Saturday, August 9, 2008
The cast of "Walking The Pembina Trail: Pembina, ND to St. Paul, MN 2008 il
WTPT 2008: A Brief History
The Metis, the French/Cree, French/Ojibwe indigenous people of the Northern Plains, took their entire family along on their lengthy ox cart trains along the arterial routes of what is known now as The Red River Ox Cart Trail, a 400+ mile trail system existing either side of the Red River of the North that carted furs and hides south to the Pig's Eye trading posts at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers aboard two-wheeled carts pulled by an ox or pony, and back north again loaded with full inventories of supplies, including firearm ammunition, for the new settlements along the way.
So did Orlin Ostby. He had his wife Amanda Ostby, his 12 year old daughter Catherine Ostby, his 15 year old son Christopher Ostby--their 2 year old Blue Healer/Australian Shepard dog "Tiss," and one of their two almost-7-year-old oxen, "Pum," (the lefthand ox). Plus he had his cousin Tom Thronsedt from Jamestown, ND and two friends Steve Reynolds and Jackie Helms of Wannaska, MN who publish a magazine called The Raven: 'NW Minnesota's Original Art, History & Humor Journal' from that little town. It is Reynolds and Helms intention to write and publish a book about The Sesquicentennial Stroll: the experience of walking the Pembina/Red River Ox Cart Trail.
Orlin worked for a neighboring farmer named Delmar Hagen who used a Shorthorn ox named Napoleon to pull a cart he made to St. Paul along the Pembina trail, to commemorate Minnesota's 100th birthday. In 1958, Orlin was but a lad of 17 when Delmar thrust upon him the notion that in 2008, 50 years from that time, he could make the walk for Minnesota's Sesquicentennial, it's 150th birthday. And so here we are, ox and all walking the Pembina Trail...
Although lacking the 1000-1500 pound payload the Metis carts often carried, Orlin Ostby's wooden two-wheeled cart is indeed pulled by a single ox, this one named "Pum," a Holstein steer that still tipped the scales at over 2500 pounds four weeks into the walk and regularly captures the awe and imagination of all the men, women and children who fall under his strangely captivating spell. Meeting Pum close-up and personal gave people the opportunity to touch and experience an animal of this terrific dimension without physical barriers of any kind. A woman at the Perham, Minnesota fair, upon seeing him for the first time exclaimed,
which I immediately misconstrued on purpose:
"Did you say, 'He's OXSOME? Then OXSOME, he shall be..."
It sure fits him.
Everyone walked alongside or behind the cart, no one rode. Some days we'd walk 4.5 miles, other days we'd walk 13 miles, but we averaged between 6-8 miles per day overall. We all take Pum's health into consideration first. Everyone watched the ox for signs of discomfort or thirst and we got pretty good at reading signs recognizing that just as we were getting used to the grind Pum got used to the grind. At the close of every walk he was unharnessed and put into his own space, a portable electric fenced enclosure complete with fresh water, alfalfa hay and a pail of feed. He usually got 12 hours or more of good rest between each walk even if we didn't as visiting often took precedent over a good night's sleep. Calmly chewing his cud and lying down, he watched as visitors took pictures of him or patiently endured their adoration as they petted his massive head and horns, looked lovingly into his gigantic dark gray eyes, or stroked his flanks.
Visiting with people was a priority--especially if they proved to be proficient in the Norwegian language as Orlin speaks the old dialect so well. As he said, "If you don't like people, you shouldn't do a walk like this..." I think he was his happiest among visitors, especially children whom he took delight in placing atop Pum's broad back when they expressed if but a hesitant desire 'to walk on the wild side'. Christopher lifted teenage girls onto his bovine buddy's back at the Fertile Fair.