The Wagon


By our standards, transportation in the 19th Century
was often extremely slow, uncomfortable, and even
dangerous. In some areas there were no hotels, so
travelers had to camp out or hope to find a
hospitable family. The traveler faced danger from
weather, wild animals, and (in some areas) hostile
Native Americans.

Water Transportation

The earliest settlers often chose to travel by water,
either in a canoe or raft. Either of these could be
made using natural materials. In the South, a dugout
canoe might be made by burning out a portion of a
large log.  Other men made simple rafts by lashing
logs together.  With more tools, the man might build
a flatboat or "ark" that he might use to float
downriver to his new home.

Steamboats became common in the 2nd quarter of
the 19th century and made river travel much quicker
and easier.  They allowed more goods to be brought
into some isolated areas, thus lowering prices on
consumer goods.  Steamboats could be extremely
dangerous, however.  Their boilers frequently
exploded and their decks, sometimes loaded with
cotton and decorated with ornamental woodwork,
made them susceptible to fire.

Ground Transportation

The simplest way to travel by land was on foot, and
for some settlers this was the only means of land
transportation that they had.  A person on foot was
limited, however, by how much he could carry either
in personal possessions or in inventory to sale.

If the homesteader wanted to travel any other way
than on foot, he needed certain equipment.  If he
traveled by horse or mule, he needed a bridle and
probably a saddle of some type. Even a pack-horse
needed a halter and a pack-saddle, but a horse
enabled a person to travel more quickly and carry
more merchandise or goods.

A slightly more affluent homesteader might want a
wagon, which required harness, for his horse or
mule.  (The harness for pulling a wagon is usually
somewhat different from the simple harness used
for plowing.)  An even more affluent farmer might
keep a light buggy for trips to town.  Wheeled
vehicles allowed the farmer to easily carry large
loads of goods to market, and to bring supplies
home, but they could not run over the rough terrain in
some areas.

Some farmers used oxen both to pull plows and to
pull carts.  Oxen required a wooden yoke, which
could be made by a skilled woodworker, but the iron
ring was usually made by a blacksmith. Oxen were
extremely strong, and less likely to spook than a
horse, but they were tediously slow and had to rest
from time to time.

Trains, of course, provided and even faster way to
travel and move large quantities of goods. Riding on
a train cost money, however, trains were not
convenient in some areas.

The bicycle, that ubiquitous human-powered
machine, was not popular until the 1880s.
Transportation and Price

Transportation directly affects the price of
goods. If transportation is efficient and quick,
then goods cost less.
Above: The canoe was an
important means of transportation
in the early U.S.

Below: Robert Fulton, the inventor
of the steamboat.
There were many types of carts,
from the chaise. This word is
pronounced "shay" and
immortalized in the poem "The
Incredible One-Horse Shay."
Below is a hansom cab, in which
the driver sat behind the cab.

In general, we might say that a buggy was
a four-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle in
which the person drove himself.
Above: a piano-box buggy, sometimes used
by doctors.

Below: A buckboard
WAGONS were the pickup trucks of the 19th
Century, hauling goods to market.

Below: A Conestoga wagon. These were extremely
heavy wagons. For moving west, many families
chose lighter covered wagons.

In some early wagons and coaches the horses
were "driven" by a rider.
Above: People drove for health and recreation as well
as for transportation.  A well-to-do family goes out for a
drive, with the daughter driving her pony and the father
riding his saddlehorse.  From
Moseman's Illustrated Guide
Carriages were four-wheeled vehicles in which
a driver usually drove the passengers. Below
are a vis-a-vis  in which the passengers faced
each other, the very popular Victoria Phaeton,
named for the Queen of England, and another
Below:  A Sleigh
Harness:  This harness features a neck-collar,
which allows the horse to use his full strength in
pulling.  The neckcollar is made of leather stuffed
with straw.

Around the collar are metal or wooden hames.  
The traces, the long straps that connect the
hames to the vehicle, are attached to the hames.

On the horse's back is the harness saddle, with a
girth underneath called the bellyband.

The breeching (W,Y, Z, X) fits around the horse's
rump and acts as a braking system to keep the
cart from bumping the horse in the rump.

The crupper is a leather circle that fits around
the upper part of the horse's tail.

The bridle on this horse's head is a driving bridle
with blinders (blinkers, winkers) over the eyes to
prevent the horse from being frightened by the
cart following behind him.

This horse had a curb-type bit (g) in its mouth.

Driving reins (j) are often called lines. They run
from the bit, through terret loops in the saddle,
back to the driver's hands.

The check rein on this harness is a side-check,
running beside the horse's check. It runs from
the bit to a hook on the saddle.
The Check Rein
If you have read Black Beauty, then you know
how the check rein was abused in the 19th
Century. This rein was often used in connection
with a very strong bit to force a horse to keep its
head extremely high.

At its best, the check rein can prevent a horse
grazing along the way or getting its head down to
buck. Some casual drivers today do not use it at
all, but it is required in some shows.
This goat is wearing a breast-collar harness.
Rather than the neck-collar above, the
breast-collar is simply a strap that goes around
the chest of the animal.

Horses wore simple harnesses like this for pulling
light carts.
Coaches are usually defined as
public transportation vehicles (i.e.
a "stage coach") or a carriage for a
wealthy or noble person.
SADDLES came in many different types.  Today, most saddles in
the U.S. are either English-style or Western style, but in the 19th
century there were other types of saddles as well.
This is an English-Type
Saddle, small and light and
suited for pleasure riding,
hunting,  and jumping.

Basic Parts of the Saddle
Front = Pommel
Back = Cantle
You sit on the seat.
Your foot goes in the
The girth or cinch holds the
saddle on the horse.
This is a Western-type
saddle, descended from
the saddles of the Spanish
Conquistadors. These
heavy saddles were
designed for hard riding,
long days of work, and
catching cattle.
This a McClellan-type
saddle, named after a
Union General in the Civil
War.  McClellan-type
saddles were used by the
army, and some civilians
rode them as well.
19th Century women did not
usually ride men's saddles.
Instead they rode sidesaddles
designed to allow them to ride
with both of their legs on one
side of the horse.

When riding sidesaddle, women
might wear a special outfit
called a riding habit.
To Learn More About
Sidesaddles, Click Here

Sidesaddles Article

Sidesaddle Article for Children
For more about saddles, click here.
Click to go to the Unit Study Lesson III: Travel and
Riding Habits Godey's Feb. 1865.

The long skirt was later replaced
by a safer "apron" skirt less likely
to be caught on the saddle-horns.