The Red River Metis Journey

The Red River Metis Journey began July 20, 2002 near Pembina. It was a celebration of the Metis people and an educational way to let others know about the forefathers of this area. Ed Jerome and others placed a cross at the Metis cemetery to begin the journey.

The following is an article that appeared in the July 17, 2002 Kittson County Enterprise:

Jerome will celebrate the lives of his ancestors
on the first Red River Metis Journey, July 20-28

by

Cindy Stewart

It has its own "peculiar shriek" just like the Red River carts back in the 1800s.

And just like the carts back then, it will be one of 10 other carts taking part in a Red River cart train, beginning in Pembina, Saturday, July 20.

Ed Jerome, rural Hallock, is one of the drivers and also the builder of his own cart.

"The most enjoyable part will be just seeing these things work and to re-enact a part of history," Jerome said.

Before the arrival of the train in the west, goods were transported by the Metis (may-tee) using the Red River cart. Goods such as furs, pemican, and dried buffalo meat were carried by cart.

The Red River Cart became a symbold of the Metis people and by 1856 half of all goods were transported by cart between two regions. The trek south became a family event. Drivers were expected to handle several carts at once. One man could drive up to 10 carts at once, by tying an ox to the cart ahead of it and so on, hence forming a train of carts.

A train of 100 or 200 carts might leave the Metis town of Pembina on the Canadian border and travel two months before reaching St. Paul. The routes they followed became known as the Red River Trails. The Metis and their carts helped make St. Paul one of the most important fur markets in the country.

Originally the carts were small horse drawn affairs, with three foot solid wheels cut from large trees, carrying up to 450 pounds. Later, larger wheels with four spokes were used and gradually the red river carts with their huge, many-spoked wheels evolved, carrying nearly twice as much.

Jerome's cart is built to follow traditional Metis specifications. It is all wood with no metal inside.

Jerome cut his own wood for the cart and had it sawed.

"The hubs are elm; the main part is oak. They used oak or poplar for the axles," he said.

This is the second cart built by Jerome. The first, built about 10 years ago, in in the Kittson County Historical Museum.

Why is Jerome building Red River carts?

Jerome's forefathers were the original settlers to this area and they were Metis people.

"I want to commemorate their history. I also want to educate people about the Metis," he said.

The main group of Metis was French Canadian and Ojibwa. Metis means mixed blood, that is initially one parent was white, and one was native, while later one or both were Metis. While a Metis can be anyplace where there are natives and whites, Metis Nation is defined as including the Metis living in the early Manitoba lands.

The Metis heritage goes back to the 1800s, as does the Metis cemetery. Father Severe Dumoulin established a Catholic mission at Pembina in 1818; by 1823, when the community was moved north to St. Francois-Xavier, he had recorded 49 burials.

Dumoulin established his mission on a ridge located near highway I-29 between a wayside stop and the Red River. The site is marked by a plaque erected by the State Historical Society in 1963 stating that the cemetery is "three hundred feet to the east."

Jerome said the cemetery was farmed over for about 80 years.

"We worked for 10 years to get the farmer to quit and finally got approval to set aside 10 acres. It is really just a spot in the middle of a field with some crosses that were placed there in 2000 and again last year," he said.

At this, the site of the oldest Christian burial in North Dakota, the journey of the Metis carts will commence next weekend.

After the erection of a special cross at the Pembina Metis Cemetery, the journey will leave from Emerson and will go to St. Norbert, Manitoba and then to the Forks in downtown Winnipeg for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) opening.

Each community along the route is planning some type of celebration as the carts make their way to Winnipeg.

The schedule is Sunday, July 21, 22, Roseau River First Nation; Tuesday, July 23, St. Malo, Manitoba; Wednesday, July 24, Otterburne, Manitoba; Thursday, July 25, Niverville, Manitoba; Friday, July 26, St. Adolphe, Manitoba; Saturday, July 27, St. Norbert, Manitoba, and Sunday, July 28, The Forks, Winnipeg.

The journey will follow part of the historical Crow Wing Trail which linked the Red River settlement with St. Paul in the mid 1800's on which the Metis cart drivers transported goods to St. Paul.

Jerome's cart will not be "full," as it would have been back in the 1800's.

Instead, he plans on taking some tools with, just in case there are a few problems along the way.

"I won't carry a load but maybe a few tools, just in case someone else's cart breaks down," he laughs.

"We have no idea if these carts will sustain the journey."

Even if complications arise, Jerome said the reason he is on the journey is to celebrate the lives of his ancestors.

And for that, it will all be worth it.