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History of the Woods Branch of the Red River Trails 1844-1870 Signs installed along the former trail

by John Crandall

Newly installed road signs mark the historic Woods Branch of the Red River Oxcart Trail. A scannable QR code on the sign takes you to where the first paragraph of the story below can be seen. The sign also has a map of the six townships the trail crosses. Pictured are President of the Old Wadena Society Bob Crawford, County Engineer Ryan Odden, Commissioner Chuck Horsager and Project Consultant John Crandall. This sign is located on County Road 4, near Ward’s Auto. Other signs are located on County Roads 23, 26 and 29.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Woods or Crow Wing Branch of the Red River Oxcart Trail through Wadena County. Commencing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada the Red River Trail squirreled its way down the Red River Valley and down the Minnesota River Valley to Mendota and later to St. Paul. Thus began a half century of commerce between the Selkirk colonies in Manitoba, Canada and St. Paul.

In 1812, Thomas Douglas, fifth Earle of Selkirk, was granted literally thousands of square miles of land in Manitoba where the Assiniboin River and the Red River meet (Winnipeg) by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), which had been founded in England in 1670. Portions of this land grant extended west and southwest into what we know today as Minnesota and North Dakota. Selkirk dreamed of establishing an agricultural colony for Scottish settlers in the New World. But the Earle’s dreams would not continue peacefully. It only infuriated the Northwest Fur Company.

With the British traders entrenched in the region around Hudson Bay, the struggle for the soul of the interior of North America and the riches provided by the lucrative fur trade industry began. The French traders and voyagers began exploring the Great Lakes and west at the start of the 18th century, establishing many fur posts along the waterways that followed the future Canadian and American boundaries. The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the French and Indian War (1756-1763). France gave up over a century of control of Canada to England. . . .

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