Red River Cart Traffic

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RED RIVER CART TRAFFIC. The Red River cart was a two-wheeled vehicle made entirely of wood, including the wheels, and carried a maximum load of one thousand pounds. An ox or Indian pony with a rude harness of rawhide drew each of them.

The traffic began by 1822 with the founding of Fort Snelling at what is now Saint Paul, Minnesota. Traders loaded the carts at Fort Garry in Winnipeg or at Pembina with buffalo robes, pemmican, dried meat, and furs, and exchanged these products at Fort Snelling for the trade goods needed at the fur trade posts tributary to Fort Garry. In 1843 the American Fur Company established a post at Pembina, and thereafter the traffic from this point grew rapidly in volume.

The most popular Red River cart trails were on the west side of the river. On the east side of the Red River, the trail ran southeast to Fort Snelling. Later, the trails crossed the Mississippi River at Sauk Rapids and reached Saint Paul on the east side of the river. The Lake Traverse route ran southeast to the crossing of the Minnesota River at Bois de Sioux and then to Mendota, at its junction with the Mississippi. After 1850 ferries connected Fort Snelling with Mendota and Saint Paul.

The low cost of this form of transportation explains its popularity. The oxen and horses were pastured on the prairie grasses, and the drivers found abundant game along the entire route. One serious drawback arose from the fact that these trails traversed the area that was the battleground of two Indian tribes, the Chippewa and the Dakota. Gradually, cart traffic gave way to flatboat and steamboat traffic, and the coming of the railroads in the 1860s completed the transformation.


Ens, Gerhard John. Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Lass, William E. Minnesota: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

Wilkins, Robert P. North Dakota: A Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, 1977.

O. G.Libby/a. e.

See alsoFur Trade and Trapping ; Hudson's Bay Company ; North Dakota ; Snelling, Fort .