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Red River Carts

Before the coming the railroad and the construction of roads, the two wheeled “Red River cart” was the main method of land transportation in what was to become Manitoba and throughout the prairies. Several publications of the Manitoba Historical Society describe these carts, their use, construction and how to load them so that everything will not fall out. Charles N. Bell traced the origin of the carts to Alexander Henry's time in the Red River area, around 1800. He included this passage in his edited version of Henry's journals:

“The First Red River Carts

The famous Red River cart now was constructed apparently for the first time, and fortunately we have given us a most interesting description of the original vehicles. “Men now go again for meat with small low carts, the wheels of which are of one solid piece sawed from the ends of trees, whose diameter is three feet. These carriages we find much more convenient and advantageous than to load our horses on the back, and the country being so smooth and level that we can make use of them to go in every direct, on.” It may be as well here to give another entry in the journal made a year later which indicates that improvements had been made in the style of the carts and that they had been advanced to such a form of perfection that little change has since been made. “We require horses to transport the property, of which we have now a sufficient number for all our purposes, and a new sort of cart. They are about four feet high and perfectly straight, the spokes being placed perpendicularly without the least bending outwards, and only four in each wheel. These carts will carry about, five pieces, and are drawn by one horse.”

From: Continuation of Henry's Journal: Covering Adventures and Experiences in the Fur Trade on the Red River, 1799-1801 by Charles N. Bell, MHS Transactions Series 1, No. 35

Here are some more MHS articles on Red River Carts:

Red River Cart by Olive Knox
Manitoba Pageant, April 1956

The Red River Carts by Harry B. Brehaut
Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1968, Volume 14, Number 1

The Red River Cart and Trails: The Fur Trade by Harry B. Brehaut, P. Eng.
MHS Transactions Series 3, Number 28, 1971-72 season. (Includes drawings of a cart.)

On the St. Paul Trail in the Sixties by W. G. Fonseca
MHS Transactions No. 56, Read 25 January 1900. (The author describes a trip in a Red River Cart.)

The Old Crow Wing Trail by John C. Schultz
Transaction no. 45 (1894). (The author describes the proper loading of a Red River Cart.)

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