History of Don's Work
Red River Cart
Before the arrival of the train in the west, goods where transported by the Métis using the Red River cart. Goods such as furs, pemmican, and dried buffalo meat where carried by cart. The Red River Cart became a symbol of the Métis people and by 1856 half of all goods where transported by cart between the two regions. The trek south became a family event. Drivers where expected to handle several carts at once. One man could drive up to ten carts at once, by tying a ox to the cart ahead of it and so on, hence forming a train of carts.
Originally the carts were small horse-drawn affairs, with three-foot solid wheels cut from large trees, carrying up to 450 pounds. Later, larger wheels with four spokes were used and gradually the red river carts with their huge, spoked wheels evolved, carrying nearly twice as much.
Each wheel was said to have its own peculiar shriek, announcing the coming of a train from a great distance. (Grease or oil would have only mixed with the dust, wearing down the axles.) The harness was made from a buffalo hide, often in one piece. Carts moved single file, except when in danger from Indians, when they traveled several abreast. Each driver controlled five or six carts strung out behind him, each ox tied to the cart ahead.
The rich culture of the Métis was based on the buffalo hunt. Like their Aboriginal relatives, the Métis usually appointed someone Chief of the Hunt. Strict rules had to be followed and harsh penalties were imposed on those who disobeyed. For many, the hunt became an important economic activity. The major hunts took place twice a year, in the spring and fall, and lasted two to three months. Buffalo hunters used rifles to kill the animals, skinned them and sold the hides. Buffalo robes were used for coats, blankets and floor coverings. The buffalo served as food for the railroad crews when the tracks were laid across the prairies. When one herd was killed the hunters would move on looking for another herd. By the middle of the 19th century the huge herds of buffalo had disappeared. Once the railroad was completed between Regina-Saskatoon-Prince Albert in 1890, the Red River cart was no longer used to carry freight.