Travois | The Canadian Encyclopedia



A travois, from the French word travail, “to work,” was a device used for transportation by the Plains Indigenous peoples. Drawn by horses or dogs, the travois carried people’s goods to and from hunting sites and temporary settlements.

Astokumi (Crow Collar) and wife, Tsuut'ina Indigenous people.
The horse-drawn travois was adapted from the earlier travois pulled by dogs (artwork by Gordon Miller).
Blackfoot travois
Stump Horn and family (Southern Cheyenne); showing home and horse-drawn travois (1890).

What Is A Travois?

The travois was a type of sled drawn by dogs in the pre-colonial period and by horses after Europeans introduced the animal to North America in the 16th century. At times, when animals were unavailable, humans also carried small loads over short distances using the travois.

Indigenous peoples in the Canadian Prairies (parts of modern-day Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) used the travois to carry their belongings between camping sites and hunting sites. (See also Buffalo Hunt.) Women were responsible for making and packing the travois. They also took care of the dogs and trained them from when they were puppies to carry the travois.

Did You Know?
The travois in known by different names in various Indigenous languages. The Ojibwe, for example, called it niswaakodaabaan, while the Lakota Sioux (see also Dakota) called it hupak'in.

Travois Construction

The travois consisted of two long, wooden poles, each lashed to the sides of the dog or horse, often with a leather harness. Secured with sinew, a basket or platform was suspended between the two poles that dragged behind the animal. This was the part of the travois that carried household baggage, firewood, parfleches full of bison meat or other food and the tipi cover.

Travois styles somewhat differed among First Nations. The Assiniboine, for example, used a circular and webbed platform to carry their goods, whereas the platforms constructed by theSiksika(Blackfoot) were both circular and rectangular.

Did You Know?
The dog travois was small, capable of pulling not more than 20 to 30 kg. When dogs were replaced by horses, the greater pulling power allowed tipis to increase in size and household goods to multiply. Horses could also carry human riders and could travel longer distances in the prairie heat than dogs.

Preserving Indigenous Culture

With the creation of mechanized methods of transportation, and with the end of the traditional Indigenous hunting life on the prairies in the late 1800s, the travois lost its purpose. However, some hunting parties may still use the travois in rural areas to transport meat and equipment. The travois can also be spotted in heritage centres, museums and cultural centres.

Further Reading

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