Red River Cart at Craig, SK

The Red River cart was a two-wheeled cart made entirely of wood.
The cart was used by settlers, fur traders and the Métis people.
The first carts were built at the Red River settlement in Manitoba.

SETTLERS often used a cart called a Red River cart to get to their homesteads. The cart was made of wood. The parts were held together with wooden pegs and strips of rawhide . Strips of rawhide were also wrapped around the wooden wheel rims. It was a strong cart and lighter than most wagons.

There were no roads, just trails across the prairies when the first settlers arrived. Their wagons and carts often broke down. The Red River cart was easy to fix. If a stream had to be crossed the wheels could be removed and the cart floated across. Sometimes, a rounded hood of canvas or hide was placed over the cart to cover the contents or to provide shelter for the driver and family.

The Red River cart was also used to HAUL FREIGHT (supplies). The carts hauled supplies from larger communites. A cart could carry loads of 225 kilograms (500 pounds) for up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) a day when pulled by a horse. Oxen could pull loads of 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) for 20 kilometres (12 miles) a day. Ox-carts travelled in a long line with over a hundred in a line. Red River cart trails were made across the prairies . The first trails started in Winnipeg and went west and south.

FUR TRADERS and BUFFALO HUNTERS used the Red River carts to haul the buffalo meat and hides. The buffalo hunters followed the buffalo herds and shot the buffalo, then skinned the animals and sold the hides at trading posts.

THE METIS used the carts to haul buffalo meat and hides during the yearly hunts (in spring and fall). They moved around alot so the cart was useful for carrying their belongings.

The harness was made of buffalo hide. The animal stood between the twelve foot long shafts. A large box sat on the shafts. When the box was full, boards could be slipped in the sides to stop things from falling out of the cart. The big wheels kept the box high off the ground so the cart cleared tree stumps and rocks. This also made it easier to go through mud. The cart did not tip over easily because of the high wheels.

photos of the Red River cart

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web page by J. Giannetta
(updated 2011)

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