Transportation networks were vital to the settling of the West in the 19th century. They began with the trailblazers and continued with the much larger group of those who followed the trails, bringing with them not just commerce but the customs and traditions that stamped a territory with its own unique identity. In Minnesota, no road system has proven as vital to the state's growth or as important internationally as the Red River trails, a meandering patchwork of rutted oxcart paths across the prairie and around the woods that connected St. Paul with Winnipeg from the 1820s until the coming of the railroad in the 1870s. The trade in furs and other merchandise that the trails facilitated helped establish the young city of St. Paul as an important commercial center and were invaluable to the development of Winnipeg -- the state's first important foreign trading partner -- and, not incidentally, opened the door to the settling of the Red River Valley in both Minnesota and North Dakota. The trails also were the backdrop for a colorful chapter of the state's early history, filled with long trains of screeching oxcarts, exotically dressed Metis from the frontier borderlands, and the romance of stories and song from far away. One of the traders was Joe Rollette, who wielded political power in northwestern Minnesota and is credited with keeping the capital in St. Paul. Although traces of the original trails are mostly gone, some portions of them follow the route now followed by Interstate Hwy. 94. Other national trails--the Oregon and California, for instance--may be better known, but the Red River trails were the first important commercial network for white settlers in Minnesota.
~Kevin Duchschere, St. Paul, MN