Red River Cart

Red River carts were ubiquitous in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory in the early and mid-19th century. They were used extensively in the fur trade. Drawn by horses or oxen, Red River carts carried pelts, dried meats, and animal-skin clothing made by Native Americans, as well as general freight and family or personal items. In 1879, H. M. Robinson wrote in The Great Fur Land or Sketches of Life in the Hudson’s Bay Territory: “The cart may be described as a light box frame poised upon an axle connecting two strong wooden wheels. These are of more than the usual diameter and are enormously dished. As seats in vehicles are a superfluous luxury, only demanded by the effete civilization of the East, the … [mixed race users] eschew them altogether. The passenger sits on the bottom plank, usually the hardest one about the cart; and as the bed of the vehicle is lower than the shafts, his heels are somewhat higher than his hips... Huge trains of these vehicles are used in freighting over the northern plains, and they furnish the chief means of land transportation in the country.” Several trade routes ran between St. Paul and Winnipeg, some close to the Red River. On return trips from the city, Red River carts carried groceries, tobacco, liquor, dry goods, clothing, tools, hardware, guns, farm implements, and other goods. Red River carts were common until the coming of railroads and steamships in the 1870s. The Smithsonian’s cart was donated in 1882 by Charles Cavileer, an early settler of Pembina, North Dakota. Its specific use is unknown.
Object Name
harness, Red River style
cart, pull, & wheels
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
overall: 2 1/2 ft x 3 1/2 ft x 4 1/2 ft; .762 m x 1.0668 m x 1.3716 m
shaft: 5 1/2 ft; 1.6764 m
axle: 5 3/4 ft; 1.7526 m
wheel: 5 3/8 ft; 1.64592 m
assembled: 66 in x 69 in x 120 in; 167.64 cm x 175.26 cm x 304.8 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Road Transportation
American Enterprise
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
American Enterprise
Road Transportation
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Cavileer
Sewer, Andy; Allison, David; Liebhold, Peter; Davis, Nancy; Franz, Kathleen G.. American Enterprise: A History of Business in America
Additional Media

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