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Conestoga Bells

Conestoga bells, Ulster Ameican Folk Park CollectionBells were a common adornment to the harness of the horse. They were held in an arch attached to the collar of the horse, containing three, four, five or six bells. They warned of the approach of the wagon and were also for decoration and allowed the horses to be found in the morning after being freed at night time. There were usually no bells on the saddle horse as they would have interfered with the jerk line and would also been ringing under the driver’s nose. Normally the leader horses had the five lighter bells, the middle the four-bell arch and the wheel horse the 3 heavy bells.

"I'll be there with the bells on"

If a wagon needed assistance from another wagoner it was common to hand over the bells in thanks for the assistance. It was a matter of some shame to arrive at your destination without your bells. This was the origin of the saying "I'll be there with bells on." Some wagoners would refuse help so as not to lose face, even to the extent of breaking the wagon tongue to free the horses.