Learn about the structure and the interior of the Beehive House with pictures and images together with facts and information about the tribes who used them, including the Caddo, Witchita and the Yucci people.
Beehive Grass Thatched House Definition
Definition: The Beehive House was a circular construction built over a circular framework of long poles that were covered in narrow, horizontal layers of thatched grass bundles (switchgrass) that were sewn or fastened into place with a leather fastening cord using a long wooden thatching needle. The bottom edge of each horizontal thatched layer was carefully evened with the use of a paddle and as the structure grew it gained its distinctive 'beehive' appearance. The dwellings were very tall and measured about 30 ft (9 m) in diameter.
Who lived in a Beehive House?
The Beehive House was commonly used as a shelter and home by some of the Southeast Native Indian Tribes who inhabited areas with river valleys, prairies and swamps in the present-day states of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. The names of the tribes who lived in the Beehive style houses included the Caddo, Yucci and Wichita people.
Why was the Beehive Grass Thatched Hut chosen as a house style?
Every tribe choose a type of housing to suit their lifestyle, the climate, the environment and the natural resources (known as biomes) that were available to them, and the tribes of the Southeast region were no different. The poles required for the framework of the Beehive House were selected from the trees that grew in the area such as pine, elm and cedar. The thatch was made with switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
Beehive Grass Thatched House: Switchgrass
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), also known as tall prairiegrass or simply thatchgrass, is found in the southern states where the tribes lived. This hardy and versatile grass grows up to nearly 9 feet (2.7 m) tall with grass-like leaves and reddish flowers. Switchgrass is tolerant of poor soil, drought, and flood conditions. The stem, or stalk, of the switchgrass is the part of the plant used in making the thatch for the beehive houses.
Beehive House Village
The people who lived in a beehive house village were farmers and their villages were surrounded by the crops in their fields. The types of crops grown by the tribes included corn, beans, squash and pumpkin. The villages consisted of the tall thatched beehive houses and often featured a ceremonial lodge. The ceremonial lodge was taller than the houses, and had a 60 ft (18 m) diameter. It also featured an entrance tunnel.
Beehive House Interior
The beehive house was very tall and consisted of a large single room with second and third story levels and was big enough to house a family. Beds, consisting of dried grasses covered with animal hides, were located on the lower level. A hearth was built in the center of the dwelling for heating and cooking. The upper levels of the beehive house were used for storage.
How was a Beehive Grass House built?
A group of up to 30 people could build the beehive house in one day and they were known to last for 15 years. The process and method to build a typical Beehive Grass Thatched House was as follows:
- The building of the Beehive House was planned well in advance and required cooperation for collecting the construction materials and the actual building work
- The slender poles were cut and stripped of branches and bark
- A circle of about 30 ft (9 m) was marked out and holes were dug about 20-30 inches (51 to 76 cm) apart where the framework poles were placed
- The framework poles were bent and then tied at the top to form the outer shell and the frame was completed by attaching horizontal saplings to the upright poles
- Another outer, horizontal frame of saplings were attached and used to sandwich bundles of grass
Making the thatch for a Beehive Grass House
The process for making the thatch for a Beehive House was as follows:
The stems of the switchgrass were used for the thatch. Leaves were stripped from the stems
The switchgrass were cut to a consistent size and tied in bundles
The thatching work was done in pairs, one person on the outside of the structure, the other person on the inside
The person on the outside of the frame put a bundle of switchgrass into place. A 2 feet long wooden 'needle', containing a leather thong or cordage, was passed to the inside person that secured and tied the bundle into place
The thatch was neatly trimmed and evened with the use of a paddle
The process continued as layers of grass thatch were uniformly placed over the whole of the structure creating the distinctive beehive shape
The apex was left open to form the smoke hole and space was left for the doorway. There were no windows in a beehive house