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.

No comments:

Post a Comment