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whiffle-tree / whiffletree

The bar to which the traces of a carriage are fastened for draught; a whippletree. — Webster, 1882

Sunday night, after the inhabitants of town had retired, as a young gentleman was returning with a livery team, aftger conveying his girl to her place of destination, his mind must have been absorbed in thoughts of the future, for his team started up pretty lively after they got in town, and the young gentleman was thrown out. The horses soon cleared themselves of the wagon, and making a circuit of the town, running over Mr. Barnes’ hay scales, and over Mr. Owens’ front steps, they crossed the town westward and ran into Mr. Masters’ fence, where they were caught without receiving any injuries. The young gentleman’s face was pretty badly scratched and the whipple trees were broken, aside from that, no more damage was done. – Walnut Grove News, Redwood (Minnesota) Gazette, June 1879

In Margie Gray’s The Prairie Primer, literature based unit studies utilizing the Little House series (that’s what the cover says), the Art/Vocabulary activity for Chapters 9 and 10 of The Long Winter is to: “Look up ‘whiffle’ in the dictionary. Draw a picture of a tree with whiffle characteristics.”

The word “whiffle” isn’t even in Chapters 9 or 10 of The Long Winter. It’s sort of in Chapters 1, 16, and 27, though, as the word whiffle-tree or whiffletree (remember that Laura Ingalls Wilder is bad about doing this to words). Chapters 9 – in case you didn’t rush right over to your copy to check it out – tells about the blizzard that caught the children in school, and they have to walk home in it. Chapter 10 is the rest of the story about that three days’ blizzard. While whiffle does mean a gust or puff of wind, the wind in these two chapters is more of the horizontal, blizzardy kind.

The photograph above is of two horses pulling a wagon at Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota. The whiffletree – often called the singletree – is circled in red. (The similar-looking bar at the front of the team is the neck yoke.)

An alteration of the word whippletree, the whiffletree is a pivoted crossbar attached to the traces of draft horse or team, and also attached to a vehicle or farm implement. This allowed the pulling to be equalized so that the load wouldn’t tip or a wagon be pulled off course. With two horses used, each animal will have its own whiffletree, with these being attached to an additional whiffletree to balance the pull from the two. Three or more horses can be similarly hitched to a load but is best described when one has both horses and load before them. Which I don’t.


whiffle-tree / whiffletree (SSL 6; TLW 1, 16, 27)