Horse Drawn Travois

Travois Definition and Summary
Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. Definition: A travois was a means of transportation devised by Native Americans who had no knowledge of the wheel. It was simply constructed using two poles that were lashed one on either side of a dog or, later, a horse, with one end of each pole dragging on the ground.

A netted hoop or ladder of crossed sticks created a platform to contain the load. The name of this form of Native American Indian transport derives from the French word 'travail' in the sense of the "shaft of a cart". The travois was first hauled by dogs until the late 1500's when the Spanish first introduced horse to the Native American Indians.

Native American Life - Travois
The life, history and lifestyle of Native American Indians Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on the Travois, the important method of transport, hauled by dogs or horses and used by the tribes of the Great Plains.

Travois Fact Sheet for kids

  • Travois Fact 1: This Native American form of transport is closely associated with the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains who frequently moved camps in search of buffalo
  • Travois Fact 2: This particular mode of transport was perfect for the environment of the Plains Native Indians as the two main poles dragged easily over the prairie grassland, with practically no friction. This type of transportation would have been totally unsuited to bush lands, canyons, mountains, gullies and forests of other regions
  • Travois Fact 3: In pre-horse days, the women of the tribe and dogs moved the camp. Possessions were kept to a minimum to ensure that camps could be moved quickly. The tribes followed the buffalo and it was necessary to follow a herd as soon as it was spotted
  • Travois Fact 4: Sometimes the travois was dragged by people who were fitted with a shoulder harness. Using this method a person could transport more weight than could be carried on the back
  • Travois Fact 5: The Native Indian dogs that pulled the travois were able to pull loads of up to 50 pounds. They were able to travel at rates of 2 -3 miles per hour
  • Travois Fact 6: The introduction of the Native American Horse, and its use as a beast of burden, enabled the tribes to accumulate more possessions.
  • Travois Fact 7: A horse could drag a load four or five times heavier than a man or dog could manage although it was easier and faster to travel over a trail
  • Travois Fact 8: The horse was easily trained to pull a travois with several hundred pounds on it. Occasionally buffalo were loaded on to the contraptions
  • Travois Fact 9: The range the tribes could travel was greatly extended which led to territorial infringement and conflicts with neighboring tribes
  • Travois Fact 10: Harnessed on the wooden framed travois, the dogs and horses of the Great Plains transported tents, firewood and even children as tribes moved to different hunting grounds
  • Travois Fact 11: Possessions were loaded either straight on top of the framework and secured with cordage made from leather or sinews or placed on top of buffalo hides.
  • Travois Fact 12: A cage was used to contain young children to prevent them falling off
  • Travois Fact 13: Sometimes two dogs were hitched together with a short stick tied at the neck to keep the dogs apart
  • Travois Fact 14: Even with the introduction of the horse, the dogs continued their work. It was the dogs who brought in the grass hay to feed the horses
  • Travois Fact 15: The Great Plains tribes had numerous packs of dogs, sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Each family owned between 8 - 15 dogs, although only half of these were used to pull the sleds
  • Travois Fact 16: The dogs were well trained and willingly allowed themselves to be attached to the harnesses and haul the loads. They were trained to respond to voice commands. The only problems that occured were when dog fights erupted
  • Travois Fact 17: The horse travois with either A-frame or H-frame construction and utilized the poles that were used to build the tepees
  • Travois Fact 18: This familiar mode of Native American transport disappeared with the buffalo. It was replaced by the American carts and wagons
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