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 is a French Canadian word, not a Native American one. Two Native American words for travois are: Ojibwe word is niswaakodaabaan (pronounced niss-wah-ko-dah-bahn), and the Lakota Sioux word is hupak'in (pronounced similar to hoo-POCK-een.)

What is a travois? Basically it is an historical frame, used by the Plains Indians of North America. Initially it was pulled by dogs. After horses were introduced to the Americas by the Spanish in the l6th century, horses were used. Horses could pull a larger load than dogs. Image: Public Domain/CanadaThe frame consisted of two long poles with a platform, basket, or netting suspended between them. The frame was dragged with the sharply pointed end forward. For more stability, a third pole was added and bound across the other two poles. It was used to drag loads over land. The travois travelled better than a wheel based transport over forest floors, soft and snow. Wheel based transports tended to bog down and get stuck. With the pulling done by horses the travois sleds did not have to be specifically constructed. The Indians 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. The horses could simultaneously carry the tepee poles and some additional baggage. Children often rode in the back of horse travois. A horse travois can be made with either A-frame or H-frame construction.

Note: Originally native to the American continent, horses became extinct but were reintroduced by the Spanish, and later by the French, English and Dutch-beginning with Columbus' second voyage in 1493. Native people soon adopted the horse and became some of the world's best horsemen. Horses were used to enhance trade, expand territory, facilitate hunting and wage war. Included in the exhibition will be a Lakota winter count (ca. 1902) by Long Soldier (Hunkpapa Lakota) that depicts when horses were first sighted by the community. Paired with the introduction of the gun, the mounted Plains warrior was a formidable fighter, upsetting old alliances among the tribes and frustrating European advances. Young men proved their valor through the horse raid, where they captured horses from enemy camps. A Song for the Horse Nation-Native American (Indian) Exhibit

Travois Tracks

What today is known as the Lewis and Clark Trail-Travois Road, and Montana's Lewis and Clark Pass were areas heavily traveled where travois were dragged over the trail, causing deep, parallel tracks to mark the earth. These tracks can still be seen today. Remains of travois tracks can also be seen at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

First posted: Dec 12, 2014
Last update: Dec 12, 2014