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How to Make a Travois Like the Native Americans

The travois, a tool constructed by the Native Americans, is also known to be a drag sled. It was used to carry different items and loads of necessities over the land. It consists of poles attached to a platform, netting, or a basket. The American Native would be attached to the dogs, and when there was a bigger load, it was attached to a pack of dogs. Generally, they were less effective than the dog-sleds that had runners; however, these could be used when there is no snowfall.

A travois were often used to carry the meat back into the village from hunting or even to help migratory tribes relocate their campsites. The dogs were great for pulling the travois as each dog could pull about 20 to 30 pounds on each travois. The Native Indian dogs could pull loads of up to 50 pounds and traveled at two to three miles per hour.

Once horses were used in North America, there were many Plains Indian Tribes that began to create larger sized travois. The creation of a horse-drawn travois was much simpler than the ones for dogs. A horse could carry loads four or five times the amount that humans or dogs could carry. It consisted of placing two teepee poles over the back of the horse and attaching a platform between them. This meant that the horse could carry the teepee, as well as the load that needed to be transported. Their children often hitched a ride on the back of the travois attached to the horse.

Types of Travois Platforms

There are two types of travois platforms. These are the ladder platform and the hoop platform. It did vary per tribe, but the plains tribes utilized both types and altered the design slightly.

The Ladder Travois Platform

The ladder travois platform is a very simple design. It was typically made for the horses to carry the loads. The construction was that of a ladder. It was made using a series of sticks that were attached using rawhide or even cordage that was fastened across the poles that dragged the ground. The wood that was used as the cross sticks was made from the same wood as the poles used for the main travois construction.

worm farming

The Hoop Travois Platform

This type of platform takes more time to build compared to the ladder frame. The wood that is used for the hoop needs to be the same wood that is used as the dragging poles; though there were times when other types of wood were utilized. The main form of the hoop that’s constructed with a pole or sapling, is either in an oval or circular shape. At times, there were multiple saplings used to make the round frame. It’s recommended to use green saplings as they more bendable, making them easier to work with. The measurement should not be over ⅝ inches thick and it should be at least five feet long. For the perfect construction, the sapling should be tough and have good elasticity.

In order to shape your pole, you will need a heat source. The pole will need to be heated over a fire, or some other heat source, very evenly. The ends of your poles need to be trimmed before you heat the wood up so that they will fit together. It will help form a solid joint when it is bound with the rawhide. You will need to be extra careful to not burn your wood. After the hoop has cooled down, the bark will need to be taken off. This process will result in the ends being bound to your rawhide.

If the hoop is made of many saplings, it can be done without any heat. Each of the saplings will need to be less than one inch thick and about three to five feet long. They will need to be cut while they are still green with the bark peeled off. This type of hoop needs to be wrapped up entirely around the frame in order to bind all of the saplings tightly together.

Both hoop forms, the single sapling, and the multiple saplings will need to be set in the circular or oval shape while they dry. This can be done using twine that is tied in a crisscross design. You will need to stake the shape into the ground or use another hoop to tie it together.

Once the hoop is ready, it is time to make your netting. The netting can be made of cordages, such as hemp, leather, or rawhide. There are different variations of netting for the design of the hoop. One of the more common patterns is a tight circle type weave. It is very similar to the dream catchers of today.

After the hoop is done, it can be attached to your poles. It will need to be situated so that it sits on the back of the dog, right behind the tail. This way the dog does not get distracted from the job of pulling your travois. You will need to make the netting so that you can attach the cloth to the poles for transporting your belongings.

Blackfoot travois

Travois Construction

Constructing a travois was a chore that was traditionally done by the women. At times the men would aid in the construction aspects, such as building the hoop platforms and the netting. Oftentimes a group of women that would gather the supplies, and then construct numerous travois at a time. They would gather large amounts of wood in order to save time. The assembly would take them around one whole day so that they could finish one of their daily chores. Once they had completed building the travois, they could then move onto the next task that protected their way of life.

Some Native Americans that were native to the State of Missouri, such as the Mandan, the Hidatsa, and the Arikara, would decorate their travois with various earth colored paints. Red was a very popular color among most tribes, and so they would often paint their entire travois red. Their hoop was woven by a highly skilled individual that was well known for his skill of weaving hoops. It was considered a profession of sorts during those times. In most tribes, the size of their travois would offer a sense of status.

The travois has quite a simple framework. It was constructed with two long poles fastened at one end and then connected to a platform. The hoop or the ladder is then attached to these poles and situated behind the tail of a dog.

The poles are made of lightweight wood, such as maple, ash, plum, or birch saplings. They are around seven to eight feet long and have larger ends cut to be flat in order to help keep these poles drag smoothly and evenly. At the top of the poles, they are notched so that the poles hold firm when they are bouncing around while being dragged. They are bound using rawhide, cordage, and tendons that are applied while they are wet so that they form a solid joint as they are dry.

Constructing Your Dog Harness

Many tribes utilized different types of harnesses for their dogs so that they could pull their travois. There are a couple different options to make these. One of the types is a saddle that is placed separately on the dog from your travois. This is so that the travois can be placed on and off the dog as needed. The other harness strap is a system made of straps. One of the strap goes across the front of the dog, and the other strap goes under the dog’s belly. After placing the straps, they are then attached to your travois poles where the poles are bound together.

The style of the strap harness uses a small type of pad or style of saddle. It is fitted onto the dog and fitted to your travois where your poles are fastened together. The pad used to be made as a piece of the travois. It would be attached to your poles under the joint in order to keep them from rubbing on the shoulders of the dog. The straps were made of rawhide, along with leather and arranged through your pad in order to have one strap reach under the dog’s belly. There would be a strap that went across their chest, as well as a collar that was put around the dog’s neck. It also included some ties in order to secure the person’s load onto the travois.

The saddle is a thick pad that is a type of cushion to protect the back of the dog. The straps are made of rawhide and some heavy leather. It is attached to the dog’s saddle. There is one across the chest and the other strap goes underneath their belly. The strap on the belly is tight, just like the cinch on a horse saddle. The ties are put on the saddle so you can hitch the travois. This pad is made on a case using rawhide, leather, or even both. The insides are made of different layers of fabric, such as horsehair or wool. Your completed saddle will sit on the withers of your dog’s back. The belly strap will be cinched and situated where it comes up behind the dog’s rib cage.

There is no one way to make a travois as it depends on what you wish to use it for. However, below we’ve outlined the best way that we’ve found on how to make an efficient travois to help you with all your hauling needs. The steps below are to make an 18-inch dog travois.

Materials and Tools Needed

  • 5-foot-long (1/4 inch in width) narrow presoaked rawhide lace
  • 4 willow sticks
  • 2-inch square piece of soft leather (saddle)
  • 5-inch long piece of soft leather (lacing)
  • 1/2 inch x 3-inch piece of soft leather (dog’s breast collar)
  • 2 3-inch long strip of soft leather (ties)
  • 5-inch long strip of soft leather (belly strap)
  • Scissors
  • Leather hole puncher
  • Pruning shears
  • Sandpaper
  • Utility knife

Directions

  1. Peel bark from the 2 willow sticks. Prune and sand any jagged, rough edges.
  2. Soak the 1-inch of the skinnier end of each pole, and all rawhide stripes, in water and leave overnight.
  3. Lay down the willow poles side by side and tie the top ends together with the presoaked rawhide. Go around the tips several times covering around 1-inch of the top tips.
  4. Cut one of the poles 6-inches and the other 8-inches. Tie these together with wet rawhide stripes. Place the 6-inch pole roughly 8 inches from the bottom. Place the 8-inch pole roughly 5 inches from the bottom. Wrap everything securely.
  5. Cut six to eight vertical poles for the frame and overlap those with the horizontal poles. Secure everything with the rawhide strips.
  6. Use 5-foot of the rawhide strips and tie it to the bottom of the frame. Continue spiraling until you reach the saddle area. When you reach the top, cross over to the other side and continue spiraling down.
  7. Lay the leather saddle piece on a flat surface and place the tips in the center. Position the tips so that the two poles lap over the edge. Fold over the piece of leather and lace it with the strip of soft leather. Tie securely.
  8. Tie a long rawhide strip to the bottom of the frame. Loosely bring this up to the pole and pass through the center hole from the inside and out from the top and continue.
  9. Punch a hole in both ends of the collar. Use the three-inch leather strips to tie the collar to the center of the saddle. Tie it to each of the drag poles behind the dog’s forelegs.

Note: These instructions can be modified to make a full-size travois.

Packing Your Travois

Packing up your travois is quite simple. You will need to consider how much your travois weights and how much your dog is able to carry. Tribes would use a wolf-like dog breed, which meant that it was able to carry more weight than a typical dog. These larger dogs would often carry one hundred pounds, or even higher, in a single travois. Though, you should ensure that the weight of your travois is 20% of the dog’s weight to avoid the dog being injured mid-journey.

When you pack your travois, the heavier items will need to be placed on the bottom. You can utilize the travois for items like firewood, the game that has been hunting or transporting your camp should the SHTF. Once you have packed up your travois, you will need to use rawhide, leather, or cordage straps to tie your travois in a way so that the contents do not move. If the items move around, it can complicate the transportation as the dog may become off balanced.

To fasten them properly, tie the straps to the top of the poles. Wrap them around the poles going down and strap the items down. Continue going down the poles to ensure no movement of the items.

Additional Notes

Native Americans and French fur trappers greatly used a travois. They found several advantages of using a travois to haul anything from teepees to supplies, or even for people who could not walk. It can be pulled by humans or attached to horses, dogs, and other pack animals.

A travois is simple to construct as you only need a few supplies to make it. If you have long poles, cordage, and a saw blade or ax available, then you can make a travois. It can slide best in mud, grass, snow or forested terrain. Though it is less efficient than other wheeled options, you can slide a travois over any obstacle or terrain that is otherwise difficult to travel over with a wheeled transport.

In the past, the travois used to be greased to prolong the life of the travois. Nowadays, there is a collection of animal and vegetable greases and oils to do the same. You can also stain or use a polyurethane coating to protect the wood. If the poles dry or shrink, you can either retie the soaked rawhide ties or tie over the existing strips.

Final Words

A travois is a tool that was created and utilized by most people in history. They were used to travel from camp to camp, to collect meat from hunting, and more. If the SHTF, you will need a travois to transport your items that you gather. You will not be able to set in one spot for long, and you can utilize the travois to move your camp. Although we went over different materials, you can compensate for not having these materials by finding substitutes that work in the same manner.

An example of a travois; the poles can be substituted with tent poles and the netting could be replaced with an old basketball net. When creating your travois, you can be as creative as you like.

If you wish to keep the travois traditional, you can use the instructions that we have outlined above. No matter if you make a travois to be pulled by yourself, or by a pack animal – it’s bound to make hauling your tools and supplies easier in the long run.

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About Teresa Fikes

Teresa Fikes
My name is Teresa Fikes. I am a Homesteader, survivalist, prepper, historian, and writer plus much more all in one package deal. I was raised on a small family farm were I was taught at an early age to survive off the land without the help of modern conveniences. I am a writer by profession and a Homesteader by Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

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