Tipi Rings

I thought I’d do a short post on a few teepee rings I’ve seen.  The other day I was in Cody with some time to kill.  I’d heard there were tipi rings on the north side of the Shoshone river by Trail Creek.  A friend told me the historical wisdom-lore was that many tribes gathered there during the winter months to camp by the hot springs.  Most of those springs are now either extinct, buried under the damn, or on private lands.  In fact, the bulk of the rings, apparently 100’s of them, are on private lands going up the traditional passage of Trail Creek.

Walking along the shores of the Shoshone River (called the Stinking Water River before it was changed due to popular [and probably economic] demand)  you can still occasionally smell sulfur .  The rings are obvious, easy to pick out.  They’re incredibly close together; some even still have fire rings in the center.  Compared to the rings in other places, these looked fairly recent, maybe 150 years old.  Why?  Because the rocks are not very buried.

Cody tipi ring with fire ring in middle

Another view of several rings outside Cody

This is an excerpt from Plain Feather about the death of Crow Chief Sits in the Middle of the Land while Plain Feather was camped outside of Cody:

“About a year after the big battle on the Little Bighorn (1876), a small band of Crows went hunting from the Yellowstone to the Stinking River…The band reached the Stinking River a short distance below where the city of Cody now is located.  Here Chief Sits in the Middle announced that he was going south to a valley where there were still some buffalo left.  The other group decided to follow up the Stinking River to the big mountains where there were plenty of deer and bighorn sheep.

My family was with this latter group.  That evening we made camp at the forks of the river just above the narrow canyon where a dam is now located.  Towards evening we sighted two horseback riders galloping in our direction.  They were messengers from the other group.  They announced that the great chief and his wife suddenly became ill and soon died. They said we were to hasten over there.  It is believed that they died of pneumonia.

Immediately teepees came down and we were soon on our way.  We arrived early the next morning, just in time for the burial.  The bodies, strapped in robes, were taken to the rimrocks of the valley and put into a ledge and then covered up with slabs of rocks.  The burial mourning followed, with men and women wailing.  They recounted the many great things that the chief did for his people for many years.  At that time he was the Chief of All Chiefs, reigning over the two main bands of the Crow Nation.”**

(**Note:  In the late 1960’s, the Chiefs’ remains were relocated from nearby Meeteetsie to the Crow Agency in Montana.)

Now compare those rocks with the rocks in the rings below.  These rings were along the Bighorn River in Bighorn Canyon.  The rings are right beside the main road, which follows the ancient travel route of the Crows.

Another view along Bighorn canyon

Big Horn Canyon rings

Here are some much older rings near the town of Clark.

Clarks fork tipi rings, much older

I spent a few hours walking along the plateau near the mouth of the Clark’s Fork Canyon, an area where tribes traveled for the fall Buffalo hunt.  There are rocks galore there, and although I could pick out some rings, they couldn’t be photographed as they were very obscure and some of it might have even been my vivid imagination.  Most of the rings seemed much smaller, probably no more than 6′ in diameter compared to these larger rings.  But the setting was right–on the table above the river with a wide view of the surroundings.

I love finding these rings.  They spur my imagination and kindle a sleeping spirit.  The very soil emits stories I’m awaiting to hear.

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4 Responses

  1. Outstanding rings. Not sure if it’s always true, but Warm Springs (Deer Lodge Valley) and Jackson Hot Springs (Big Hole) were “peace areas” where different tribes could use hot springs & warfare was supposedly forbidden. Tipis (and the rings) got much larger after Shoshone & other tribes got horses. Look around the center and you can usually locate the firepit. Usually you can find lots of chert or jasper flakes from tool working, too.

  2. I too have found around 25 or so tipi rings. I live in Guernsey and am in the military. One ring in particular looks almost perfect, except on one side there is a very large stone set in the soil. With my compass, the stone aligns with Norh/South with the North line dividing the circle in half. Have you ever seen or heard anything like this? Any info would be greatly appreciated. All the rings are on military training ground. Thank you for your time, Jon

    • Hi Jon, that’s very interesting. I really know nothing about the stone circles you’ve found on Guernsey. I suspect they have an entirely different significance that the tipi rings of the Plains Indians of North America. Although no one really knows for sure, its suspected that the tipi rings here were simply to hold down the hides of the tipis, with the doors always facing east. I have read different theories though, with some people saying they were ceremonial circles used like the medicine wheel–in other words, they had spiritual significance rather than simply functional. Since you live near the British Isles, you might have more luck finding information about your rings from those sources. Love to see photos though.

    • Hello,
      We too have found a similar tipi ring. It is about 3-4 feet in diameter with four stones set in the middle forming a perfect compass as checked out with a compass. It sits on top of a high hill overlooking the Black Hills mainly to the south, east and west. It looks to be of utilitarian value as a guide point to the area. It doesn’t appear to be ancient. So interesting!
      Max

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