probably did.

The shelter shown above would probably house anywhere from 8 to 20 hardy Norsemen. You'd have to be close friends, though. A lot of man-hours went into the construction of these types of shelters. They were made super-strong to support the snow loads of the far north. Since snow is a great insulator, so the more it snowed the warmer this shelter would be inside.

A smaller Viking shelter could also be constructed for smaller groups. The same floor space needed for a tent would be the minimum needed for this Viking shelter. It's possible to add window openings for those times when fresh air is more important than insulation.

(Mr. Beard, again)

To further illustrate the use of bark and tar paper, I have made the sketches shown by Figs. 46, 47, and 48. Fig. 46 is a log shack with an arched roof drawn from a photograph in my collection. To keep the interior warm not only the roof but the sides of the house as well have been shingled with bark, leaving only the ends of the logs protruding to tell of what material the house is really constructed. Fig. 47 shows a fisherman's hut made with a few sticks and bark. Fig. 48 shows a tar paper camp, that is, a camp where everything is covered with tar paper instead of bark. The house is made with a skeleton of poles on which the tar paper is tacked, the kitchen is an open shed with tar paper roof, and even the table is made by covering the cross sticks shown in the diagram with sheets of tar paper in place of the birch bark usually used for that purpose.

Personally, I do not like tar paper; it seems to rob the camp of a true flavor of the woods; it knocks the sentiment out of it, and except to sailors, the odor of the tar is not nearly as delightful as that of the fragrant balsam boughs. Nevertheless, tar paper is now used in all the lumber camps and is spreading farther and farther into the woods as the birch bark becomes scarce and the "tote-roads" are improved. RT LOVES TAR PAPER.

When one can enter the woods with an automobile, you must expect to find tar paper camps, because the paper is easily transported, easily handled, and easily applied for the purpose of the camper.

Practically any form of tent my be reproduced by tacking tar paper to sticks arranged in the proper manner, but if you make a wigwam of tar paper, do paint it red, green, or yellow, or whitewash it; do anything which will take off the civilized, funereal look of the affair. The traditionalist in me agrees with this...the survivalist in me totally disagrees.

RT: This book must have had quite an impression in the early 1900's, because a few years later, during the Great Depression, thousands of these shanties were build by the broke and homeless of America. Every city had a "bad" side of town and as more and more people were evicted by the "evil bankers", they had to live somewhere. Tar paper was (and still is) cheap. Most of these shanties in the crowded cities were an eyesore to those who were not broke, so the city managers and mayors ordered them torn down or burned out just as fast as they were built. Many of the camps had signs such as "HOOVERVILLE" showing their dislike of President Hoover, whose administration led to the Great Depression.

Most interesting, I think, is that they worked. People lived in these things, not out of desire, but out of desperation.

Showing a lot of ingenuity, some builders used the flattened sides of tin cans, 55-gallon drums, or square tins, to make their siding and roofing. After the first few times of destroying these shanties, the city managers found out that people would go right back in and rebuild them with the same materials that were torn down. The next time the managers tore them down they had the added expense of picking it all up and carting it off to the dump. No problem. The people went to the dump, picked up the stuff, and rebuilt all over again. Obviously, the problem didn't go away until President Roosevelt brought the American economy back together again. Right or wrong, the Depression finally ended.

Many of the city's shacks and shanties were built along the right-of-way for the railroads. The trains then used coal to fire the steam engines. A lot of the coal fell off the trains. Families would walk the tracks for miles, picking up the lost coal to heat and cook in their tar-paper shacks. Things were a lot tougher then. Many railroads had teams of railroad "detectives", a misnomer for "hired thugs", whose job was to "motivate" the people living on the railroads' property to move on. Many people were badly beaten and even killed in these skirmishes. The law turned a blind eye to the problem, since they didn't have a solution to the problem either. "Out of sight, out of mind" thinking ruled the land.

Farmers during the Great Depression, if they owned the land free and clear, had the easiest time since they could and did grow their own food crops. They didn't make any money since nobody had any money to buy their crops. The barter system was re-invented, work for food. Many farmers allowed squatters on their land as long as they helped out with the crops. They were also given a portion of the crop to either sell on the black market, or eat. Unfortunately, many farms were mortgaged to the hilt, and displaced farmers also were added to the list of homeless shanty dwellers.

The lesson to learn here is that IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN. Are you ready?
The Great Depression
1929 to 1939
10 years of hell

Hooverville Children

Dust Bowl (Oklahoma)

"Migrant Mother"

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
George Santayana
As the man says, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The children of these impoverished people are now in their 70's, 80's and 90‘s. Many do not trust banks even today. Many of them have embarrassed their families because they refuse to throw things away. "You never know when you'll need it", has probably been heard a lot.

You never forget having to live in these conditions - ever.

You apply what you have learned (both good and bad) to your everyday life. Money talks...BS walks.

Seeing these photos, I can understand it all.


Long before the Great Depression, native American tribes developed their own unique living quarters. The Navajo Hogan had mystical as well as practical purposes. There was a purpose for everything.

This website has a great dialog on the names of each of the structural member, and what their purpose was, and how to make it.

I could live in this.
The cutaway view of a hogan is in a museum display at the Red Earth Indian Museum (Oklahoma). It shows the basic concept on how these were built. See the this website for a great description on how to make a hogan. The earth covered hogan was used in very cold climate conditions.

I found it handy when researching the native American houses to refer to this map from It shows some of the major groupings of Indian tribes and their geographical areas where they lived. I found it helpful to compare the type weather conditions these tribes lived in, and the types of shelter they constructed to withstand the worst that Mother Nature could throw at them. They developed these home designs based on hundreds, if not thousands of years of experience. If it worked for them, it can work for you. Today.

Mesa Verdi was home to the Anasazi Indians for more than 1,000 years. The people that first built their houses here (at the time of the Roman Empire) farmed the mesas, plateaus, river bottoms, and canyons. They created a thriving, populous civilization that eventually raised towers and built hundred-room cities in the cliffs and caves of Mesa Verde.

The United States has only been in existence since 1776. (230 years) Lets hope the next "ancient culture" uncovered by future explorers doesn't have a name like "Cleveland", or "Tampa".