We were in a pasture outside Shawnee, Oklahoma, when the elderly Kickapoo Indian couple we were searching for saw us first. They were heading home through the high grass, their arms cradling broken branches for firewood. We could follow them, they said. Soon we entered a clearing with three buildings: a white wood frame house with a porch, flanked by an old-time Kickapoo summer house, the odanikani, its lashed sapling frame and arbor naked without their roofing mats, and on the other side a traditional Kickapoo winter dwelling, the wikiup.
It was early October, and they had just moved the ochre-colored cattail mats from the summer house to the winter structure. They waved us inside. As the door hanging was held aside, a breeze fanned the embers in the central fire pit into flame, and smoke rose through a slit in the mats over our heads. Bent saplings framed the spacious interior. The Western style frame house was only their cookhouse, the woman said. It was here in the wikiup that they slept, under quilts spread over ground mats. This was how their people had sheltered themselves long ago, they told us. The Four Thunders, messengers of the Great Spirit, commanded the Kickapoo to build these homes, the old man added.
Kickapoo wikiup interior
NORTHEAST and GREAT LAKES