This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Patriot without a Country By David Kilgour, M.P. “Uneasy Patriots: Western Canadians in Confederation http://www.david-kilgour.com/uneasy/chap08.htm A Government of Canada hanged Louis Riel 103 years ago, but many Canadians will still not let him die. The man who during a turbulent life was founder of a rovin!e, member of the "arliament of Canada, an outlaw, an e#ile, and a vi!tim of the hangman has remained the storm !entre of Canadian oliti!s. $e !ontinues to !a ture imaginations and !ontroversies in a way no other Canadian figure has done. The transformation of the founder of %anitoba from a regional agitator and national traitor to a ma&or 'estern Canadian hero in our o ular mind has ta(en mu!h of a !entury. )or a long while, Canadian historians be!ause of artisanshi or for other reasons ignored the details of his life. *ven the Makers of Canada !olle!tion of biogra hies ublished in 1+0,-1+0. did not in!lude him. Today, as the 'inni eg historian /.%. 0umsted oints out, 1he is the only ma&or Canadian whose a ers have been !olle!ted and ublished with the full ano ly of s!holarly a aratus develo ed for figures li(e Thomas /efferson, George 'ashington, 0en&amin )ran(lin and /ohn Adams....1 To Canada2s 3ative eo le, Riel has !ome to symboli4e their as iration for a fuller share in our national life, 1'hat Canadians do not understand is that Louis Riel is a )ather of Canadian Confederation.... $e intuitively sensed the future for Canada and wanted to guarantee a la!e for %5tis eo le in that future. The fa!t that he was betrayed and martyred for his efforts only guarantees the fa!t that today he is hailed by his eo le as a freedom fighter of the highest order...,1 says Louis 0ruyere. This s(et!h will ma(e a !ase that Riel2s statues should stand not only near the legislature buildings in 'inni eg and Regina, as they now do, but in rominent la!es in all four western and northern !a itals, and in 6ttawa itself. At the age of 17, the young Louis, who was in fa!t of seven-eighths white an!estry, followed his father2s footste s to %ontreal to study for the riesthood. The Catholi! 0isho of 8t. 0onifa!e, Ale#andre Ta!h5, was so im ressed by his a!ademi! ability and religious ardour during his elementary s!hooling that he had ersuaded the wife of a later Lieutenant Governor of 9u5be! to ay what the Riel family !ould not afford. :uring the ne#t de!ade at the 8ul i!ian seminary, Louis roved a serious and indeed brilliant student. $is father2s death hit him so hard that afterwards he avoided other students, faltered and missed !lasses. ;n the final year of the seminary he abandoned his religious studies and s ent a little over a year in %ontreal wor(ing for a brief time as a student-at-law. ;n 1.<= he went to 8t. "aul, %innesota, before he finally de!ided to return to Red River a year later. $is first a!t of leadershi o!!urred in the fall of 1.<+ well before the vast Ru ert2s Land was formally transferred from the $udson2s 0ay Com any to the government of Canada. 'illiam %!:ougall, "rime %inister /ohn A. %a!donald2s %inister of "ubli! 'or(s, had ordered a survey to be done on the mile-s>uare system of the Ameri!ans to a!!ommodate new settlers from 6ntario. The 9uebe! land system, already wor(ing well for the %5tis in Red River, had rovided ea!h settler with a small river
frontage and, in re!ognition of the water shortage roblem, with a 1hay rivilege1 as well, going ba!( from the river for two miles. ?nderstandably, the %5tis were greatly disturbed when %!:ougall2s agent, Colonel /ohn 8. :ennis, began his Ameri!an system and doubtless illegal surveys in their !ommunity. 'hen a survey !rew began wor( on the hay asture of Andr5 3ault, a )ren!h Canadian, Riel in !om any with a grou of unarmed %5tis a eared on the s!ene and de!lared that the territory south of the Assiniboine belonged to the eo le of Red River and not to Canada, and that the %5tis would not allow the survey to ro!eed any further. $is argument was that the Canadian government 1had no right to ma(e surveys on the Territory without the e# ress ermission of the eo le of the 8ettlement.1 That ended the surveying for the time being and established Riel at only @, years of age as the new %5tis leader of Red River. 'ithin days of the 3ault in!ident, 'illiam %!:ougall was a ointed by 8ir /ohn as the Lieutenant Governor of Ru ert2s Land. The "rime %inister2s ignoran!e of the 'est was again evidentA the Red River %5tis seethed. The governor-designate soon rea!hed %innesota by train and ro!eeded north to "embina. There he re!eived a note signed by Riel as se!retary of the 3ational Committee of the %5tis of Red River ordering him not to enter the territory of the 3orth-'est without 1s e!ial ermission1 of the Committee. %!:ougall im etuously drove two miles north to a lo!al $udson2s 0ay ost, but >ui!(ly obeyed an order delivered by Ambroise L5 ine, a giant of <231 in height, on behalf of Riel2s Committee to return to the Ameri!an side of the international boundary. ;n fa!t, %!:ougall2s mission was one of mismanaged !on>uest meeting %5tis resistan!e, not rebellion or insurre!tion. ?ntil 9ueen Bi!toria !onsented to the transfer, whi!h was not finally done until /une, 1.=0, the only legal authority for the region was that of the $udson2s 0ay Com any, but it had, in $oward2s words, 1signed away its authority and its embittered agents had virtually !eased to govern.... The new government whi!h %!:ougall was attem ting to im ose and against whi!h the %5tis Crebelled2 did not e#ist either, and the CGovernor2 had no more right in the !ountry than any rivate !iti4en. $e was not even entitled, at the moment, to the !ourtesies due a visiting dignitary, be!ause he was no longer a member of the Canadian Cabinet.1 6n the same day that %!:ougall was ordered out of Ru ert2s Land, Riel formally su!!eeded /ohn 0ru!e as leader of the 3ew 3ation and with 1@0 followers sei4ed )ort Garry. $e did this to obtain !ontrol of its mus(ets and !annon, e# laining to the rotesting $udson2s 0ay Com any offi!ials, who were !onfined to >uarters, that he wanted to revent bloodshed and guard the fort against danger. Riel then turned his attention to establishing both order and demo!ra!y. The *nglishs ea(ing arishes were invited to ele!t twelve re resentatives to meet with his e>ual-si4ed !oun!il of )ren!h-s ea(ing %5tis. 0oth grou s !oo erated. The first !onvention met in mid-3ovember, 1.<+. ;t rodu!ed a bill of rights whi!h in effe!t demanded full rovin!ial status. ;ts s e!ifi!s in!luded the right to ele!t a legislature, a free homestead law, treaties with ;ndians, use of )ren!h and *nglish as offi!ial languages, res e!t for all rights resent before the transfer of sovereignty, and fair re resentation in the "arliament of Canada. 3one of the eo le in the heterogeneous !ommunity !ould argue that their interests were not rote!ted.
;n the meantime, %!:ougall remained fuming with his wagons and entourage near "embina. The rime minister in 6ttawa soon learned from 9ueen Bi!toria that she ho ed the %5tis would resent their grievan!es to her governor general in the new !ountry. %a!donald, for on!e rudent about the 'est, advised !aution to %!:ougall, but the self- rofessed demo!rat without any authority from anyone drafted out of his own imagination a ro!lamation dated :e!ember 1, 1.<+, announ!ing in the 9ueen2s name the !om letion of the transfer to Canadian sovereignty and himself the governor of the 3orth 'est Territory of Canada - 1an a!t,1 in the words of '.L. %orton, 1at on!e rash and !om letely illegal.1 Co ies of the ro!lamation >ui!(ly a eared on walls at )ort Garry at %!:ougall2s dire!tion. Dnowing from his s ies in %!:ougall2s arty that 9ueen Bi!toria had made no su!h ro!lamation, Riel immediately denoun!ed it as fraudulent. ;n one of the most !omi!al s!enes in our entire national history, %!:ougall on the same day as he issued his bogus ro!lamation too( a arty of seven men north a few miles over the border and in a snowy gale read it to the stars and north wind before rushing ba!( to "embina. The gesture, as $oward wrote, 1!onvulsed Ameri!a, horrified 6ttawa and mined him forever in the 'est.1 $e !om ounded matters the ne#t day by issuing yet another illegal order authori4ing the surveyor Col. /.8. :ennis, 1Lieutenant and Conservator of the "ea!e1 in Ru ert2s Land, to organi4e and arm a for!e suffi!ient to dis erse the armed men in the settlement 1unlawfully assembled and disturbing the ubli! ea!e.1 :ennis, invited in effe!t to begin a !ivil war, managed to o!!u y lower )ort Garry, twenty miles north of 'inni eg, but his !am aign soon !olla sed and Riel2s government !ontinued. The "rime %inister later re udiated everything the air had done and wrote in a self-revealing note to a friend, 1The two together have done their utmost to destroy our !han!e of an ami!able settlement with these wild eo le.1 Riel doubtless (new from the start that his little !olony !ould not maintain inde enden!e from both Canada and a hovering ?nited 8tates with un!on!ealed !ontinental ambitions. 6n :e!ember ., 1.<+ after su!!essfully arresting 7, armed Canadians who had o!!u ied the home of :r. /ohn 8!hult4 in Red River, Riel o ted to negotiate with 6ttawa rather than 'ashington des ite various indu!ements offered by the Ameri!ans to do so. $is de!laration of that day said many things, but the effe!t of it was that the "rovisional Government established in Ru ert2s Land the revious month was the only lawful authority in the region and it now 1wished to enter into su!h negotiations with the Canadian Government as may be favourable for the good government and ros erity of this eo le.1 ;n <0 days, Riel had driven %!:ougall ermanently out of the 'est. The latter2s lieutenant, :ennis, had been unable to ignite a !ivil war and Riel2s List of Rights and :e!larations had rovided the ne!essary ingredients for the su!!essful resistan!e to a !rude !on>uest attem t. 3o one at Red River had been robbed or atta!(ed. 6ttawa, moreover, had de!ided to send three !ommissioners west to negotiate the terms of entry into Confederation. The !ommissioners were led by :onald 8mith, manager of the $udson2s 0ay Com any2s %ontreal distri!t and husband of a %5tis woman. )ully a thousand eo le from the Red River2s s!attered settlements of a ro#imately twelve thousand attended a mid-/anuary o en field meeting to !onsider 6ttawa2s !ase. After two days of five-hour meetings in tem eratures of @0 below 4ero, Riel, as resident of the "rovisional Government of Ru ert2s Land, moved that a !onvention of forty Ehalf ele!ted by the 8!ots and *nglish, half by the )ren!hF !onsider 8mith2s ro osals. The 3orth-'est die was !learly already !ast in favour of Canada and against the
Ameri!an ho es for anne#ation of the region, but it would be a long while indeed before Riel got mu!h !redit in Central Canada, or among its oliti!ians and historians, for !hoosing Canada. At the !onvention, Riel attem ted to in!lude in a new bill of rights a demand that the region be admitted to Canada as a full rovin!e rather than a territory. This was re&e!ted by the *nglish-s ea(ing delegates who were su orted by three )ren!hs ea(ing ones. $is "rovisional Government, however, later made this re>uest at his insisten!e and it is on this basis that his la!e in history as %anitoba2s founder was established. 8mith a roved the new bill of rights in rin!i le. ;n a arti!ularly astute move, Riel then won full legal status for his "rovisional Government by ersuading the !onvention to reestablish his government on the basis that the delegates to 6ttawa would need offi!ial status. Riel was ele!ted resident of its assembly, or !oun!il, ele!ted on )ebruary +, 1.=0. Three delegates were !hosen to go to 6ttawa. The ultimate !ause of most of Riel2s roblems, the e#e!ution of Thomas 8!ott by his government, o!!urred only days after his installation as resident. The basi! fa!ts are well (nown. ;n hindsight, it was really the only error !ommitted by the young and ine# erien!ed leader of an infant nation. Get, for Riel thereafter, in '.L. %orton2s words, 1there was to be no ea!e in the 3orth-'est he loved. 3o ea!e anywhere but the forlorn ea!e of e#ile and the final ea!e of the gibbet at Regina.1 )ew now re!all that Riel revented <00 well-armed and mounted %5tis from destroying an unmounted and lightly-armed grou of several hundred settlers, mostly from "ortage La "rairie, who attem ted to free the remaining risoners from the earlier sei4ure at 8!hult42s home. As the ros e!ts of a !onfrontation heightened, the remaining @7 risoners signed ea!e oaths and were released. %ost of the settlers from 6ntario then dis ersed, but about ,0 who did not were arrested and &ailed for two days, in!luding %a&or C.'. 0oulton. Riel wisely granted mer!y to 0oulton, the leader of the short-lived u rising, after the mother of /ohn 8utherland, one of two dead vi!tims of the affair, leaded with him to do so. Thomas 8!ott, hot-headed and aggressive, was not a o ular figure in Red River. :onald 8mith himself !alled 8!ott 1a rash, thoughtless man whom none !ared to have anything to do with.1 8!ott, who inter reted Riel2s !lemen!y in 0oulton2s !ase as timidity, deliberately antagoni4ed and insulted guards at every o ortunity. 1The %5tis are a a!( of !owards. They will not dare to shoot me,1 he shouted defiantly. ;n any !ase, 8!ott, who had been arrested for being art of 0oulton2s u rising, was !onvi!ted of insubordination while in !ustody by an ad ho! !ourt-martial and shot by a %5tis firing s>uad on %ar!h 1, 1.=0. $e was the only individual (illed by the %5tis during the 10 an#ious and dangerous months they !ontrolled Ru ert2s Land, and the e#e!ution was doubtless !arried out artly to revent others from !hallenging the new government. As Riel later ut it, 1;f there was a single a!t of seventy, one must not lose sight of the long !ourse of moderate !ondu!t whi!h gives us the right to say that we sought to disarm, rather than fight, the lawless strangers who were ma(ing war against us.1 Gears later, &ust before dying on a s!affold, he told his riest, 1; swear as ; am about to a ear before God that the shooting of 8!ott was not a !rime. ;t was a oliti!al ne!essity.... ; !ommanded the shooting, believing it ne!essary to save the lives of hundreds of others.1
?nfortunately for Riel, his nemesis /ohn 8!hult4 had already es!a ed and would travel from town to town in 6ntario haranguing anyone who would listen about the blood-thirsty Riel and the %5tis. The 6ntario government later offered a H,000 reward for the !a ture of its hero2s murderer, even though the a!t had o!!urred outside both 6ntario and the :ominion. 18!ott and Riel,1 in $oward2s words, 1!eased to e#ist as men. They be!ame symbols solelyI 8!ott the "rotestant, Riel the Catholi!.... That was the i!tureI young, rogressive, dedi!ated "rotestantism destroyed by entren!hed, su erstitious, !orru t Catholi!ism. ;t was a good shar i!ture and it made for a foul and vulgar fight, whose re er!ussions e!hoed ominously throughout the ne#t fifteen years.1 8!ott2s e#e!ution also revented the granting of an amnesty by %a!donald2s government for any 1illegal1 a!ts !ommitted by anyone in Red River in 1.<+-=0. The rime minister had in fa!t issued an amnesty ro!lamation, but it did not arrive until four days after 8!ott2s death, and the rime minister too( the view that it did not a ly to those involved with 8!ott. The la!( of an amnesty !learly revented Riel from be!oming either the first remier of %anitoba in 1.=0 or a leading member of "arliament from the rovin!e. ;ts !onse>uen!es doubtless !ontributed to his subse>uent mental brea(downs. Two of the three delegates en route to 6ttawa were briefly im risoned by 6ntario authorities for alleged !om li!ity in 8!ott2s murder. %a!donald would even rotest that he never re!ogni4ed Riel2s "rovisional Government, something flatly !ontradi!ted by both the re!ord and the fa!t of the negotiations with its delegates. 1The Right $onourable /ohn A. %a!donald lied Ee#!use the wordF li(e a troo er,1 an e#as erated Ar!hbisho Ta!h5 wrote subse>uently. 6n %ay @nd, 1.=0 a bill !alled the %anitoba 0ill, embodying most of the features of the %5tis 1List of Rights,1 was introdu!ed and >ui!(ly assed. The historian G.).G. 8tanley re!ogni4ed Riel as 1the father of the rovin!e of %anitoba,1 !on!eding that the federal government would not willingly have granted rovin!ial status to 1the infant half-breed !olony at the time of the transfer of the Territories to Canada, had it not been for Riel2s rotest.22 The legislative assembly of Ru ert2s Land heard the delegation2s re ort when it returned from 6ttawa and unanimously voted to a!!e t the %anitoba A!t and to enter Canada on the terms ro osed. An ominous beginning o!!urred when 6ttawa, on!e again grossly mismanaging events in the 'est, ermitted Colonel Garnet 'olseley and his Red River *# edition of 1@00 mostly 6ntario and 0ritish troo s to rea!h the new rovin!e before the new lieutenant governor, Adams Ar!hibald, !ould arrive. Riel re&e!ted the advi!e of those who wanted to fight, and insisted on wel!oming 'olseley in ea!e. 0ut his s!outs subse>uently indi!ated that the a roa!hing e# edition intended to deal with the rebels and Riel felt obliged to leave his new rovin!e for the ?.8. for his own safety. 'olseley aid off his e#hausted troo s after their in!redibly arduous &ourney and ubli!ly denoun!ed the %5tis as 1banditti and !owards,1 des ite 6ttawa2s !lear order that the "rovisional Government should remain in la!e until its governor arrived. The !ondu!t of some of his men and those, li(e 8!hult4, who had slun( ba!( into Red River, towards anyone involved in 8!ott2s death was as outrageous as it should have been redi!table in 6ttawa. Two sus e!ts were murdered. Another was bayoneted and left for dead. Riel2s mother was terrori4ed at her home. Ar!hibald, an honourable
and fair administrator, re!eived little hel from 6ttawa and re orted to %a!donald a year later that many of the %5tis 1a!tually have been so beaten and outraged that they feel as if they were living in a state of slavery.1 %a!donald2s mishandlings of %anitoba !ontinued virtually unabated. 6nly five of his first ., a ointments in the new rovin!e went to %5tis. Ar!hbisho Ta!h5 went to 6ttawa to see about the amnesty for Riel and Ambroise L5 ine. The rime minister rodu!ed H1000 in !ash and indi!ated that he might be able to s eed the amnesty u if both would leave the !ountry for a year. Ta!h5 eventually did ersuade both to leave with their families. Riel returned briefly to %anitoba in the fall of 1.=@ to be nominated for "arliament, but withdrew in favour of George *tienne Cattier who had been defeated 10 days earlier in %ontreal *ast. After Cartier died a year later, Riel ran in the "roven!her distri!t as an inde endent !andidate and won by a landslide in the general ele!tion of 1.=7. 8till no amnesty had been granted. 'hen Riel a eared at the $ouse of Commons in 6ttawa to !laim his seat in late 1.=7, the new %anitoba attorney general, $enry Clar(e, had already indi!ted him for 8!ott2s murder. The >uestion of how a %anitoba !ourt !ould assert that it had &urisdi!tion over an in!ident ha ening before the rovin!e itself was !reated was essentially ignored. %a!(en4ie 0owell, the Grand %aster of the 6range Lodge and future Conservative rime minister, moved for and won Riel2s e# ulsion from the $ouse. 0ut the new Liberal government of Ale#ander %a!(en4ie, ut into offi!e in the 1"a!ifi! 8!andal1 ele!tion of 1.=7 by voters see(ing to unish %a!donald, ro!laimed an amnesty for Riel in A ril, 1.=,. ?nfortunately for Riel, it was made !onditional u on his e#ile for five years under an e#traordinary %anitoba !ourt order made against him a few months earlier. ;n effe!t the %anitoba !ourt finding of 1outlaw1 against him amounted to a bi4arre finding of guilt for the murder of 8!ott in Riel2s absen!e. The order in the !ir!umstan!es thus robably had no basis in law !ertainly none in &usti!e -- and should have been ignored by %a!(en4ie. )ollowing the federal ele!tion in 1.=., Riel2s ar!h-enemy /ohn A. %a!donald was returned to ower. ;n the interval after his e# ulsion from the $ouse, Riel travelled widely in Ameri!a and !learly suffered several bouts of mental illness. %u!h of the time he was enniless. ;n 1.=<, he was !ommitted to a mental hos ital near 9uebe! City for a eriod even though he was still banished from Canada. *ven $oward his biogra her and admirer was !onvin!ed that he showed 1sym toms of aranoid s!hi4o hrenia.1 The Riel of 1..7-., was !learly not the erfe!tly rational leader of 1.<+-=0, but bearing in mind what he had been through sin!e, whose mind !ould have resisted betterJ 'hen he returned to the 'est in 1.=., he found that the steamboats and Red River !arts had gone overnight with the arrival of the railway. The buffalo were goneA the lo!al %5tis were dis!ouraged, and felt threatened by the westward advan!e of an agri!ultural !ivili4ation. 1These im ulsive half-breeds.. .must be (e t down by a strong hand until they are swam ed by the influ# of settlers,1 /ohn A. %a!donald had written to 8ir /ohn Rose in 1.=0. The ro!ess had begun. Riel worried about his eo le, but resolved to move on to the freedom and older ways of %ontana. $e be!ame a wood !ho er, a trader and mediator between ;ndians or %5tis and white Ameri!ans. ;n 1..1, he married @1-year-old %arguerite
%onet, the daughter of a buffalo hunter, to whom he was unfailingly !onsiderate until his death. A son, /ean, was soon born and then %arie Angeli>ue. Riel be!ame an Ameri!an !iti4en and was a!tive in Re ubli!an oliti!s. $e also taught 0la!(foot ;ndian boys at a mission s!hool at 8t. "eters. ;n early /une 1..7, Gabriel :umont and other %5tis from what is now northern 8as(at!hewan !ame to invite Riel to ta(e !harge of their !am aign to see( redress from 6ttawa for their grievan!es. Riel, who had long maintained a wish to hel his eo le, agreed to go without any ayment until 8e tember. $e and his family loaded a !art and de arted. Riel evidently told a %ontana riest, before !rossing into CanadaI 1; see a gallows on to of that hill, and ; am swinging from it.1 The arty ushed on to 0ato!he, a %5tis settlement 70 miles southwest of "rin!e Albert. Riel2s s ee!hes in the 3orth-'est were moderate, ma(ing su!h reasonable re>uests as free title for the %5tis on e#isting land, rovin!ial status for the region, and re resentation in the federal "arliament. ;n :e!ember, a etition drafted under the guidan!e of Riel was sent to 6ttawa, ro osing in addition to the above items, res onsible government, rovin!ial !ontrol of natural resour!es, and the building of a railway to $udson2s 0ay to rovide a!!ess to *uro e for rairie rodu!ts. %a!donald, who had been for some time %inister of the ;nterior as well as "rime %inister, again demonstrated his la!( of interest in the 3orth-'est by essentially ignoring the numerous memorials and etitions re!eived from the region. After Riel arrived in the 3orth-'est, %a!donald2s only res onse was to in!rease the number of %ounted "oli!e in the 0ato!he distri!t. *ven the !ommanding 3'%" offi!er at )ort Carlton, L.3.). Cro4ier, urged %a!donald to survey the %5tis land in the manner they referredA had he done it, the 3orth-'est Rebellion might not have o!!urred. 16ld Tomorrow,1 as the 'estern ;ndians had first named the rime minister, finally o ted instead to a oint a !ommission to investigate %5tis !om laintsA but the %5tis had long sin!e lost faith in his word and the 3orth-'est Rebellion bro(e out in late %ar!h of 1..,. The gross insensitivity of %a!donald and his government was !learly the ma&or !ause of the u rising. 3ot a few Canadian historians have re!ogni4ed that the %5tis rebellion, !oming at re!isely the right time, saved the federal government from oliti!al limbo and the C"R from ban(ru t!y. To :onald %!Lean, a 8as(at!hewan authority of the %5tis, this was not a 1fortunate !oin!iden!e1 but a !areful 1design.1 The C"R !ertainly re!eived further ubli! funding be!ause of the role it layed in !rushing the %5tis rebellion, and its trans!ontinental line was !om leted nine days before the e#e!ution of Louis Riel in Regina. 'illiam Ban $ome, the C"R general manager, later was >uoted as saying that 1the C"R should ere!t a monument to Riel.1 Riel2s de!ision to establish a rovisional government under the rote!tion of the %5tis !avalry was in retros e!t both a tragedy and an a!t of folly. Ru ert2s Land in 1.<+ la!(ed a governmentA the 3orth-'est Territories in 1.., had both a government and an almost-!om leted railway !a able of delivering Canadian troo s in a matter of days, not months. 3onetheless, Riel !alled a mass meeting, formed a !oun!il and !alled his eo le to arms against the on!oming oli!e. The su ort he had en&oyed among the Catholi! !lergy and whites vanished immediately. The tragi!
last stand of the %5tis eo le was underway, although Riel and :umont both (new in their hearts from the outset that they !ould not win a full-s!ale war. The war for 'estern Canada2s future was mer!ifully brief. A ro#imately three thousand troo s were soon in the Territories and moving against fewer than ,00 %5tis soldiers. At )ish Cree(, outnumbered si# to one and later ten to one, :umont2s soldiers held off 700 white troo s until they withdrew and were immobili4ed for two full wee(s. Three battles had ta(en la!e and three times the %5tis-;ndian allian!e had wonA but only @00 shar shooters remained as the 3orth-'est )ield )or!e neared the final en!ounter at 0ato!he. After a four-day battle, the %5tis gave u , thus ending two months of !ombat. Riel surrendered to %iddletonA :umont fled to %ontana. Riel2s !onvi!tion in Regina of high treason, for whi!h at the time death was the only enalty, raises many >uestions. :id a territorial magistrate2s !ourt have &urisdi!tion to hear one of the most im ortant trials in Canadian historyJ Could Riel as an Ameri!an !iti4en be ro erly !onvi!ted in the arti!ular !ir!umstan!es under a 0ritish treason statute of 13,@J 8hould the residing &udge, $ugh Ri!hardson, as a member of the anti-Catholi! 6range 6rder and a art-time magistrate serving only at the leasure of the federal government, not have dis>ualified himself from the !aseJ 'hy was the trial held in Regina and not in 'inni egJ 'hy were the si# &urors sele!ted all *nglish-s ea(ing "rotestants who were thus obliged to de end on inter reters for mu!h of the testimonyJ 'hy did /udge Ri!hardson sele!t the names of the 3< ros e!tive &urorsJ ;n his ersonal address in *nglish to the &ury, Riel s o(e of !onditions of the "rairie %5tis and their various unanswered etitions to 6ttawa, indi!ating that he felt God wanted him to ma(e a better world for his eo le. $e wished to be &udged both sane and not guilty, he argued, be!ause 1; have a!ted reasonably and in self-defen!e while the government my a!!user, being irres onsible, and !onse>uently insane, !annot but have a!ted wrongly.1 Riel2s team of defen!e lawyers from 9uebe! attem ted from the outset to rove him insane in order to save his life. 0ut the a!!used2s stirring s ee!h to the &ury was so lu!id overall that it undid him be!ause the &urors !ould sim ly not a!!e t that anyone insane !ould deliver su!h an address. Riel2s !hief !ounsel, Charles )it4 atri!(, who later be!ame !hief &usti!e of Canada, addressed the &ury for two hours. $e stressed that Riel had abandoned his se!urity in the ?.8. without as(ing for any ayment in order to hel his eo le in the 3orth'est Territories and to see( redress from a stone-deaf government two thousand miles away. 'ould a sane man have de!lared war on the 0ritish *m ire as Riel didJ $e ended by urging a verdi!t of not guilty by reason of insanity. 1; (now that you shall not weave the !ord that shall hang him and hang him high in the fa!e of all the world, a oor !onfirmed lunati!A a vi!tim, gentlemen, of o ression or the vi!tim of fanati!ism.1 The &udge2s !harge to the &ury was anything but fair and balan!ed on the eviden!e heard, es e!ially with res e!t to the all-im ortant insanity issue, but neither the %anitoba 9ueen2s 0en!h nor the /udi!ial Committee of the "rivy Coun!il in 0ritain would later order a new trial. After retiring for only an hour, the &ury returned with a guilty verdi!t and a re!ommendation of mer!y.
Riel than(ed the &ury for 1!learing me of the stain of insanity1 and s o(e of being 1hunted li(e an el( for fifteen years.1 $e then as(ed for a !ommission to de!ide whether he was a murderer of Thomas 8!ott. 6ne of his &urors, *dwin /. 0roo(s, answered this >uestion only five de!ades later in a news a er interviewI 1'e tried Louis Riel for treason, but he was hanged for the murder of Thomas 8!ott.1 Ri!hardson senten!ed him to be hanged, showing in his remar(s that his view of the !ase was identi!al with that of the rose!utors. A few days before the Riel trial, Ri!hardson had a!>uitted Riel2s white assistant, 'ill /a!(son, of treason on grounds of insanity. A flood of etitions and leas for !lemen!y soon rea!hed 6ttawa from many eo le at home and abroad. %a!donald2s resolve only hardened as families, friends and the oliti!al arties throughout Canada s lit bitterly over the issue. ;n an interview, the =@-year-old "rime %inister stam ed his foot and said what are ossibly the most insensitive words ever uttered by a Canadian rime ministerI 1$e shall hang though every dog in 9uebe! bar( in his favour.1 $e also tried to ersuade a !on!erned governor general that 1this 3orth-'est outbrea( was a mere domesti! trouble, and ought not to be elevated to the ran( of a rebellion.... ;t never endangered the safety of the state.1 This was indeed an outrageous !omment on an in!ident that his government had ubli!ly !hara!teri4ed as a ma&or rebellion, whose leader it rose!uted on a !harge of high treason. The governor general nonetheless revailed on him to a oint a medi!al !ommission to determine whether Riel was still sane. ;f not, this would rovide his government a sound reason to e#er!ise the royal rerogative of mer!y without disturbing the !ourt verdi!t. The rime minister shamelessly mani ulated the !ommission in a gross abuse of his offi!e, admonishing one !ommissioner to find Riel sane and seriously distorting the !on!lusion of the other !ommissioner that Riel was 1not an a!!ountable being.1 0oth 9ueen Bi!toria and the "resident of the ?nited 8tates, Grover Cleveland, de!lined to interfere, the first be!ause an adamant %a!donald indi!ated his government would broo( no interferen!e, the se!ond evidently be!ause his se!retary of state and ossibly the 0ritish ambassador !ounselled restraint. Clearly the de!ision not to show the same mer!y to Riel as to the other !onvi!ted rebellion risoners was based on oliti!al ne!essities. %a!donald balan!ed his reele!tion ros e!ts in 6ntario against those in 9uebe! and de!ided he !ould better afford to lose a few seats in 9uebe! than to have *nglish Canada turn against him. Riel died as he rayed, with !ourage and dignity. 8omehow a final indignity was allowed by the federal authorities to its hired e#e!utioner, /a!( $enderson, a friend of Thomas 8!ott and Riel2s former risoner. George 8tanley des!ribes the last moments of Riel in this grim a!!ountI 13ear the en!losure behind whi!h the %5tis tragedy was drawing to a !lose, there stood various grou s of eo le, tal(ing and grumbling be!ause they !ould not see the hanging. As the moment of the e#e!ution a roa!hed, there was silen!e. Then a dull heavy sound as of a body falling. CThe God damned son of a bit!h is gone at last,2 said one voi!e. CGes,2 said another, Cthe son of a bit!h is gone for !ertain now.2 There followed some heartless laughter. 0ut it was thin and brittle.1 Three wee(s later, Riel2s body was ta(en se!retly home to 8t. 0onifa!e from Regina. After remaining in his mother2s home for two nights while hundreds of %5tis filed
ast, it was moved to the !athedral in 8t. 0onifa!e. Ar!hbisho Ta!h5 !ondu!ted the re>uiem before a large !rowd and one of 'estern Canada2s greatest sons was buried nearby. 6n the brown granite tombstone are the words 1Riel, 1< novembre 1..,.1
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.