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peddler’s cart / wagon

peddle. To go about and sell; to retail by carrying around from customer to customer; to hawk; to retail in very small quantities. A peddler is one who peddles; a traveling trader; one who carries about small commodities on his back, or in a cart or wagon, and sells them. — Webster, 1882

The Wilder brothers are supposed to be progressing toward New Orleans on the hurricane deck of a peddler’s wagon, expecting to spend the winter on the road and return here in time to put in next year’s crop. – De Smet Leader, November 1884

In Farmer Boy (see Chapter 12, “Tin-Peddler”), readers are introduced to Nick Brown, who travels the countryside with his wares, which he trades for rags used in the paper-making process. In Little Town on the Prairie, it’s Royal Wilder who owns a peddler’s cart, which he and Almanzo take on their 1884 trip. Whether they sold items during their journey is unknown, but by 1889, Royal operated a variety store in De Smet, stocked with a “neat stack of notions,” according to the De Smet Leader.

A peddler’s cart or wagon would be stocked with general purpose items: brooms, pots, pans, pins and needles and other sewing supplies, and the peddler would drive to farms away from town and sell items to women who might not easily make it into town to shop. The peddler might be gone for a week or more, sleeping in his wagon. He brought welcome news and gossip from town in addition to his sale goods. While a peddler’s wagon might be any farm wagon from which goods were sold, there were also vehicles designed expressly for this purpose, outfitted with side cabinets and drawers and various compartments for storage. An 1859 design is shown here, from a period carriage-makers catalog.

The summer Laura and Almanzo left De Smet for Missouri, Charles Ingalls apparently peddled groceries by wagon, along with Gerald Fuller. The Kingsbury County Independent reported: C.P. Ingalls started his grocery wagons yesterday. They go first in the direction of Watertown and will determine their course from that point by the condition of the crops. Gerald Fuller drives one of the wagons. They were gone over a month, and only came back to De Smet briefly in order to restock their wagons.

Peddlers were licensed in South Dakota beginning in 1897. Rules are given below.

Peddler’s License. The last legislature passed a law providing for a county license for peddlers, which will go into effect next month. The following is the law in full:

Section 1. That on and after the passage and approval of this act, it shall be unlawful for any person to peddler or hawk any goods, wares or merchandise whatsoever, or to take orders for merchandise of any character for future delivery for houses located and doing business outside the state of South Dakota, without first having procured a license from the county auditor of the county wherein such peddling or hawking is to be conducted.

Section 2. Each peddler or hawker traveling with a pack and on foot shall pay a license of not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than fifty dollars per year.

Section 3. Each peddler or hawker traveling with a wagon or other vehicle shall pay a license of not less than fifty or more than one hundred dollars per year.

Section 4. Each peddler or solicitor taking orders for groceries, clothing, hardware or other mercantile establishments located and doing business outside f the limits of this state shall pay a license of not less than seventy-five dollars nor more than one hundred and twenty-five dollars per year.

Section 5. All moneys derived from licenses received under the provisions of this act shall be turned into the county general fund of each county.

Section 6. Each peddler, hawker or solicitor for foreign houses taking out license under the provisions of this act shall be compelled to exhibit such license whenever called upon by any party to whom such peddler, hawker or solicitor is endeavoring to make sale of goods.

Section 7. No license issued under the provisions of this act shall be for a less period than one year.

Section 8. The provisions of this act shall not be construed to apply to runners traveling for wholesale houses and taking orders from merchants only doing business within this state nor to peddlers or hawkers of farm produce.

Section 9. Any person violating the provisions of this act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction therof, shall be fined not less than $25 nor more than $100.

Section 10. It shall be the duty of the county commissioners to fix the amount of said license and a previous revisions of this act are hereby repealed.


     Almanzo wins buggy race with peddler’s cart (LTP 8)
     cart / wagon (FB 12; LTP 8; THGY 24)
     tin-peddler (FB 12), see also rags for paper