According to the journal of North West Company fur-trader, Alexander Henry (the younger), the carts made their first appearance in 1801 at Fort Pembina, just south of
what is now the United States border.
The Red River Cart was used for carrying belongings, or meat and hides from the buffalo hunts. Made completely from wood, with a light box frame on an axle with two large wheels, the carts were fairly light, strong, and easy to repair. The wheels, with six to eight spokes, or more, were five to six feet high and wrapped tightly with rawhide to prevent the wood from splitting.
The wheels on these versatile carts were cone-shaped out from the hub so that the wheels would not sink too deeply when they travelled over soft ground with a full load.
When the Métis wanted to cross water they simply removed the wheels which were kept in place with a wooden peg, thus creating a raft to cross rivers with ease without having to unload the cargo.
The screeching of this cart could be heard for miles. Grease was not used as it picked up mud and tiny pebbles that clogged the hubs. When this happened the cart was forced to stop. “What makes more noise than a pig in a poke?.” A Red River Cart.
As it was, a cart often used four or five axles on the trip to St. Paul from the Red River settlement. Harness was made from a buffalo hide, often in one piece. Carts moved single file, except when in danger, when they travelled several abreast. Each driver controlled five or six carts strung out behind him, each ox tied to the cart ahead. When speed was important the Métis used horses instead.