Red River Cart A unique means of transportation on the Prairies
The Red River Cart • The Red River cart was constructed entirely from wood and tied together with leather. This made it easy to repair with trees found en route and the cart could easily adapt to the prairie elements.
Pulling the cart • Initially horses pulled the carts. Cattle were introduced as an option to pull the Red River Carts and in 1821 oxen were also used to pull the carts. Oxen are large, strong, have a passive personality and are able to pull a much heavier load than horses.
Weight • When a cart is pulled by a horse it can hold a load of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) for approximately 50 miles (80 kilometres) in one day. • When the cart is pulled by an ox it can hold 1000 pounds (454 kilograms) of cargo, for only 20 miles (32 kilometres) in one day.
How did they sit on the cart? • There is only one comfortable way to ride on the Red River carts and that is to sit in the front on the floor and let your legs dangle down near the tail of the horse or ox.
Buffalo Hunt • For the Métis people the buffalo hunt depended on the Red River cart. For many years the Métis drove hundreds of carts west, through the prairies and great plains to the site of the buffalo herds.
This cart is carrying furs, a Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket and vegetables from the market.
Markets • The Red River cart was used to transport a number of different products to various nearby markets. The products included furs, robes, hides, vegetables, and pemmican.
Harvesting At the time of the harvest it was said that there were hundreds of carts seen coming from all directions.
Wheels • The wheels contributed to the uniqueness of the Red River cart. The cart had two large wheels with spokes, and two shafts that were fastened to the axles with wooden pins. No nails were used at all.
“You could hear the wheels for miles before you could see them.” • The wheels could not be oiled as the dust would have stuck to the grease and affected the mobility of the carts, therefore the wheels created an ear piercing screeching noise as it travelled.
Tools • Another advantage of the Red River Cart was that there were not many tools required to construct the cart: an axe, a saw, wooden pins, leather strings and hide.
Across the waters • The whole cart could be taken apart, put on the dished wheels and rowed across a deep stream with all belongings piled on top.
When were these carts on the Prairies? • Red River carts were most widespread between 1820 and 1880 and very popular until the time when buggies became available to everyone. • In 1858 the number of Red River carts that could be seen had grown to 600 and in 1869 to 2500.
Today • Red River carts are seen at various Métis festivals and gatherings as the carts serve as a reminder of the identity and unique culture of Métis people.
References • The Metis: memorable events and memorable personalities George R. D.Goulet - Terry Goulet - FabJob – 2006 • http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006724 • The Red River Cart by Olive Knox published in “The Beaver.”