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American Indian Travois


What is a travois?

   Native American travois for dog

   Native American travois for horse
A travois, also known as a drag sled, was a traditional Native American tool for carrying loads overland. It consisted of two wooden poles with a platform, basket, or netting suspended between them, attached to the back of a dog (or occasionally to a team of dogs) so that the dog could pull it along the ground. A burden was then attached to the carrying platform. This type of travois was far less efficient than a dog-sled with runners, but had the advantage of being usable when there was no snow on the ground. Travois were often used to pack meat back to a village from a hunt or to help migratory tribes move their campsites. Dogs are extremely good at pulling and each dog could drag 20-30 pounds on a travois.

After horses were introduced to North America, many Plains Indian tribes began to make larger horse-drawn travois. Instead of making specially constructed travois sleds, they would simply cross a pair of tepee poles across the horse's back and attach a burden platform between the poles behind the horse. This served two purposes at once, as the horses could then simultaneously carry the tepee poles and some additional baggage. Horses, of course, could pull much greater weight than dogs. Children often rode in the back of horse travois.

How is "travois" pronounced? Which tribe did this word come from?
The original pronunciation of travois is trav-wah (though most English speakers today pronounce it trav-oy.) It's a French Canadian word, not a Native American one. If you'd like to know some Native American words for travois, the Ojibwe word is niswaakodaabaan (pronounced niss-wah-ko-dah-bahn), and the Lakota Sioux word is hupak'in (pronounced similar to hoo-POCK-een.)

Are travois still used today?
Only on the set of historical movies. Most Native American tribes began using horse-drawn wagons in the 1800's, and they switched to cars along with everybody else in the 20th century. Riding horses is still an important mode of travel in many rural areas, but to trasnport heavy loads, contemporary Native Americans use a pickup truck.

Here are some photographs of Native American dog travois...

   Plains Indian travois with platform

Cheyenne dog travois with basket

Dog travois with net

...and here are pictures of Native American horse travois.

Indian travois with crossed poles

   Child on Sioux horse travois

Basket-style horse travois

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