Tribal families set up village at Round-Up

By Flynn Espe
Pendleton, Oregon (AP) 9-08

The teepees that went up north of the Pendleton Round-Up arena didn’t come with instruction manuals, nor were any needed.

Throughout Sept. 7, what had started as an open, green field slowly but steadily transformed into an American Indian village of more than 200 teepees, a tradition as old as the Round-Up itself.

The village consisted of tribal families from around the Northwest, many of whom have staked their teepees in the same location for several generations.

The dwellings remained standing throughout the Round-up, which ends on Sept. 13.

In many cases, the families who erected the teepees stay in the village throughout the Round-Up, their temporary homes stocked with comfortable mats and bedding material. Others set up their teepees and returnedto take part in the Indian dance portion of the four-day rodeo.

Eventually the hundreds of teepees reached into the sky. But getting there required quite a bit of effort, skill and knowledge.

Lona Pond of the Umatilla tribe helped her family erect eight teepees, including a large one for cooking that required some serious teamwork.

“It usually takes around 120-some poles for all the teepees,” Lona said.

Members of the family began the morning’s work by transporting their wooden poles, ranging from about 14 feet to more than 20 feet.

The process for putting up most of the village teepees was similar.


The first step consists of choosing the four “tie poles” – some teepees start with three – two shorter ones for the back and two longer ones for the front. After measuring those poles to the length of the teepee canvas, one of the builders staggers the poles to support one another and ties them together.

Once tied, the builder picks up the frame and places it upright – typically requiring some additional help, depending on the teepee size.

In hoisting up the long, heavy kitchen teepee poles, the Pond family men had to start with the top and move like the game of leapfrog toward the base, where they pulled the four base legs apart.

From there, family members raise additional support poles, placing them mirror-like on either side.

“You ‘X’ them, put one on that side, one on that side,” said Amos Pond, Lona’s brother. “You want to see how that sits.”

Next, another tie pole with canvas attached gets placed at the back of the frame, and family members drape the wall around either side of the stick frame. Two other door poles complete the front.

After that, the builders step inside the teepee and push the circle of poles outward.

“Each person will push a tie pole, and then we usually go out one foot at a time,” Lona said.

With help from 11-year-old Raymond all the way up to his grandfather Ron Pond, 68, family members carried out that pattern again and again at their traditional camping location along the western edge of the village.

Once completed, the eight teepees were themselves arranged in a kind of circle, all of the doors pointing to the kitchen tent at the center.

“That’s how you maintain respect for the family,” Lona said.

The Pond family had a special arrangement for their teepees. The head teepee in the outer circle belonged to the grandparents. Next clockwise was the oldest son’s tent, the circle continuing around to the eldest grandson’s teepee, which also sat adjacent to the grandparents’ teepee.

There was another teepee in place next to the grandparents’ tent, but it was only a four-pole frame.

“When you lose someone, you put up a frame,” Ron said. “Every family who loses someone will do that.”

In this case, the frame was to honor Ron’s grandson, James Pond, who died April 16 at the age of 23. Ron said James lost his life to an incurable condition known as Leigh’s disease.

“He was supposed to pass away when he was 10 or 12,” Ron said. “We were lucky we had him that long.”

While the Ponds were busy with their eight, Dora Allen and her family members were trying to put up their one large teepee a couple teepees over.

Even after some genuine effort, Allen said the finished product still had some flaws.

“My brother wants to take it down and do it again,” Allen said. “One year it took us like five times.”

According to several other people, that wasn’t uncommon at the Indian village. The elder Pond recalled when, years ago, his matriarchal aunt would go around and inspect the teepees to make sure their construction was precise.

“She was saying if you could bounce a quarter off the side of the tent you’ve got it up right,” Ron said.