It is not known when the Arapahos started using tipis as shelter but it is believed when they moved onto the plains. They used the tipi because not only is it very sturdy but it is very portable as well. When they first started using the tipis, they were very small and were transported by the women as well as by dogs. Once the horse was introduced around the 17th century, they were able to make the tipis much larger, stronger, and in one large piece to transport.
Tipis were made out of fifteen to twenty tanned buffalo hides and long wooden poles, usually made out of cedar or pine trees. The poles were completely stripped of all of their bark to make them smooth. A finished tipi could consist of sixteen to twenty poles tied together about three or four feet from the top. The buffalo hides were all sewed together to make one large piece and wrapped around the poles and attached at the top of the tipi. The longer pieces were the ones attached at the top because they were used as smoke flaps or also called “ears.”The Arapaho made small pockets at the tips of these flaps and the tips of the poles fit into the pockets. This way, the ears could be adjusted to control the ventilation of the tipi.
The Arapaho were able to stand up the tipis by starting at the base. They would take three poles that were the height of the hide cover and stand them up. When that happened, the remaining poles would be leaned into place at even intervals to form a circle. Next, they would tie all the poles together with a long piece of rope. One last pole is tied to the top of the hide cover between the two smoke flaps and used to lift them when needed.
The Arapaho always made a liner to fit inside of the tipi walls. This too was made of buffalo hide until white traders came along and then they were made out of canvas. These liners usually were about six feet high and were suspended from the poles, reaching the ground. This helped them stay warmer in the colder days, drier during rainy days because it prevented rain from dripping in as well as giving the Arapaho family more privacy by blocking the shadows. The linings were almost always decorated. The males usually were the ones that painted them about his brave deeds, accomplishment, or vision.
The fireplaces were always in the center of the tipi and were made out of a hole dug out of the ground. The beds were placed close to the walls of the tipi. They were made out of slender willow rods that were peeled of their bark and straightened. Then they were placed side by side and fastened together by buckskin strings to form a mat. The beds were usually raised about a foot off of the ground and was about three or four feet wide. Buckskin blankets were spread across the bed and pillows were made and stuffed from deer, elk, and buffalo hair. During the day, the beds were converted into couches.
During the winter months, the Arapaho women would construct windbreaks around the tipi to keep out the cold, snow and wind. These consisted of small trees that were tied together and leaned against the tipi and stood about ten or twelve feet high.