Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sesquicentennial Stroll: “Walking The Pembina Trail” by Steven Reynolds

People are drawn to once-in-a-lifetime events in which they can inexpensively participate, even by monetary donation, and ‘The Sesquicentennial Stroll: Walking The Pembina Trail’ is just such an event. This isn’t merely the walk of one man, his ox and two-wheeled cart but truly a historic stroll along the all-but-forgotten Pembina Trail, from Pembina, N.D., to St. Paul. It will be contemporary Minnesotans enjoying Ostby’s trek across our storied past, thus creating a chapter of their own for the history books.
Gatzke residents Orlin Ostby and the late Delmar Hagen both wanted to celebrate a Minnesota birthday by walking the Red River Ox Cart Trail from the Canadian border to St. Paul. Delmar made the walk in 1958 for Minnesota’s 100th birthday. Orlin is beginning his on July 1, 2008, for Minnesota’s 150th birthday. Both of their walks end six weeks later in celebration at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
When he was about 18 years old, Orlin worked for Delmar Hagen, a neighbor. He helped him train his Shorthorn ox named “Napoleon” and to prepare for his reenactment of the arduous 420-mile trek along the Woods Trail, one of three Red River Ox Cart Trails on the east side of the Red River of the North.
Between 1800 and 1870, Metis fur traders established the trails to transport their furs and hides to St. Paul for trade goods they would haul back to the Red River settlements in Minnesota and North Dakota, on ox cart trains that varied from a few carts to as many as 500. By 1820, there were approximately 540 carts in use; by 1840, an estimated 5000.
In 1958, Delmar told Orlin that he should make the walk for Minnesota’s 150th birthday in 2008, so Orlin kept the idea alive all these 50 years. In 2003, Orlin purchased a team of young Holstein steers, broken to drive, from a 10-year-old New Hampshire 4-Her named Thomas Philbrick, who had begun training “Pum” and “Kin” as a team as young as eight days old.
Over the past five years, Pum and Kin grew in size and experience, becoming celebrities in community events and parades across northwest Minnesota and the Red River Valley region. Pum, chosen for the Pembina walk because of his sweet disposition and cool head, weighs 2360 pounds and is six feet tall at the shoulder. He can easily pull the two-wheel, early-1900s Ontario cart Orlin has modified for the trip. He preferred steel spindles and hubs he can grease, to the horrendous squeal of wood-on-wood, which is peculiar of an authentic Red River Ox Cart, that reportedly could be heard for miles.
Although Delmar walked alone beside Napoleon, who leisurely pulled the two-wheel cart Delmar had made himself, the trail he learned, was a long and lonely affair, except for occasional visitors and community events along the way. In contrast, along with his wife, Mandy, 15-year-old son, Christopher, and 12-year-old daughter, Katherine, Orlin will be joined along the trail by people who have expressed a desire to walk the trail with him for just a few hours, or just a few days, some being Metis descendants. After visiting the Ostby family’s Web site:, some people wish to accompany him for the 40-plus day duration, as well as make tax-deductible contributions on-line to their project. All participants are responsible for their own necessities, including transportation, food and water as the Ostbys can do only for themselves and their livestock. Others may wish to participate by making tax-deductible contributions by mail, helping aid Ostby’s travel expenses.
“Orlin Ostby & Family: Walking The Pembina Trail,” although a definitive Sesquicentennial event, and known only a year ago as “ ... the single-most high profile Sesquicentennial event to-date,” was, unbelievably, not chosen for Sesquicentennial grant funding. Fortunately, with the much-appreciated cooperation of likewise commonly under-funded Minnesota historical societies along the Woods Trail route, as well as the historical societies and communities in Pembina and Walsh counties in North Dakota, “Walking The Pembina Trail” has received some initial contributions to get the wheels rolling.
If you wish to contribute to this worthwhile historical event, sponsored in part by, Palmville Press & Publishing, Inc., a non-profit organization of Wannaska, send contributions to: Citizens State Bank, 118 Main Avenue S., Roseau, MN 56751 in care of “Walking The Pembina Trail.”

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