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whip. n. An instrument for driving horses or other animals, or for correction, consisting of a lash tied to a handle or rod. v.t. To strike with a lash, a cord, a rod, or any thing lithe, which pains without bruising; to lash; to beat; as, to whip a horse. — Webster, 1882

Frank Schaub, harness maker, has been here since 1882. He has the only store in his line in the city and carries the largest stock in the county. You can get anything you want of him in the line of harnesses, saddles, trunks, whips, blankets, etc., at prices that will satisfy you. -De Smet News and Leader, 1887.

In Farmer Boy (see Chapter 4, “Surprise”), Almanzo is afraid to go to school when the big boys (Big Bill Ritchie and his gang) come to class, because they were said to have driven out two teachers, and hurt teacher Jonas Lane so badly that he died. The manuscript for Farmer Boy includes a bit more: “…The boys would not come to school until about the middle of the term and from the first were surly and rude to the teacher. They would act worse and worse until he would try to punish them. Then all together they would attack him, put him out of the school house and lock the door against him. Last winter they had struck the teacher’s back across a seat and injured him so that he had died of it in the summer.”

The tale of the current teacher, Mr. Corse, using Father Wilder’s blacksnake ox whip on Bill Ritchie sounds a bit like THIS story, which appeared in newspapers in 1906. Is that Almanzo and Miles peeping in the door?

BLACK-SNAKE / BLACKSNAKE WHIP / OX-WHIP. Mr. Wilder’s blacksnake ox whip was described as having a handle loaded with iron that could kill an ox, and was fifteen feet long. In the manuscript for Farmer Boy, there was a bit more detail: It had a long flexible lash made of leather strands braided together. The handle was short and stiff covered with leather and the butt end was loaded with a heavy piece of iron sewed tightly in the leather, so that by turning the whip in his hand and striking with the butt, Father said he could knock down an ox or kill a man.

The butt end is that closest to the hand, while the lash end is away from where the whip is held. When the leather of the handle enclosed a piece of iron that was exposed at the butt end (rather than being enclosed in a traditional turk’s head knot), the handle could be used as a weapon to strike with. Blacksnake whips could be anywhere from four feet to twelve or more, and they were flexible all the way to the handle end so that they could coil tightly for carrying (or storing in a teacher’s desk). A bullwhip was similar but had a wooden handle. The whip shown at right is on display at Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota.

BRAIDING A WHIPLASH. A whip maker could have apprenticed for years before learning the craft, so the art of braiding a lash isn’t something one can learn from reading a paragraph or looking at a few pictures. HERE is an interesting video showing how a whip is made. While Almanzo learns to braid a simple whip using five (or most likely, four) strands of tree bark, manufactured whips had an outer layer of braided strips, from twelve up to seventy-two strands, depending on the intricacy of the pattern used.

While the 1894 Montgomery Ward Catalog lists whips costing anywhere from one to three dollars, expect to pay hundreds for a whip today.

BUGGY WHIP / WHIPSOCKET. The buggy whip had a long handle with a fairly short lash. When not in use, it stood for convenience at the driver’s right hand in the whipsocket, originally a tube of leather or leather-covered wire spring, but later made of rubber or metal with locking mechanism. The socket held the whip securely so that it didn’t bounce out during travel or move around too much in its holder.

RAWHIDE WHIP. In Little House on the Prairie, no whip is used, but Pa says that when he and the horse Patty were surrounded by wolves (see Chapter 7, “The Wolf Pack”) and he has to keep the horse walking so as not to antagonize the wolves and possibly cause them to attack, once the wolves leave the horses side, Patty “couldn’t have run faster if I’d been cutting into her with a rawhide whip.” Rawhide is the untanned hide of cattle or other animals, and “rawhide” could mean either the hide itself or a whip made out of it.

CRACKING A WHIP. While a whip might have been used to strike an animal in order to get it to go faster or perform a desired action, Wilder writes in Farmer Boy that Almanzo used his whip to make noise in connection with making or learning a verbal command. For example, he “cracked” his whip at the side of an ox’s head in order to startle it away from the noise and go in the direction he wanted.

There are multiple ways in which a whip can be maneuvered quickly so that it cracks or pops. First, make sure you have plenty of room and there is nothing nearby that you can hit accidentally. Holding the handle at your side, with the lash trailing in a line behind you, swing your hand quickly over your head straight into the air so that the tip leaves the ground and goes over your head. Try to keep the whip and your arm on a narrow plane, as if you’re not standing in open space like you’re supposed to be, but are standing in a narrow alley between two tall buildings. You then bring your arm down quickly, causing the whiplash to loop, which it will do naturally because the handle and tip are moving at different speeds. The noise made is a miniature sonic boom caused by a section of the whip near the tip moving faster than the speed of sound (1116 feet per second at sea level).



moosewood. A tree of the genus Acer (A. Pennsylvanicum), found in the United States; – also called striped maple. A shrub of the genus Dirca (D. palustris), found in the Northern United States; leatherwood. — Webster, 1882

MOOSEWOOD WHIP. The striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is a small, rapidly-growing deciduous tree native to New York, the northeast, and down into the mountains of North Georgia. It is also known as leatherwood (because it is so tough) or moosewood (because moose love to eat it). Its striped bark is so tough that it was often used for gate hinges and strapping material. The tough bark was cut in strips and boiled in water with ashes, then allowed to dry. The bark could be then separated into small strands that were very durable.

Almanzo Wilder’s first whip was made of strips of moosewood bark, braided together. Although Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Almanzo’s whip was made of five strands braided together into a round whip length, a five-strand braid is typically either flat or perfectly squared off. It’s possible that Almanzo braided four strips together, not five, as this forms a nice, tight, circle and was commonly used.

There are lots of videos online showing how to braid four strands or cord or leather without a center core. Almanzo’s whip would have been out of flat, ribbon-like pieces of bark; once he mastered the braid, he would be ready to try it with leather. The photo shows a four-strand leather braid, suitable for a bracelet or “whip” ornament for your Little House Christmas tree. The finished piece will be about 1/3 the length of the strips used, so plan accordingly. If you want your piece to get smaller and smaller, like a whip, taper each strip slightly over its length.


whip (BW 4, 9-10, 12; FB 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 18; SSL 27, 30; LTP 8, 14, 23; THGY 6, 14, 16, 29; PG)
     black-snake / blacksnake whip / ox-whip (FB 4, 9, 18)
     buggy (THGY 8, 19)
     cracking a whip (BW 12; FB 1, 3, 9, 27)
     moosewood (FB 9)
     rawhide (LHP 7)
     whip-lash / whiplash / lash (FB 4, 9)
     whipping (FB 6, 18; LTP 14, 23; THGY 5; PG), punishment
     whipsocket (THGY 19, 29)