Red River Cart

The Red River Cart was historically the main source of inland transportation for the Métis people. Red River Carts were made entirely of wood and pulled by a single horse, pony or ox. These carts had two large wheels and could carry over 900 pounds of freight.    

For the Métis, the Red River Cart was an all-purpose utility vehicle and a makeshift home. Métis families used Red River Carts to carry their possessions while moving, hunting, or harvesting. The carts also provided migrating Métis with temporary living quarters and shelter from the elements. Women fashioned decorated covers for the carts from bison hides or canvas, which were supported by an arched frame of cut saplings. In the winter, the Red River Cart’s passenger box, when placed on runners, served as a temporary horse-drawn sleigh. Red River Carts were also used as a defensive mechanism when the Métis were threatened. Inside a protective circle of carts, women, children and animals could hide safely.   

The Métis were responsible for the development of the versatile Red River Cart used to transport goods over the prairie terrain. The versatility of the cart was unmatched. With its high wheels, the cart could transverse the rutted prairie, be disassembled and floated as a raft across streams, or covered with waterproof hide and transformed into a boat. The wheels were simply removed and lashed to the bottom to form a raft. At day’s end, the cart could then be both covered with hide and used to provide shelter for the traveler, or when dozens were encircled, form a portable corral for livestock. In winter, the cart frame could be used as a sled pulled by a horse.    

Today, the Red River Cart is one of the best-known symbols of Métis culture.