Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ostby’s Sesquicentennial Ox Cart Journey

Detail of Orlin Ostby's Ox Cart on Display
at the
2010 Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion

In the nineteenth century what is known locally as the Pembina Trail* was the main artery for heavily laden carts traveling the 450 mile-plus distance from Pembina, North Dakota to present day St. Paul, Minnesota. The hundreds of wood-and-rawhide carts waggled through Indian territory on the unimproved trail; the cart axles squealed notoriously under their loads of buffalo-hide and furs. Prior to the early 1820's, the carts were pulled by horses; after cattle were introduced**, the carts were more often pulled by oxen. The tough, mosquito-swatting cart drivers were typically Metis.***

In 1958, Delmar Hagen, of Northwestern Minnesota, followed the Pembina trail with an ox and cart, in celebration of Minnesota’s Centennial.

In celebration of Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial in 2008, Orlin Ostby (who worked for Delmar Hagen as a teen) traveled the distance with his ox Pum. Orlin was accompanied by family and friends. An account of the Ostby’s journey, with numerous photos, is online at

*More specifically, the Woods Trail, part of the network of Red River Ox Cart Trails.
**Under the tutelage of Lord Selkirk, Scottish colonists began arriving in 1812. The first cattle arrived in 1815. For more history see
***Métis is pronounced mey-tees, or mey-tee. They were the offspring of European fur-traders and native Americans. By 1820 French explorers and fur traders had already been in the region for a-hundred-years.
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