The three-mile stretch of Coon Rapids Boulevard from Pheasant Ridge Drive Northwest to Egret Boulevard Northwest follows the exact route of the Ox Cart Trail.
The Red River Ox Cart Trail began as a foot path used by indigenous people to travel between rich hunting lands in what is now known as the Red River Valley and the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
Networks of footpaths and other trails grew and changed during the 19th century, as horses and carts became more numerous. Politics also affected routes. Early on, fur traders coming from the U.S.-Canada borderlands followed the Red and Minnesota rivers. As conflicts between Ojibwe and Dakota people heated up, the Métis shifted their route to follow the east bank of the Mississippi from what is now Brainerd, Minnesota, to downtown St. Paul’s busy riverboat landing. This route was adopted by the Army to serve as a military road and the main highway through the region. It eventually became a corridor for railroads and modern highways.
Through much of its history it was known as the Red River Road, despite the fact that it followed the Mississippi. It was also referred to as the Wagon Road, National Road, Government Road, Military Road and Territorial Road, but over much of its path it was the only good road, so it was probably often just referred to as “the road.”
The trail followed the east bank of the Mississippi, because the west bank was heavily wooded. On a trip north in 1849, E. S. Seymour described the road: “From St. Anthony to Rum River the road is excellent: a smooth, dry, well-beaten track, over level or gently undulating prairies, interspersed with oak openings, entirely free of underbrush. Good bridges were thrown over Rice and Coon Creeks. The construction of a few more small bridges is all that is required to render this natural highway as good as any of the turnpikes of the eastern states. Soon after leaving St. Anthony, in traveling north, a great change is apparent in the face of the country. The banks of the Mississippi are reduced to a more moderate elevation. … On the opposite side of the Mississippi, the landscape is bounded by a dense forest of oak, sugar-maple, etc.”