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The Start of Something New

May 4, 2015

Hello! I’m Melinda, the site supervisor at the 1700 Ioway Farm. What do you see when you look at this picture? Those of us at Living History Farms see the start of something new! frame

We see a period farm site that is moving to a new location. In 1982, Living History Farms opened the Ioway Indian Farm as a part of the museum. Since that time, gardens and lodges and other parts of the site have moved locations down in the woods. The site has gone through additions and changes, and site staff have watched the undergrowth in the woods close in around the historic areas. With the start of the 45th Anniversary year for Living History Farms, we are excited to debut changes for our Ioway Farm.

The biggest change is a new site location, up on a hill where it will not flood every time it rains hard and where there is a breeze for people to enjoy. Another exciting part about this move is a new trail system to our 1850 Pioneer Farm! Guests with mobility challenges will find the new trail a much more manageable grade, much shorter, and with more benches for resting. We hope they will now be able to more easily visit the Pioneer Farm, perhaps for the first time in decades!

1850 Pioneer Farm

Our new site move is fitting for what the tribe would have been doing historically. The Ioway people moved from location to location about every 10-20 years in the past, as resources in a specific spot changed or were depleted. The Ioway tribe had around 1500 people that were moving to each new location, so what we show at Living History Farms is just one “family farm” out of an entire area. The tribe would pick a location along a large river or lake. They would place their fields in scattered areas along the river and build their summer houses up on top of a hill above the fields. Winter houses were built in the wooded areas between the two for protection. During a month in the summer and a month in the winter, the tribe would go farther out into the open Iowa prairies to hunt bison, while living in their traveling houses. At Living History Farms we need to condense all of these locations into one place for guests to visit easily. We have designed the new location with the food production related items (fields, drying racks, etc.) on one side of the site area and the various house types on the other side.Ioway homes

So, what does it take to build a museum site from scratch? Allow us to show you a little of what has gone into this change. A challenge for showing Ioway life in the 1700s is that the vast majority of what is needed cannot be purchased at stores or online. All of the structures have to be created by hand and the supplies have to be gathered by hand. Step one in constructing a new site is to go out into the woods and find the perfect trees for what you are building. We searched out trees that were the right size and shape for each framework. Once these tree poles were cut down, we had to move each of the new trees up to the new site area. frameEach tree needed the bark removed from it to help keep bugs from attacking the wood and to help prevent the wood from rotting quickly. Every structure that the Ioway people built, with the exception of the traveling house, had posts that were put into the ground.

The Ioway summer houses were constructed in one of two shapes, a domed shape or a peaked roof shape, and would be covered by bark from 30-50 elm trees. We have built a small version of the square bark lodge (peaked roof style) at the new site, called a nahachi or tree bark house. The house starts with an inner framework of trees.The side walls are around 5-6′ in height with the peak of the roof around 13-15′ high. The pieces of elm bark would be placed over the frame  and held in place by ties going through the bark to the inside frame.bark lodge construction A frame would also be placed on the outside of the house to hold everything tight. bark lodge constructionThe bark would reflect the sunlight and keep the house cooler inside. A shade arbor would be built out front of the house and covered with grass, leaves, bark, hides, or whatever material was available to create shade under which to work.  shade arbor

The Ioway winter houses were a domed shape house, with frames made from willow trees and covered by 4 layers of cattail mats sewn together. The house is called a chakiruthan, which means “bent over to meet”; because of the way the willow trees are bent and tied together to create the domed shape. The sewn cattail mats are tied to the willow frame during the winter months and taken off and stored during the summer months.mat lodge A layer of woven grass mats would be tied on the inside of the house from the ground to about half way up the wall to create a barrier for cold air. The mats channeled any cold air up, creating a convection current that helped carry smoke from cooking fires to the ceiling smoke hole. The winter house, with a small fire going, would reach about 50 degrees inside on winter days (at least 10 degrees warmer than a pioneer log cabin).

The Ioway traveling houses frames were made out of pine trees, and they were covered with bison skin in the 1700s, or a canvas cover once they were moved to the reservation in the 1800s. The house was called a chibothraje, or “house standing upright”, and was easy to take down and put up. This house was taken out on bison hunts and used while the men hunted the bison and the women and children worked together to process the animals. Bison hides were cleaned on large hide-racks that were constructed from wood. A chibothraje would need anywhere from 12-20 bison hides to cover it, depending on the size.hide rack and chibothraje

Leaders of the clans would have larger homes (the size we have at Living History Farms) in order to host people for discussions or for visiting people to stay with them. Doors of the houses faced east (think about what direction most of the cold or windy weather in Iowa comes from) and would be covered with animal skins. Both the bark and cattail homes would also be built on raised mounds so that the rain and melting snow would go around the house instead of inside. All three styles of homes were really just a bedroom for families of 6-10 people. The rest of the house was outside, including the kitchen. Food was fixed over open fires in pits lined with rocks. fire pit

Another exciting new feature of the 1700 Ioway Farm will be a covered shelter displaying interpretive signage and a kiosk featuring Ioway history and culture! We look forward to showing off all the hard work we have been putting in on this new location. Check back throughout the season to see how things continue to change.

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1700 Ioway Farm   Behind the Scenes


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