Origins of the Ox Cart
The Red River Ox Cart traveled from Pembina, North Dakota, which was in the Red River Valley area and Canada, down through primitive Minnesota territory to St. Paul. The ox cart was used as a substitute by the Hudson Bay fur trading industry.
The Red River Ox Cart Trail in 1844 was very similar to East River Road as we know it today. There were few variations in directions as it ran through the County of Anoka along what is now known as East River Road. The ox carts at that time were very unique in that as far as we are able to tell through research, they were the only carts of that kind in the world. The nearest thing to them was the Normandy Cart in France. The carts were made primarily of oak and cost about $15 to make. They could carry weights of furs and whatever of up to 1,000 pounds per cart. They were pulled by an ox or horse and ran tandem 2, 3 or more carts together with a driver for each 3 to 5 carts. The drivers were called "boisbrule" and they were half-breeds. Their ancestry was Indian, Scottish, and French.
Fur Trading Boom
The ox cart proved to be a boon to the fur traders because they could carry furs down from Pembina at much less cost by cart than through the Hudson Bay Company. The ox cart going south was loaded with all kinds of hides covered by a buffalo robe, and on the way back north they would carry everything from an occasional piano to sacks of flour or whatever they needed back at the Pembina location and locations along the way. The ox carts could be heard five miles away when they were coming down the trail because of their squeaky wheels, and they would sometimes travel as many as 200 carts in a line at one time. They crossed the river in Anoka in 2 places near the confluence of the Rum River and the Mississippi River and the other not too far from the Anoka State Hospital as it stands today. They then proceeded down through Coon Rapids and Fridley, which was then called Manomen which meant Wild Rice.
Ox Cart Transformation
The ox carts were well-known in the area and there are a number of pictures on file at the State Historical Society and the County Historical Society. About 200 pictures were used in doing research to determine what the carts looked like. The Ox Cart Trail was being used from 1844 on until 1857, when our mural date starts, and it was probably at the height of its use. The ox cart use dwindled off and was no longer used at the turn of the century. The Ox Cart Trail in 1857 became known as the U.S. Military Road and by 1859 it was shown as such on a map that was drawn by Mr. William Carter.