It’s been quite a while since I last experimented with a dog travois.
Avid readers may recall that Jess and I once spent an afternoon getting the wood and putting together a travois in winter 2010 while our respective men, my husband and Jess’s fiance, were deployed to Afghanistan. A little while after that, I did some additional research and experimenting to figure out the best way of hitching the travois to my dog, using what historical references I had available to me, which are few, far between, and not particularly detailed. After a couple different types of travois “harness”, I settled on a two-strap method – one around the neck of the dog and one around the girth. This seems to be most historically correct, working from the few period illustrations and the often not very detailed photographs from the 1800′s that show dog travois in use.
It wasn’t until this past weekend at the French and Indian War reenactment at Fort Ontario (in Oswego, NY), however, that I’ve built a travois from historically accurate materials, substituting natural twine for parachute cord in the manufacture of the travois and natural hemp rope for modern nylon rope in the manufacture of the harness that holds the travois on the dog. Luckily for me, the Fort had provided a pile of wood for the reenactors to use. This pile included firewood as well as tall, straight branches meant to be used for setting up tents and building things – like tripods from which to hang cookware over the fire – and those poles turned out to be perfect for building my travois, so I snagged two, along with some smaller branches to do the cross-bars, and I got started on building my historical travois.
Fifteen minutes later, I had this.
I still don’t really have any detailed references regarding how the travois was actually hitched to the dog, so I opted to go with the most comfortable way I could figure out. It’s basically an H-style harness where the center of the H is the piece that goes from the dog’s chest to under her belly, and the long portions of the H are four individual strands of rope that tie to the travois, two around her neck and two behind her legs. (I hope that makes sense.) This distributes the weight of the travois onto the dog’s chest in front, rather than putting pressure onto her neck, and when she’s hitched up like this, she is still able to sit and lay down. She’s also able to turn while in the travois, as you can see in the photo below.
I loaded the travois up with various light items – a blanket in this photo, a trade shirt and some other small things the next day – and took trips through the fort once every so often to give Ronja and me something to do and the public something different to photograph and ask about. We got a lot of photos about both Ronja (that question was largely, “What kind of dog is that?”) and the travois – what it is, what it was used for, etc. It seemed pretty popular.
You can check out the travois in action in this video. As you can see, it’s possible to turn in pretty tight circles and Ronja can sit and lay down while she’s hitched up. The biggest issue I’ve found with the travois is needing to make sure that Ronja stays in a heel position or is trailing me, as otherwise, I tend to get hit in the leg with the travois poles, particularly that upper cross pole on the cargo area. (Which hurts!)
We had a lot of fun experimenting with this new travois and harness and showing it off at the event. At the end of the event, we left the travois but I took the harness. It’s easier to build a new travois at an event – and also interesting for the public to watch – than it is to transport this one around in our little SUV, a Mitsubishi Outlander, which doesn’t have a lot of length to it.