Saturday, April 25, 2015

If You REALLY Want to Learn About the Red River Trails...

When I wrote Ox Cart Angel, one of the most helpful books I used for research by far was a book put out by the Minnesota Historical Society by Rhoda Gilman, Carolyn Gilman, and Deborah Stultz:

Red River Trails : Oxcart Routes Between St Paul and the Selkirk Settlement 1820-1870

It's full of detailed trail maps, lots of background and history on the trails and the people who rode them, as well as historical pictures. There are a ton of references for further reading in the back of the book, too.

While I hope you get some fun information from this blog, the above book is highly recommended if you want to get to know the trails in a much more intimate way. It's available at many historical museums in Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as on the usual online shops. (The link above takes you to Amazon, if you're interested.) I'm guessing a lot of libraries carry it, also.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Delmar Hagen's 1958 Journey by Ox Cart Along the Red River Trails

In 1958, to coincide with Minnesota's centennial, Delmar Hagen recreated the historic ox cart journey that thousands of Metis had taken before in the 1800s. He accompanied a Red River cart and an ox named Napoleon.

I found picture of Delmar in a 1955 yearbook called The Aggie, which was for the University of Minnesota Northwest School and Experiment State, Crookston, MN. Now I think it's just called U of M, Crookston.

Delmar on the right and, um - Stephen Colbert on the left?

Delmar left Pembina, North Dakota in the early afternoon of July 10th, 1958 and arrived at the State Fair Grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota on August 23rd of that same year. He timed his trip to arrive during the Centennial Exposition held at the fair that year. Along the way, he camped at various stops and took a couple detours to attend the Marshall County Fair in Warren on July 18th, and the Summer Water Festival in Glenwood on August 9th and 10th.

Here's the only picture I could find of Delmar dressed for the trails with Napoleon:

Photo by Jim Thompson of Holt, MN

The above picture is located in the booklet pictured below, called Red River Carts Trek, Historic Pembina Trail, of which I have a copy. It was written by Neil Mattson, and was published as a way to fund Delmar's trip. Interestingly enough, Neil Mattson's daughter, Jean Larson was recently elected to the Executive Council of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The booklet is full of great information about the trails and about the Metis who drove the Red River carts. It also has a map of Delmar's proposed route to the State Fair.

My copy is signed by Delmar, and is inscribed "To a sweet little girl" (though I'm not sure if the word is 'sweet' or 'smart'? It looks like it starts with an S and a T, but that doesn't make sense.) Anyhow, I believe one of my aunts was at the State Fair and met him, and received the book. It eventually found its way to me.

During Delmar's journey, a photographer from Life Magazine captured his journey on film, and eventually Delmar and Napoleon earned a noteworthy spread. Those photos used to be online, however I can no longer find them. They were beautifully done, and maybe I can find a copy of that issue in the future.

It must have been quite a journey, only now with not only mosquitoes and the hot sun, but also cars whizzing by and the paparazzi following him. 

A seventeen-year old boy helped Delmar prepare for the trip (Hagen spent two years preparing) and Delmar told the boy that perhaps in 50 years, he should take the journey.

In 2008, that seventeen-year old boy was now a 67-year old man named Orlin Ostby, and he actually did travel the trails. You can see his blog about the journey here. (I met one of Orlin's helpers at one of my talks. I blogged about that talk here.)

Who knows? Maybe in 2058, someone else will walk in the footsteps of the Metis and Delmar and Orlin.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bonebag - or - What is an Ox?

Bonebag is a character in Ox Cart Angel; an old, flatulent ox with only one full horn, the other having been broken off when he was younger. Some people have told me that Bonebag is their favorite character (which I'm not sure is a good or a bad thing!)

I didn't grow up on a farm, nor spend much time on one, so when I sat down to write Ox Cart Angel, I didn't know an ox from a rutabaga.

This is a rutabaga...with eyes!

Well, okay, I did know that an ox was some sort of cow-like creature, maybe a bull of some sort, but that's about it. I only knew that an ox cart was pulled by an ox. Otherwise it might have been called a rutabaga cart.

So what is an ox?

Me! Me! Pick me!

An ox is basically a bull who has been castrated, and then trained to work. They also must have horns so that when they are pulling something, the yoke won't slip off of their heads. Luckily, Bonebag still has enough horn left to keep the yoke on his head!

An old wooden yoke

What does it mean to be castrated? It is when the testicles have been cut off of a bull calf. Usually this is done well before he's a year old.

"Wait, what?!"

This might sound cruel - and the bull might agree with you - but this has gone on for thousands of years, and is a way to make bulls less aggressive and to prevent them from breeding.

Oxen in an 11th-century illustration

So now you know what an ox is! 

"Did you know rutabagas have eyes?"
"Nope. I did not know that."

Thanks for stopping by!

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Monday, April 13, 2015

The Capote Coat

A popular clothing item for the Metis (as well as many other Native Americans and Voyageurs) was the capote.

No, not this Capote!!!

Ah, that's better...

Some were made of leather, some of blue wool, some white, some gray. Many were made from a single Hudson Bay Blanket, like the one pictured above. As you can see, they are long - thigh-length, with long sleeves, a hood, and were often held together by a Metis sash. Some incorporated buttons and thongs, as well. 

The wool worked great in the winter, since it could hold the wearer's heat, even when the wool got wet.

Hudson Bay Blankets were (and still are) very desirable. You can still buy them today.

This is called a Hudson Bay Point Blanket - the black lines on the left side are called 'points' and helped shopkeepers determine its size even while it remained folded on a shelf.

You can still buy Hudson Bay Point Blankets. Here's a link to a variety on Amazon.

Blackfoot Man wearing Capote circa 1910

Pictured here are members of the Montreal Snow Shoe Club in 1886.
Who knew capotes could make you fly?

Here's an 1845 painting by Paul Kane  with men wearing non-Hudson Bay Blanket capotes:

Portrait of Captain John Henry Lefroy

Lefroy's capote looks like it could be made of leather, and his companion with his back to us wears one of grey wool. Both of them wear a sash with a fire bag attached to it.

In case you're interested in making your own capote, here are a couple websites I found with instructions. 

If you decide to make one, or already have one, send a picture of you wearing it, and I'll put it on my blog!