Louis Riel – How I Became an Outlaw (Part 3)



It was now the first week of November and we knew we had to act quickly to ensure we kept our newfound power. So the first thing we did was explain to the population of Red River who we were and what our aims were. To do this we needed to use the printing press of the Nor’Wester newspaper. Unfortunately the owner of the newspaper did not want to cooperate so we locked him up and took over the printing press, finally able to produce the following poster we hung throughout the settlement:

The President and Representatives of the French-speaking population of Rupert’s Land in council (the Invaders of our rights being now expelled) already aware of your sympathy, do extend the hand of friendship to you, our friendly fellow inhabitants; and in so doing invite you to send twelve Representatives [one each from ten parishes, and two from the town of Winnipeg] in order to form one body with the above council, consisting of twelve members, to consider the present political state of the country, and to adopt such measures as may be deemed best for the future welfare of the same.

We put our best foot forward as French-speakers to bridge the divide with the English-speakers of Red River, myself in high demand as a bilingual and educated Métis. We were aware that Schultz and his allies were not being cooperative and were spreading gossip and misinformation designed to weaken our new government. But the people were open to our proposals and did send a representative from each parish to our convention in the courthouse just outside the walls of Fort Garry. We were ecstatic to see the English-speaking representatives approach the courthouse so to show our respect and appreciation we chose to blast a few cannonballs out of the canons we now controlled. In retrospect might have been a mistake because it had the opposite effect on our guests. As Henry Prince, the Saulteaux chief who had been sent as his parish’s representative said: “When we hold a council of peace, we go without our guns.”

It was a point well taken and something we never again repeated.

And the convention didn’t really go as planned. Firstly, John Bruce, our president, wasn’t much of a speaker. He lacked the gravitas and drama required to keep people’s attention. And we also lacked a clear agenda. This being my fault, I learned from this and never again found myself lacking a game plan. And so this first meeting descended into a loud shouting match between myself and the other educated leader there James Ross – an English half-breed who spoke for the English speakers in Red River.

James Ross, leader of the English-speaking Métis

James Ross was a pretty interesting guy. He was the son of Alexander Ross and his Native princess from the Okanogan Valley in British Columbia. He had been sent back east for his education and then when he returned had landed a good job as the post master of Red River, but this position didn’t last long because he became outspoken against the Hudson’s Bay. He returned to the east where he chose to study law and soon found himself writing for the Globe in Toronto. It was William McDougall who had persuaded him to return to Winnipeg and help him establish the new Canadian government. Ross had plans to create his own newspaper called the Red River Pioneer. So James Ross had arrived in Red River during the summer of 1869 and was aware of all the important developments in Red River, a good match for me who was also astute enough and emotionally invested enough in the political climate to have an opinion of value. But unlike me he lacked the charisma to keep his followers following. And I think the reason for the difference between us in this respect was his drinking. He drank too much and it ended up tripping him up from achieving his goals.

But at the first meeting in the courthouse that fall day in November, everyone present saw the default leaders of the French-speaking half-breeds and the English-speaking half-breeds. By virtue of us both having Native blood it showed that the new government would be one that represented those who were born into this land as a marriage between the native red man and the newly arrived white man from Europe.

We were over 80 percent of the population.

Just as the debating was coming to an end, a letter arrived from governor MacTavish. I refused to let it be read in the courthouse fearing a denunciation in strong legal terms that could hurt our movement right from the beginning, but James Ross used his skills to persuade the delegations there to have it read. After an hour or so of fruitless debate, the MacTavish letter was read. In it he says in no uncertain terms that our Métis movement had committed unlawful acts and that we had to lay down our arms or face harsh penalties of the law. James Ross called our action “sedition,” and we were suddenly in danger of losing our footing. That was when I gave a short speech that seemed to buoy our Métis spirits:

…we are true to our native land. We are protecting it against the dangers that threaten it. We wish the people of Red River to be free people. Let us help one another. We are all brothers and relations, says Mr. Ross, and it is true. Let us not separate. See what Mr. MacTavish says. He says that out of this meeting and its decision may come incalculable good. Let us unite. The evil that he fears will not take place. See how he speaks. Is it surprising? His children are half-breeds like ourselves.

Sometimes the timing and the words used in a short speech can save a movement, and that was what happened then in the courthouse. That was when the English-speaking half-breeds agreed to meet the next day in the courthouse again, determined to find a solution to our predicament. But even during the next day, and the next few meetings after that, it was a lot of fruitless bickering that was essentially James Ross and I debating. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I had an eureka and knew how to proceed. On the night of November 23rd I penned what would become our “List of Rights” or manifesto. What we needed was a functional framework of a new government to take over the lame Council of Assiniboia and negotiate directly with the Canadian government in Ottawa.

Bold. But potentially a stroke of greatness. Or so I thought. Schultz’s argument was that McDougall was the new government now that the Hudson’s Bay Company was no longer running things. But if we could insert our government in there before December 1st then we could be the new legitimate government of our own country governing our own people. It wasn’t a coup. We were setting up a framework to incorporate our lands into the new Canadian government. We weren’t traitors to the Queen. We were doing her a favor by setting up a temporary government that could be brought in to the Queen’s dominion. It was designed as a body to set up terms for the population of Red River (80 percent Métis) to enter the Canadian government.

This, as the chief architect of this new provisional government, was my thinking.

The next morning we walked into the Hudson’s Bay Company offices within Fort Garry and confiscated all bookkeeping and correspondence and other papers of the Council of Assiniboia, including the land registry records that kept an official record of all the titles of land purchased within Rupert’s Land. This one act, of taking this land registry book, made the English very nervous, including the likes of John Schultz.

That morning on November 24th, still a week before McDougall’s men were expected to begin the new government within Rupert’s Land, we all met at the courthouse, the English particularly anxious about the most recent developments. Once inside James Ross got right to the point: ‘What are the French plans?’ he demanded. My reply, some say, was an act of cleverness:

You know perfectly well what we want. We want what every French parish wants. And they want to form a provisional government for our protection and to treat with Canada. We invite you to join it in all sincerity. This government will be made up equally of French and English. And it will be only provisional in nature.

The English half-breeds were stunned and James Ross requested time to consider the proposal. The meeting in the courthouse ended without any firm resolution to the current crisis yet there was only one week until the new William McDougall government would be legally valid. I knew the tactic as soon as we ended the meeting that day so we didn’t waste any time to polish our List of Rights that we were determined to use to our benefit. Just as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had entered the newly formed Confederation, so would we enter it with our own list of rights. So when we did meet on December 1st in the courthouse and most people expected to see McDougall taking up his new post, but that’s not what they encountered. Instead they witnessed the formation of a new governing body with a legitimate request of rights for the federal government.

This is what I presented to them that morning:

List of Rights

  1. That the people have the right to elect their own Legislature.
  2. That the Legislature has the power to pass all laws local to the Territory over the veto of the Executive by a two-thirds vote.
  3. That no action of the Dominion Parliament (local to the Territory) be binding on the people until sanctioned by the Legislature of the Territory.
  4. That all sheriffs, magistrates, constables, school commissioners, etc., be elected by the people.
  5. A free homestead and pre-emption of land law.
  6. That a portion of the public lands be appropriated to the benefit of schools, the building of bridges, roads, and public buildings.
  7. That it be guaranteed to connect Winnipeg by rail, with the nearest line of railroad, within a term of five years; the land grant to be subject to the Local Legislature.
  8. That for the term of four years all military, civil, and municipal expenses be paid out of the Dominion funds.
  9. That the military be composed of the inhabitants now existing in the Territory.
  10. That the English and French languages be common in the Legislature and Courts, and that all public documents and acts of legislature be published in both languages.
  11. That the judge of the Supreme Court speak the English and French languages.
  12. That Treaties be concluded and ratified between the Dominion Government and the several tribes of Indians in the Territory to ensure peace on the frontier.
  13. That we have a fair and full representation in the Canadian Parliament.
  14. That all privileges, customs and usages existing at the time of the transfer be respected.

Our List of Rights was received with enthusiasm but almost immediately, due to the time constraints, there was conflict. We simply wanted a delegation to ride down to Pembina with our List of Rights to present them to the new William McDougall government because we wanted these rights to be approved. It was that simple. That’s what our design was: we wanted to protect our rights. We didn’t want war. We didn’t want rebellion. We wanted our rights to be guaranteed by the federal government. And since William McDougall was officially – as of December 1st – the legal representative of the Dominion government then he should be able to guarantee this List of Rights. If he couldn’t guarantee these rights we were demanding then he could submit them to the Prime Minister to have them approved. What we wanted was for our List of Rights to be guaranteed by William McDougall before he entered our territory. This meant that he and his new government would have to remain in Pembina until he had a guarantee from Ottawa. The English half-breeds insisted that William McDougall be allowed into our territory today – December 1st. This was, to us Métis, unacceptable because of the long history of deceit and betrayal and the complete lack of fair representation of French and French Métis in the representatives in the Council of Assiniboia. There was no trust. And there was no way I was going to allow this intolerable situation continue because that’s precisely what we saw if William McDougall were allowed to take up power and be allowed into Winnipeg.

I pride myself for being an honourable man, noble in instinct and virtuous in endeavour and most of all of being calm in the face of adversity so it was with some embarrassment that I ended up losing my temper just at this most crucial of historic moments. Historic movements or historical events sometimes happen because of a moment – and my story and the reason I am remembered in Canadian history is because of this moment. If I had been persuaded or had kept my cool and acquiesced to the demands of James Ross then nothing I don’t think would ever have come from our List of Rights. William McDougall would have come into town, moved into his mansion and began his business of governing this new territory for the Canadian government, keeping our List of Rights on his desk for a few months before throwing it away and it never being brought up again. I am convinced that we needed a guarantee that our private property would not be taken from us and that the Métis and French speakers be fairly represented in the new government so that my family could ensure their survival. 

So the fact that I lost my temper when the English half-breeds insisted on letting the new lieutenant-governor into our country I think is significant.

I remember yelling: “Go, return peacefully to your farms. Stay in the arms of your wives. Give this example to your children. But watch us act. We are going ahead to work and obtain the guarantee of our rights and yours. You will come to share them in the end.”

I knew I had to insist otherwise nothing would have changed for us. But at the same time I realized that James Ross and the English half-breeds didn’t see the danger that was in store for them if William McDougall would have been let into the territory that day. Like any astute politician, he would have given lip service to our demands, insisted that Ottawa was reviewing the list of rights and then waiting and waiting for months on end until the list of rights would be forgotten and thrown out in the garbage bin. I had to insist. I needed to put my foot down. I just wish I hadn’t lost my temper. Not only that but I had failed to unite both the French Métis and the English half-breeds.

Clearly there was a lot of intrigue going on in this frontier town vis-à-vis Schultz and his Orangemen but I was determined to follow through on this fair and rational List of Rights for my family, friends and fellow Métis.



Most people in Red River were focused on survival and feeding their families throughout the winter, but there were some who knew precisely what was going on politically, such as John Schultz and his men. They watched us step by step, keeping the faith that the new lieutenant-governor William McDougall would take his post and the Métis menace would be a thing of the past that could be handled by the new government. But this is not what happened. This refusal to allow McDougall into Rupert’s Land was a stroke of genius that enabled us to resist the Orangeman coup of our land. But I knew what he was doing. I was aware of his beliefs and actions and took steps to protect our movement from his subterfuge.

More precisely, in mid-November the Canadian government had sent 20 tons of pork for the road crews and other citizens to ensure there was enough to eat for the winter. Being so connected to this new and growing establishment in Upper Canada, Schultz was chosen to store the pork in one of his warehouses. So just to be safe I watched what transpired and sure enough discovered Schultz was transporting the pork to the English settlement in Portage La Prairie because that’s where there was a large population of armed men loyal to the Canadian cause. I ordered armed Métis soldiers to surround Schultz’s warehouse to prevent wagons being loaded with the pork. Schultz pulled out every device possible to try to get the pork away to his loyal fighting men in Portage La Prairie but I wouldn’t budge.

Schultz had tried his best to strike a compromise with all the different factions that were politically active during this time just before the new government was to take over Red River on December 1st. But no one really liked or trusted him. At a meeting on November 26th he tried unsuccessfully to engineer a vote to decide on a provisional government and compromise that would hold the territory together until McDougall arrived. He underestimated the support we had from the populace and lost the vote. He tried several times to get his own way but every time was defeated. So Schultz tried to be patient until he could find a way to get his own way so that his land speculation and plan of becoming wealthy would eventually come to fruition.

Schultz was in constant touch with McDougall in Pembina, keeping on his payroll several Natives who were able to ride through the bush to Pembina with direct mail from Schultz. And McDougall, still stuck in Pembina and anxious to begin his new chapter as lieutenant-governor didn’t know that the Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald had heard of the unrest in Rupert’s Land. As it stood at that point in time, McDougall had been appointed leader of the government in the newly formed Northwest Territory but the territory had still not been proclaimed as part of the Dominion of Canada. McDougall awaited the royal proclamation from the Queen of England to officially announce the newly acquired lands into the federal domain of Canada. But since the Prime Minister now knew about the unrest in Red River, he chose a different action plan. Instead Sir John A MacDonald decided to let McDougall solve the unrest before declaring the new lands as officially part of Canada. This was a way of the Prime Minister washing his hands of the situation so that it became a local issue rather than a bigger federal problem. MacDonald would wait until peace was restored before annexing the northwest lands into the dominion.

So for McDougall, the royal proclamation never came as he waited in Minnesota. The decision by the Prime Minister to not incorporate these lands into the dominion was sent via regular mail, which took about two weeks to arrive in Pembina. Express mail would’ve taken half the time. So McDougall, in his haste and desperation, chose the extraordinary move of forging a document and forging the Queen’s signature of a proclamation announcing that the Canadian government had incorporated the northwest lands into the federation. This gross lie and forgery was for the most part accepted as fact but I never believed it. So we fought against this piece of fiction despite Schultz and his loyal men adhering to this piece of paper and believing it was true. Schultz posted copies of this fake announcement on his door and anywhere else he could paste it throughout Winnipeg and the Red River settlements.

What really gave it away for me was McDougall’s second act of forgery, which was to grant military powers to his lieutenant Dennis thus enabling him to create a police force to enforce the new laws McDougall would make, namely to contain and disarm the Métis rebellion. Dennis would be authorized to retake Fort Garry. My men were not to let this happen until our demands were met.

This set the stage for conflict.

Sure enough, the early morning of that cold December morning on the first of the month Colonel Dennis and his men crossed the US border into Red River territory and headed for William Hallett’s farmhouse. He was joined by William Dease and a few others who supported Dennis and his plans to retake Fort Garry from the French Métis. Dennis rode to Winnipeg to the Nor’Wester newspaper office where he had copies of the false proclamation forged by William McDougall. Dennis saw that Schultz’s warehouse was still being guarded by Métis soldiers and that in general the situation was very tense. He was informed that the English that were there were inclined to take up arms against the half-breed French to gets things back in order and to support the royal proclamation that they believed to be authentic.

Dennis didn’t waste any time recruiting Natives from the area to fight against the French Métis. He hired men to go out and sign up Natives to join his cause against the Métis, namely the Saulteaux Indians east of the Red River who had fought against the Métis during the Battle of Seven Oaks. Dennis was also able to sign hundreds of Sioux warriors who were eager to fight against the French Métis because they had been enemies for a long time. But this plan backfired in ways unforeseen by Colonel Dennis. First of all the United States government was alarmed at any Indian war involving the mighty Sioux. This was happening at a time of high tensions between the US government and the Indians and just a few years before it would all come to a head with the Battle of Little Bighorn and the complete decimation of George Custer’s Seventh Cavalry in Montana.

Prime Minister MacDonald was also appalled at the sudden turn of events and dreaded an armed conflict involving native Indians while the federation of Canada was still so new and fragile.

But Dennis was undeterred. He went about his business of recruiting and organizing a force to take back Fort Garry, Dennis still being humiliated by his own experience against the Métis. He wasted no time scouring the area for soldiers to help in the fight against the lawless Métis. He used the conservative clergy in Portage La Prairie to drum up support and increase his armed force until he had amassed nearly 380 soldiers by December 5th, making their base at the old Stone Fort north of Fort Garry. He divided his force into eight divisions and was already doing drills in the old Stone Fort’s quadrangle. He meant business and had the money to pay for his soldiers to risk their lives in this campaign. But was money enough for these men to lay down their lives?

For us it was a brotherhood born from blood and sweat from the work we did on the land – a deeper and more meaningful bond among fighting men.

Sketch of the Stone Fort in Red River controlled by Schultz and his men, 1869

And it wasn’t just us – the French Métis – who were upset about this transfer of power. There were many white Protestants who were just as upset as us that they had not been consulted with before Sir John A MacDonald in Ottawa decided to purchase Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company and appoint his own selected government in its place. Schultz came upon countless local people who were not Native or Métis who refused to join his cause because they had been living beside us for almost sixty years.

For me and the Métis, it was plain to see what Schultz was doing so it didn’t take us long to shut down the Nor’Wester newspaper on December 2nd in order to stop the rallying cry and propaganda that was so dangerous in the political climate like this. We also shut down the Red River Pioneer newspaper that James Ross had recently started. It was common sense to do so. To others it was a stroke of genius. But we took many precautions to protect ourselves and our families and our land and our movement. Just after December 1st we also went around and confiscated all the guns and ammunition from the various shops in Winnipeg and the Red River area.

Chief John Prince of the Saulteaux, traditional enemy of the French Métis

For Colonel Dennis in the old Stone Fort he was hard pressed to find anyone in his new army with any degree of enthusiasm, with the exception of Chief Prince’s Saulteaux men. They showed gumption and zeal having been included in the “war party” to combat their traditional enemy the French Métis. For Schultz and his men, Dennis worked too slow. Schultz was aware of the importance of timing during these first few days of the conflict and wanted to attack and disarm the Métis guards. Dennis chose to train his men first in the quadrangle of the old fort. So Schultz, whose property holdings included a large store and residence as well as warehouse and brick building in Winnipeg’s south side, removed the furniture from his residence and brought in as many as 45 men into his house to fortify it as a fort. He boarded up windows and otherwise turned it into Fort Schultz.

Early layout of Winnipeg, showing the Fort Garry and where Schultz set up his men

The problem was that his men could point their guns on our Métis guards at Fort Garry from where they were.

This photo shows the flag over Fort Schultz close to Fort Garry

This was unacceptable and it wasn’t long until my guards captured two agitators at Fort Schultz: Alexander McArthur and Thomas Scott.

This sketch shows the Canadian flag flying over Schultz’s store

We all knew Thomas Scott. He was a bartender at O’Lone’s Saloon in Winnipeg, which was also our unofficial meeting place and watering hole. Scott, who was an Orangeman and outwardly racist, chose to hold his tongue while he worked but was always plotting against us by listening to the things we said while the booze loosened up our tongues. I didn’t drink much but my guards enjoyed their drink, so over time Thomas Scott became a coveted source of information as to our plans and whereabouts. He had become a spy for the white Protestants. Finding himself in his new valued role as informer during this time after December 1st, Thomas Scott became rash. His actions alerted our guards and so he was arrested and thrown into Fort Garry.

Thomas Scott, Orangeman and bartender at O’Lone’s Saloon in Winnipeg

It was right around this time as well that we found a document that summarized Dennis’s plans with his new army stationed in the old Stone Fort 20 miles north of Fort Garry. On the document it was made clear that his soldiers were instructed to “attack, arrest, disarm and disperse” any French Métis guards they came into contact with, as well as to burn down their homes and businesses. This of course was completely unacceptable. And it tapped into the raw nerve of all of this: the destruction of our homes. That’s why we were fighting.

So when I had this document in my hands, I summoned the Métis soldiers numbering upwards of 400 men, and read them this document. In an act of defiance I ripped up the document and rallied my men to stop this from happening. On December 7th 300 men surrounded Fort Schultz. We brought over two cannons from Fort Garry to emphasize our point. Schultz’s men we knew had run out of water and food so it was really just a question of time before they would be forced out of the makeshift fort and comply with our demands. Of course people had gathered around the Schultz house and stood around our guards watching what would happen, and that was when A G B Bannatyne stepped into the fray and pleaded with us not to attack. He acted as a middle man, relaying Schultz’s message of a long list of conditions that the Métis must meet, including stopping their resistance. We on the other hand insisted on their unconditional surrender.

We gave Bannatyne the following document to present to Schultz and his men:

Dr. Schultz and his men are hereby ordered to give up their arms and surrender themselves. Their lives will be spared should they comply. In case of refusal all the English Half-breeds and other native women and children are at liberty to depart unmolested.

They were only given 15 minutes to make a decision after they had been presented with this ultimatum. We had two cannons pointing directly at their makeshift fort and outnumbered them six-to-one. And we had better positioning. It would have been a massacre if we fought them that day. Schultz was very determined not to give in but it was John O’Donnell who was the wise one in the group, insisting it was completely insane to die in such a lopsided standoff. (O’Donnell was the doctor who had accompanied William McDougall from the east). So it was Dr. O’Donnell who was the first to sign the agreement, quickly followed by all the rest, with Charles Mair being the last one to come out of the fort.

It was a sad sight for them to be bundled into a group and escorted down the main road in Winnipeg to Fort Garry where they were unceremoniously locked up. Bizarrely, three wives chose to join their husbands: the wives of Dr. O’Donnell, Schultz and Mair all chose to be locked up in the fort.

I think most of them expected Colonel Dennis and his army to come into town to break them free from the fort but that never happened. Instead Colonel Dennis chose to issue a proclamation of peace and then undertook a dangerous journey to Pembina to see McDougall. To ensure he wasn’t spotted he dressed up as a Native woman and endured four days of harsh weather until he arrived in Minnesota. The prisoners in Fort Garry were for the first time scared for their lives.

They felt they had been abandoned by their “general” Dennis.

So a situation was ripe for us to declare our own provisional government. Basically this was all due to the Hudson’s Bay Company not consulting with us – the majority population in Red River. One master had given the power to rule over us to another master without a word spoken to us. This, to us, was without a doubt strange and unacceptable behaviour. Was it racist? Did they not see us as normal human beings? Was there some degree of arrogance in their behaviour that rubbed us the wrong way? Yes, it can be said that that was most definitely part of it.

To disrespect a people based on racist and self-righteous views will always lead to resentment.

So we took action – the only rational action open to us but not something we had initially planned on: a declaration of our own provisional government. If the English were acting like it was only their land, it was time for us to take a stand and be counted. We had considered that this might become an eventuality and so had taken steps to come up with a document that was well thought out and based on current political philosophy. To create such a document we requested the help of two men: Father Georges Dugas who I had known from schooling in the east, and Father Ritchot who I know was a learned man who understood the dynamics in play.

Together we came up with the Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land.

This is the declaration in its entirety:

  1. That the Territories heretofore known as Rupert’s Land and North-West, shall not enter into the Confederation of the Dominion of Canada, except as a Province; to be styled and known as the Province of Assiniboia, and with all the rights and privileges common to the different Provinces of the Dominion.
  2. That we have two Representatives in the Senate, and four in the House of Commons of Canada, until such time as an increase of population entitle the Province to a greater Representation.
  3. That the Province of Assiniboia shall not be held liable at any time for any portion of the Public debt of the Dominion contracted before the date and said Province shall have entered the Confederation, unless the said Province shall have first received from the Dominion the full amount for which the said Province is to be held liable.
  4. That the sum of Eight Thousand ($80,000) dollars be paid annually by the Dominion Government to the local Legislature of this Province.
  5. That all properties, rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of the Province, up to the date of our entering into the Confederation, be respected; and that the arrangement and confirmation of all customs, usages and privileges be left exclusively to the local Legislature.
  6. That during the term of five years, the Province of Assiniboia shall not be subjected to any direct taxation, except such as may be imposed by local Legislature, for municipal of local purposes.
  7. That a sum of money equal to eighty cents per head of the population of the Province, be paid annually by the Canadian Government to the local Legislature of the said Province; until such time as the said population shall have reached six hundred thousand.
  8. That the local Legislature shall have the right to determine the qualification of members to represent this Province of Canada and in the local Legislature.
  9. That in this Province, with the exception of uncivilized and unsettled Indians, every male native citizen who has attained the age of twenty-one years, and every foreigner, other than a British subject, who has resided here during the same period, being a householder and having taken the oath of allegiance, shall be entitled to vote at the election of members for the local Legislature and for the Canadian Parliament. It being understood that this article be subject to amendment exclusively by the local Legislature.
  10. That the bargain of the Hudson’s Bay Company with respect to the transfer of the Government of this country to the Dominion of Canada, be annulled; so far as it interferes with the rights of the people of Assiniboia, and so far as it would affect our future relations with Canada.
  11. That the local Legislature of the Province of Assiniboia shall have full control over all the public lands of the Province and the right to annul all acts or arrangements made, or entered into, with reference to the public lands of Rupert’s Land, and the North West now called the Province of Assiniboia.
  12. That the government of Canada appoint a Commission of Engineers to explore the various districts of the Province of Assiniboia, and to lay before the local Legislature a report of the mineral wealth of the Province, within five years from the date of our entering into Confederation.
  13. That treaties be concluded between Canada and the different Indian tribes of the Province of Assiniboia, by and with the advice and cooperation of the local Legislature of this Province.
  14. That an uninterrupted steam communication from Lake Superior to Fort Garry be guaranteed, to be completed with the space of five years.
  15. That all public buildings, bridges, roads and other public works, be at the cost of the Dominion Treasury.
  16. That the English and French languages be common in the Legislature and in the Courts, and that all public documents, as well as acts of the Legislature be published in both languages.
  17. That whereas the French and English speaking people of Assiniboia are so equally divided as to number, yet so united in their interests and so connected by commerce, family connections and other political and social relations, that it has, happily, been found impossible to bring them into hostile collision – although repeated attempts have been made by designing strangers, for reasons known to themselves, to bring about so ruinous and disastrous an event – and whereas after all the troubles and apparent dissensions of the past – the result of misunderstanding among themselves; they have – as soon as the evil agencies referred to above were removed – become as united and friendly as ever – therefore, as a means to strengthen this union and friendly feeling among all classes, we deem it expedient and advisable – that the Lieutenant-Governor, who may be appointed for the Province of Assiniboia, should be familiar with both the French and English languages.
  18. That the Judge of the Supreme Court speak the English and French languages.
  19. That all debts contracted by the Provisional Government of the Territory of the Northwest, now called Assiniboia, in consequence of the illegal and inconsiderate measure adopted by Canadian officials to bring about a civil war in our midst, be paid out of the Dominion Treasury; and that none of the members of the Provisional Government, or any of those acting under them, be in any way held liable or responsible with regard to the movement, or any of the actions which led to the present negotiations.
  20. That in view of the present exceptional position of Assiniboia, duties upon goods imported into the province, shall, except in the case of spirituous liquors, continue as at present for at least three years from the date of our entering the Confederation and for such further time as may elapse until there be uninterrupted railroad communication between Winnipeg and St. Paul and also steam communication between Winnipeg and Lake Superior.

Anyone who read this declaration could see clearly that our aim was not to create our own country but to enter into the Confederation as a province. All we wanted was proportional and accurate racial representation. When over 80 percent of the local population is red and white why not have a local government consisting of red and white people? Seemed very rational to me. But to the Manifest Destiny power structure that was so used to war and conflict, this was an option they did not favour. Ideally William McDougall’s new government should have sufficed if it had consulted the French Métis and included us into the government but this did not happen.

And it’s because this didn’t happen that our movement arose.



We did not choose to usurp a government that was operational and representative of the local populace. Propaganda and misrepresentation of our goals was what we proceeded to battle against after submitting our Declaration of Rights for the People of Rupert’s Land. We were not going to sit idly by and let a minority people rule us.

Any rational populace would act in the same way.

We dated the declaration November 24th – the same day the Hudson’s Bay Company abdicated its authority over Rupert’s Land. At the time we thought that William McDougall’s proclamation was official so when we discovered it was forged it was mid-December and therefore our declaration had even more legitimacy. Even the Prime Minister shared our rational when he said: “…it is quite open, by the law of nations, for the inhabitants to form a government ex necessitate for the protection of life and property.”

On December 10th, we had a meeting to celebrate our provisional government. “We have but acted conformably to that sacred right which commands every citizen to offer energetic opposition to prevent his country being enslaved.”

It was a glorious day, the weather mild and the brass band belting out French folk songs, alcoholic punch being passed around. We celebrated our new government and for some the realization of a dream of self-government and a victory against enslavement and tyranny. With Schultz and Mair and the like behind bars, the quadrangle in Fort Garry was a historic sight for all of us there. We honestly thought that would be the end of it and that we had acted legally and rationally and that the government would be accepted by Ottawa and our Declaration would be ratified. We had even created a new flag for our Province of Assiniboia: a fleur-de-lis with a shamrock on an all-white background. We utilized the flagpole and raised the flag on this historic day.

The flag of the newly declared Province of Assiniboia, 1869

It was this day that the famous photograph of me and the provisional government was taken, me with my trimmed musTaché and the rest of us in an informal pose dressed like any other politician of the day. Without a doubt it was a special day.

Louis Riel seated beside Jack Bruce with the provisional government of the Province of Assiniboia

McDougall was still outside of the country and we had done everything legally and had usurped our opposition and were now officially taking up residence in the fort and courthouse. Jack Bruce, our elder president of the movement, had become rather ill so he chose to step down and I was elected as the new president as well as the new commander-in-chief of the newly created military council. It was as if destiny had chosen me for this role and I was confident that the Lord had destined me to fulfill this calling and lead a new government.

Prime Minister MacDonald now focused on the “French Half-breed problem” and decided to strategically send two emissaries to Red River Father Thibault and de Salaberry. They didn’t have any authority to negotiate on behalf of the government so they ultimately were of no use to us. The prudent thing to do was to put them both under house arrest until a representative of MacDonald’s government would appear with the authority to negotiate the terms of our declaration. These men were benign but still had the potential of hindering our movement so precautions were taken, but when Donald Smith arrived on December 27th as the replacement of HBC chief MacTavish, I should have taken more time to find out about him. Sometimes a wolf in sheep’s clothing can move around under the radar until they act, pouncing at once in a manner that shocks.

This was the case of Donald Smith.

Donald Smith, the ‘old trickster’

What I didn’t know when he arrived was that he had spent seven years in Quebec running the Hudson’s Bay post in the north, working his way up the ladder until he had networked and schmoozed his way into high society in Montreal and London so that he had become a wealthy man. Savvy with uncanny business acumen, he hid his cunning under a cold exterior, betraying nothing of the guile he nurtured all in an effort to grow wealthier. And a big source of his wealth came from owning Hudson’s Bay Company stock. He knew that by buying up land in our new province he would grow very rich if mass immigration happened. He was more ruthless than John Schultz yet he carried himself completely differently, instead choosing to move about in secrecy and cunning that I didn’t see coming. Perhaps I should have known he would possess the very qualities that could lead to the dismemberment and destruction of our movement if he had been hand-selected as chief negotiator by the most powerful man in Canada.

As Louis Schmidt called him, he was “an old trickster.”

What made me less suspicious of the man was the fact that he had married a Métisse. I looked upon him with less suspicion because of this, believing that he had some degree of empathy and understanding for our movement. I didn’t let myself think that he was a ruthless man who had the power to bribe anyone he needed to work against our movement. Indeed he was the perfect choice by the Prime Minister to undermine our newly formed government. And his selection of the man as taking over the Hudson’s Bay Company in Rupert’s Land was a stroke of genius on the part of John A MacDonald. I showed by lack of wisdom in my acceptance of Donald Smith’s promise not to meddle in our governmental affairs.

Very naïve I was.

When Smith took up residence within Fort Garry in the HBC offices, I should have known something was up when the guests streamed through his residence like a river. And many of his guests were Métis and English half-breeds because they had so many relations in Red River. I didn’t know he had been given the resources to bribe people at will. I was all too trusting.

Over the first few months of his arrival, he waged a non-stop campaign of bribery to those who were intimate with the movement and who could pinpoint those who were the most important to bribe. Many Métis who were part of our movement were given jobs by the man and bribed to abandon the movement in favor of practical considerations such as much-needed cash and other resources. With an expert eye Donald Smith was able to pick away at the key players in our movement to weaken us and ultimately decimate our power base. Indeed the will of man is weak but never had it occurred to my idealistic young mind that the men of our guard could be bought off so freely.

I still regarded our position as strong, with the United States’ annexation of Rupert’s Land as a lingering threat I had as a bargaining chip with Ottawa. It was acknowledged among those involved in the politics of Red River that the Americans had long wanted to annex the northwest lands north of the 49th parallel but that no move had been made as of yet. Being careful to cultivate relationships that would benefit our hand in negotiating with Ottawa for our rights as the new Province of Assiniboia, Ottawa was aware that there was a real danger that we could strike a deal with Washington and MacDonald’s dream of a united Canada coast-to-coast might fail.

The profound importance of this situation should have alerted me to the underhanded methods used by Donald Smith.

At the same time the prisoners within Fort Garry were becoming a problem too. Of the 40 or so prisoners we had from Fort Schultz, we offered them the opportunity for release if they agreed to take an oath to the new provisional government. Only nine of the 44 prisoners took the oath and were released, but the hard-core among the prisoners remained in Fort Garry. Some of them – nine to be exact – worked with their pen knives and whittled down the stone around the window of a cell, eventually prying it open and escaped. Of the nine to escape, five were caught the next day but the other four – among them Charlie Mair and Thomas Scott – made it to the English stronghold Portage la Prairie.

This would prove to be very problematic because it was already a pro-Orangeman stronghold and with these two agitators and their zealous ways, nothing good could come from it.

A few days later John Schultz escaped. He had used a penknife, smuggled in by his wife in the apple betty he loved to eat as dessert, and cut strips of a buffalo hide to create a rope that he dangled out of the window from the two-storey building he was imprisoned in. Since he was the leader of the resistance vis-à-vis Fort Schultz, we kept him in the most secure building within the walls of Fort Garry. (Many other of the lower-risk prisoners were kept in buildings outside of the fort’s wall). Schultz, on the night of January 23rd eased himself out of the window and down the rope but the rope broke and he fell the two storeys into the snow, severely injuring his ankle. (He would walk with a limp for the rest of his life). He then somehow managed to heave himself over the wall without the guards seeing him and made it to Kildonan where he knocked on the door of a Robert MacBeth. Gaunt, hurt and frost-bitten in the minus-25 temperatures, he was taken in and hidden in MacBeth’s attic for a few days. We sent out guards with the order to shoot Schultz dead but we never found him.

Schultz eventually made it up to the old Stone Fort north of Fort Garry where he recovered and organized a force to take back Fort Garry.

In the early weeks of January 1870 many people were asking for news of what was going on. There was increasing pressure to reinstate one or both of the newspapers but it was too much of a risk. Propaganda was a very important aspect of carrying through with the success of the movement so any printed newspaper ran the risk of falling afoul of not being supportive to our efforts. After a while of trying to figure out what to do we finally decided to sell the Red River Pioneer to a few of the pro-Americans in Red River, namely Malmros and Stutsman. They assured me that they would be supportive of the new government, even going so far to rename the newspaper The New Nation. It was true that the paper did support the provisional government but it was also true that many of the editorials voiced the opinion of an American takeover of Rupert’s Land. On one hand we all knew it was a good bargaining chip for when we negotiated with Ottawa for inclusion into the dominion as the Province of Assiniboia, but on the other hand its pro-American opinions rubbed many the wrong way, with many within the movement voicing their opposition to the editorials.

But the most detrimental thing to happen during the first week of the New Year in 1870 was the emergence of Donald Smith’s papers. Having been given official documents by the Prime Minister stating his authority over the local government of Red River, Donald Smith had been wise to hand these documents off to William McDougall’s former secretary J. A. N. Provencher in Pembina where he kept them out of our hands. We couldn’t prove Donald Smith had the power he claimed unless we could see these documents. Like we had done with Thibault and de Salaberry, we planned to confiscate these documents in order to protect our newly acquired authority. We made plans to send Smith’s brother-in-law down to Pembina to retrieve these documents and be escorted by our guards. This was the plan but it didn’t happen this way. Somehow there was a leak and Smith’s sympathizers caught wind of the plan and beat us to the papers. In fact when I rode to St. Norbert to pick up these documents I found myself staring down the barrel of a gun pointed at me.

There was a moment when I thought I was going to be shot and the dream of self-governance would go up in flames but Father Ritchot saved me by insisting I not be shot.

What transpired after that was a gradual loss of power from our initial successes. Smith was able to get his hands on the documents and then wisely called for a meeting where he would present these papers from the Prime Minster as proof he had the power and not us. We had blocked McDougall from entering the country but had let Smith enter under the ruse that he was replacing McTavish as head of the HBC. It didn’t occur to any of us that Donald Smith was representing the new government. It was a bad mistake on our part, and I knew that during this time in January, 1870 we had everything to lose.

We arranged for the meeting to happen January 19th, a bitter cold day. There were so many people who showed up to Fort Garry to hear the proceedings that most had to remain outside the building in the cold, instead trying to keep warm huddled around a fire. Smith proceeded to read the documents he had brought, stating that he had the bargaining power with Ottawa to negotiate the terms of Rupert’s Land being brought into the federal government. Smith read other documents, some from the Queen, stating that she was upset at the events that had unfolded of this rebellion and that she was willing to listen to their complaints. Smith employed his best political acumen and perhaps won over some people with his words, but the religious persons there made it their mission to remind many of the people who had been bribed by Donald Smith that loyalty was more important than money because their rights and lands were at stake.

The next day the meeting resumed, with both sides fortifying their support for their respective leader. The tone and ambience were much warmer during this second day, with both myself and Donald Smith making statements of working together in our efforts to create a new government that reflected both the French and English demands for rights. The applause that each of us received after our comments warmed I’m sure both our hearts, so that after this second day we both felt as if we had passed a point of conflict and entered a new era of cooperation, regardless of how difficult and fraught with obstacles it might be. A spirit of goodwill was felt by all those who were there and it gave us all a modicum of energy to see this through. This change was very noticeable when Donald Smith publically disassociated himself with William McDougall.

We all applauded this and it was the turning point.

I ended the second day with the following statement:

“I came here with fears. We are not yet enemies [loud cheers] but we came very near being so. As soon as we understood each other, we joined in demanding what our English fellow subjects in common with us believe to be our just rights [loud cheers]. I am not afraid to say our rights; for we all have rights [renewed cheers]. We claim no half rights, mind you, but all the rights we are entitled to. Those rights will be set forth by our representatives, and, what is more, gentlemen, we will get them [loud cheers].”

This second day ended with much rejoicing and optimism but this feeling of mutual goodwill would not last long. Subterfuge and underhanded manipulation stained the proceedings. Donald Smith’s bribery had caused there to be an anti-Riel camp within the Métis movement. This camp was led by Charles Nolin, my cousin. Open debate is one thing but a bribed opposition is another. And once we decided to create a 40-man committee to debate the rights we would submit to the government in Ottawa (20 English and 20 French), I knew immediately what would happen: the English would vote aligned and the so would the French but with three out of the 20 French seats taken by the anti-Riel pro-Nolin camp, the vote would work against us. Without Donald Smith’s meddling with his open wallet, who could say what would have happened.

As it was, things became more difficult.

Charles Nolin, Louis Riel’s cousin, was bribed to work against the new government

We spent a number of days hammering out a new declaration of rights, very similar to the previous one but with another item insisting on the formation of a militia. Also, the dialogue changed during the discussions from becoming a province to joining the confederation as a territory. It was a subtle change in language but by the time it occurred to me how significant this was and how originally it had been imperative that we enter the federal system as a full-fledged province for reasons of land rights, I became alarmed. During that week of proceedings I returned to this point, arguing that it was necessary to enter into the Confederation as a province rather than a territory for the protection of land rights, but we were out-voted when Charles Nolin and his two other representatives voted alongside the English in favor of entering Canada as a territory. I had to insist because of the power it would give us to control public land. Donald Smith and his bunch of land speculators knew it was more favorable to enter Confederation as a territory. There was more freedom to purchase land.

And thus to profit from the sales of lands to new immigrants.

During the discussions James Ross argued on behalf of the English half-breeds that becoming a province was simply too expensive. There was simply too few people living in the Red River area to manage provincial status. The responsibilities and costs that were part of being a province were too high and not practical. It was an argument that Nolin and his cohorts took too and used, choosing to betray the movement and vote with Smith and his sympathizers.

It was a hard lesson in politics for me.

I knew at that point that it was an impossible situation that could only lead to our dissolution. Having the Métis traitors vote against us could only result in our loss of power. When I brought up as a matter of business that the sale of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Canadian government was to be declared null and void, the proceedings took a bitter turn. Sarcasm and laughter erupted and a vote was taken, resulting in again the lopsided vote of 24 to 15. (Nolin and his two other voted against it with the English). So when this vote was defeated, I lost my cool. I simply could not remain composed.

So I said thus:

“The devil take it; we must win. The vote may go as it likes; but the measure which has now been defeated must be carried. It is a shame to have lost it; and it was a greater shame because it was lost by those traitors.”

I pointed to Charles Nolin, Tom Harrison and George Klyne. 

I had lost confidence in the convention and saw for the first time that the system had been rigged. This underhanded guile employed by Donald Smith and his sympathizers aimed to usurp our power so the situation changed. Instead of both parties acting in goodwill and honourably, I saw that it was a cheating side versus a noble side. The English were resorting to all sorts of betrayals that were simply “offside.” Rather than working together to find a solution, they had rigged it so that our voice was drowned out.

Things for me changed after this day.

So I said to the people at the convention, trying to keep my cool:

“While I say this matter must be carried, I do not wish to speak disrespectfully to the Convention. But I say it will be carried at a subsequent stage. You must remember that there is [already] a provisional government, and though this measure has been lost by the voice of the Convention, I have friends enough, who are determined to add it to the list, on their own responsibility.”

It was a veiled threat. I couldn’t help myself.

And then I turned to Nolin and his boys and spoke thus:

“As for you, Charles Nolin, Tom Harrison and George Klyne – two of relatives of my own – as for you, your influence as public men is finished in this country!”

I revealed the way I felt because that’s who I am: a man who shows his honesty. And my supporters knew that this was how I felt. I had to eschew the formalities of the convention and speak my piece, knowing that every single person there knew that the system was rigged. My supporters, to reflect their empathy with me, raised a bigger Province of Assiniboia flag up the flagpole, flying the fleur-de-lis and the shamrock on the all-white background.

I was touched.

It was plain to see that the Hudson’s Bay Company and Donald Smith were engaged in underhanded tactics and in no way wanted to engage us as a political committee. This translated into the realization that the convention and in indeed the courthouse and rational discourse was not the correct route to take to reach our goals. So I changed my tactics. Instead I became a lot more assertive. I put guards at the door of MacTavish’s door, and I arrested William Cowan and William Hallett – two Hudson Bay executives who were being uncooperative. I threated Ballantyne to vacate Fort Garry when he protested these arrests, but he didn’t believe I would arrest him too. Ballantyne, who had been among the most understanding of the Métis cause, was confused and refused to adjust to the change of events and the change of heart in me and acted out against my orders, so we arrested him.

In my fervor, we decided to arrest Charles Nolin as well so I sent a posse of twelve men to his farm where we arrested the traitor. He and his brother were prepared to fight against the arrest but thank God their guns misfired. It was a very close brush with death for us on the Métis French side. Charles Nolin was profoundly affected by the brush with death and his imprisonment and subsequently refused to play further part in his personal beef against me. I didn’t realize that such a simple arrest would turn the tide of events. Without this weak, corrupt link in the chain, the convention worked as it should have.

We all returned to the convention to discuss the formation of a new government on February 7th.

During these next few days I found my voice and argued against Donald Smith, pointing out that he didn’t have any authority to guarantee that our demands would be met by Ottawa; that what he was saying as a guarantee was merely his opinion. This made people at the convention realize that Smith had overplayed his hand and in fact didn’t have any authority to guarantee anything. Once this was made clear I suggested that we need a representative to negotiate with Ottawa – something we had wanted all along. Once this was brought up, it followed logic that we required a body of power for whom this negotiator reported to. So I brought up the provisional government question once again. It was a hot subject as it was rather revolutionary. We debated for two days until it was decided to consult the current governor MacTavish, who was still very ill on his sickbed.

MacTavish was reported to have answered: “Form a government, for God’s sake, and restore peace and order in the settlement!”

MacTavish had essentially broken the deadlock and we all voted on a new leader who would lead our provisional government. We voted to create a government and draft a constitution, which we did by February 10th. We decided on an elected council of 24 people, 12 French and 12 English, and an executive made up of a President, secretary (both English and French), and a treasurer. Then we started a debate of who should become the president. The French were set on electing me but the English dragged their heels and delayed the vote. I saw what was coming so I found myself speaking with firm words reeking of veiled threats. I said if the English were not ready to move forward that we French were ready to go it alone. I spoke thus: “On my life I will say so, if the prejudices of your people are to prevail, they may do so, but it will be in my blood!”

Then the vote was taken. With three abstaining from the vote, I was elected as the government leader.

That night the entire Red River settlement celebrated. The fireworks we had confiscated from William McDougall were set off inside Fort Garry and we celebrated our achievement. O’Lone’s Saloon was packed to the rafters, with everyone drinking and celebrating well into the night. I felt enough goodwill to release Cowan, MacTavish and Ballantyne from jail. Ballantyne forgave me immediately as he was sincerely thrilled that we had created a government and I had been elected as its leader. I didn’t participate in the big party at O’Lone’s Saloon but I did share a “good horn of brandy” with Ballantyne at midnight.

Oh how things can change! Just when I thought things has reached a settling point, the landscape changed.

My first act as leader of the provisional government was to free the prisoners we had in Fort Garry. It was true that it was risky but I didn’t think a few loudmouths would hurt the new government. But in order to guard against insurgency, I insisted on each prisoner signing an oath to the new government. Sixteen of the men chose to sign it, all of whom were release on February 12th.

But on that same day we heard news that a band of armed men were heading to Red River to attack Fort Garry.



I really only had a day or two of enjoying a sense of accomplishment until I learned that there was an armed insurgency against us. It was perhaps the shortest lived government in Canadian history? But there was no time to cry. We scrambled to find out what was what, and then set up a defensive plan.

Portage la Prairie had been an epicentre for Orangeman intrigue for a long time, and it was where Charlie Mair and Thomas Scott escaped to a few weeks before. Sixty miles west of Winnipeg, the area around Portage la Prairie was fertile and excellent for farming. It had been chosen as a good place to settle by ambitious immigrants from Upper Canada determined to make a go of it on the frontier. A man by the name of Thomas Spence had set up a separatist movement from the Hudson’s Bay Company two years before to form the “Republic of Manitobah,” complete with a democratically elected government. Nothing had come of it but it still remained a hotbed of dissidence.

Many of the workers from building the Snow’s road and Dennis’s surveying teams settled in Portage la Prairie.

A man by the name of Charles Boulton we heard was leading the rebellion against our government. From what we knew of him he had only arrived in the area in July, 1869 but had had ten years’ experience in the British army, serving in both Europe and Africa. Almost as soon as this man arrived, he had become very involved in the pro-British movement of achieving self-determination in this part of the frontier and to overcome any French efforts to establish power in his new backyard. He was fully aware of the dynamics currently in play with the exit of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the current stalemate with William McDougall stuck in Pembina Minnesota. He had been involved with Fort Schultz and with the adventures of Dennis but had remained under the radar by us Métis. But now he had assumed an overt leadership position aimed at toppling what we had achieved. With Mair’s escape, he was persuaded to use his military training to recruit and organize a military force to counter our guards, and to free the prisoners still in Fort Garry.

Charles Boulton, the newly emerged leader of the ‘Republic of Manitobah’ movement

There were about 60 men in his newly formed force, most of whom were farmers without any training. They left Portage la Prairie on the night of February 10th with an aim of reaching Fort Garry at daybreak when the guards were tired and not at their sharpest. It took them six hours to march through the snow past Poplar Point and High Bluff to Headingly, roughly 15 miles from Winnipeg. They were able to pick up even more “soldiers” along the way, eventually numbering close to 100 men. But then just before their plan to attack the fort and scale the walls to free the remaining prisoners, a blizzard struck, stranding them for two days in Headingly. Most of the men stayed at the Anglican Church there and numerous men tried to talk them out of going through with their plan, arguing that the provisional government had been democratically elected. But these men were harshly anti-French and even more so anti-Métis so convincing them otherwise was almost an impossibility.

So Boulton and his men continued eastward towards Fort Garry on February 14th. They were in contact with Schultz in the north and Dease on the south, organizing a three-pronged attack on the fort. Schultz’s force, comprised of Sioux and Saulteaux Natives, much feared by the Métis, were the biggest concern for us in the fort because we were well aware of the exceptional fighting prowess of the Sioux. Fortunately for us, our network of guards intercepted a messenger who was taking orders to Dease in the south. Aware of their plans, many of my men wanted to go out and meet the Canadians coming from the west but I knew it would be a massacre. Cold and tired and not ready for fight, encountering the expertise of my guards would have been a lopsided victory for us. There was still some degree of honour in battle back then. But what we didn’t know was that Boulton’s force planned to go north and meet with Schultz’s force near Kildonan. And Schultz, with as many as 300 men, also had a canon from the Stone Fort. It is true we had 13 canons in Fort Garry, it was still possible for that canon to blow a big hole in the walls of Fort Garry.

Our side we had 600 men, well rested, well trained and with lots of ammunition and all on horseback.

Boulton and Schultz met and then agreed to overnight in a schoolhouse that had been taken over and made into a makeshift barracks. People from the local population, many of whom were original Selkirk settlers, pleaded with Schultz and Boulton not to go ahead with their attack, saying that most of the prisoners had been released and that the last of the prisoners were about to be released in the next few hours. They sensed a tragedy about to unfold but the stubbornness and the deep belief in Manifest Destiny of the “British troops” would not be dissuaded. Thomas Scott was among the most stubborn, making it known that no half-breed Frenchie was going to lead the government.

Thomas Scott was making a name for himself as a radical Orangeman.

The Red River Rebellion, which is what this time in history was to be called, often misses the spark that led to spilled blood. I’m retelling what happened according to the detailed truth and in so doing aim to set the record straight. It was on February 15th that the first shots were fired. A man by the name Norbert Parisien – a man by all accounts mentally challenged – was regarded with suspicion by Boulton’s troops when he was spotted riding his horse towards Kildonan. Parisien merely wanted to see what was happening in town when he saw all the horses and men and equipment of Boulton’s and Schultz’s forces. The move on Parisien’s part was poor judgment. The insurgents arrested him. But in the morning of the next day, when Parisien was walking back from the outhouse, he escaped and took a rifle from a nearby sleigh and hid in the forest near the riverbank.

A young 21-year-old man Hugh Sutherland was sent by his father to inform the insurgents of the progress made in Fort Garry the previous day. Having been part of a concerned citizen’s group pressuring the Métis to release all the prisoners now that a duly elected provisional government had been elected, Hugh’s father John Sutherland was happy to hear that all the prisoners had signed the oath and were to all be released on February 16th. He had sent his son to tell Boulton and Schultz of the news in the hopes they would put a stop to their plans of attacking Fort Garry.

When the young man Sutherland was riding across the field on his horse, Parisien assumed he was part of the insurgents and was coming after him so he raised his rifle and shot him through the chest. Hearing the shots ring out, Schultz and Thomas Scott and other men rode out to the field to find Sutherland bleeding and then found Parisien hiding near the riverbank where they beat him badly, using their rifles to strike his head repeatedly.

Thomas Scott led the beating.

The next day, February 17th Hugh Sutherland died from his chest wound. But before he had died he pleaded with Schultz and Boulton not to persecute the Métis Parisien because he had made a mistake. They did choose not to take an eye-for-an-eye but Parisien did die a month and a half later from his injuries. But the incident – the first death of the so-called Red River Rebellion – had an immediately sobering effect on the insurgents. Sutherland’s mother pleaded with them not to start a civil war and warned that if they did there would be many more mothers in tears. There was a change of heart in many of the insurgents from this first spilling of blood.

And that same day I received word that the English parishes would no longer recognize our provisional government. All at once I could feel everything unravelling around me.

I decided to write a letter to the armed force in Kildonan:

Fellow Countrymen,

                Mr. Norquay came this morning with a message & even [though] he has been delayed he will reach you time enough to tell you that for my part I understand that war, horrible civil war, is the destruction of this country. And Schultz will laugh at us all if after all he escapes. We are ready to meet any party. But peace our British rights we want before all. Gentlemen, the prisoners are out, they have sworn to keep peace. We have taken the responsibility of our past acts. Mr. William McTavish has asked you for the sake of God to form and complete the provisional government. Your representatives have joined us on that ground. Who will now come and destroy the Red River Settlement?

I am you humble,

Poor, fair & confident

Public servant

L. Riel

It was a risk to send a letter that was both threatening and a pleading for peace but sometimes risky actions are required in order to achieve those desired ends. It was true all the prisoners were free. And it was true that a civil war would tear the Red River Settlement apart. Furthermore it was true that they were free to join the representative government if they wanted a say in the governance of their new province. And harshly it was true that we were ready to fight them to the death in order to protect our land rights from the land speculators whose aim was to profit from our hard work.

We didn’t know what was going to happen but we would be fools not to take precautions. There they were fully poised with their guns and canon ready to attack us in the fort, so we manned the canons, stocked the gunpowder and rifles and ammunition all around the turret and atop of the walls along the perimeter of Fort Garry, ready for war. It was an awesome sight also designed to dissuade them from attack. And we sent 100 guards to St. Boniface Church to protect it against a possible attack. The church, with its high walls and sturdy architecture and protected with rows of trees would make an ideal fortification of they decided to take it over. All these actions spoke a language of readiness to our foe, a language we hoped would stop their zealous and foolish action of attacking us: the democratically elected provisional government.

The New Nation, the new newspaper at the time, wrote the following article about the current state of affairs:

Men were gathering in hot haste. Cannons mounted, grape and canister laid in order. Five hundred men and more, we are informed, were told off to man the bastions, ramparts, etc. Shot and shell were piled around promiscuously. Everything that could be done, was done to make a bold stand to strike terror in the hearts of les Anglais.

Our man O’Donoghue was sent into town to ensure that all resources were confiscated so they would not end up in the hands of the foe. He brought back rifles and ammunition from any store stocked with arms, and even broke down the door to Bannatyne’s storehouse, where more gunpowder and arms were found. (Bannatyne had refused to give O’Donoghue the key). We had done everything we could to protect ourselves, our families, our land and now our government.

So we let fate hang in the balance.

At 11 o’clock on February 18th the insurgents were spotted approaching Fort Garry walking single file in waist-deep snow, bystanders watching the column, expecting a showdown with the Métis force. Lépine and O’Donoghue led the Métis out of the north gate towards Boulton’s men. For a moment, to all of those who were present, they thought a battle might erupt but instead Boulton’s men laid down their weapons and surrendered.

Once again the jail cells within the fort were full.

I had made sure they knew that they were safe if they did not approach the fort but for some reason they did just that. I will quote the account given by the English half-breed George William Sanderson as to what transpired:

Riel had sent word that we should follow the road and if had any arms we should keep them to ourselves and not make any show of them. There is no doubt everything would have been alright had we followed the road as we were told.

When we got to the place near Fort Garry where the road made a detour we halted for a while and had a council. Some of the men from eastern Canada wanted to show off and defy Riel’s orders. They wanted to go straight across the forbidden ground…

The young fellow named [Thomas] Scott swore and said we were a bunch of cowards. At that the Pochas, father and sons took offence, Suza was going to slap him but the old [man] stopped him and said, “let him alone and perhaps he will yet find out that the little French…are not afraid of him, come captain, we will pass by the fort…” Off we started again I will not say we marched, we were all walking any way we could, the snow was deep.

A dozen of our men went up to Boulton’s men. Mr. Pocha said to them in French: “Good day. What do you want?” Lépine answered: “Our leader, Louis Riel, and his officers wish you all to come into the fort and have dinner with them.” Being famished from their long trek, they accepted the invitation and marched into the fort and were taken prisoner.

It was cold. We were tired. And we were out of patience or goodwill. So it wasn’t surprising that a tribunal found five of them guilty of treason and were sentenced to death. They had to pay for their actions in order to dissuade any other attempts at a coup.

The very act of execution might also encourage the English to join our government as representatives, just as our provisional government had been designed to accommodate. We expected an uproar and that’s what happened that day. The men were to be shot the following day but a flood of people pleading for clemency ensued, particularly Hugh Sutherland’s mother, who pleaded for the lives of these five men, insisting enough bloodshed had already been shed.

I did acquiesce by stating that three of the sentenced men would not be shot, but insisted the leader Boulton and Thomas Scott the agitator would be shot. But still, streams of people the following morning insisted they be granted leniency. So I called a meeting with Donald Smith. I let him plead with me for 20 minutes until I said I would spare Boulton’s and Scott’s lives if he would make an effort to get English speakers into our government. It worked and Donald Smith then proceeded to travel to each English parish throughout the region asking them to participate in our provisional government.

Sure enough his effort bore fruit and by February 21st we had people requesting to participate in our government from St. Andrew, St. John, St. Paul and St. James.

Ultimately by February 26th all the positions in our government were full.

Our handling of the Boulton rebellion had worked. We now had a government balanced with French and English speaking citizens. We could now negotiate for our provincial sovereignty with Ottawa.



But like most things in life, not all was perfect. Two of the strongest and most dangerous rebels were still afoot: Charlie Mair and John Schultz. I had sent my best scouts out into the cold to hunt them down and shoot Schultz on site (because he was an escaped prisoner) but they could not be found. Later I learned that Mair had chosen not to follow Boulton on his ill-fated attack on Fort Garry and instead he traveled to Portage la Prairie, arriving there on February 17th. He visited with his wife and then took off again on February 22nd with long-time settler John Setter and two half-breed guides. Schultz on the other hand fled east with his trusted Scottish half-breed friend Joseph Monkman and another friend G. D. McVicar. They traveled across Lake Winnipeg when it was 30 degrees below zero, eventually making it to Duluth Minnesota 24 days later. Schultz suffered greatly during this trip, which left his health permanently damaged. 

Both Mair and Schultz endured a very long and difficult journey but both made it to St. Paul Minnesota where by chance they bumped into each other in April while walking down the street. It was an incredible piece of physical endurance, which left them both harshly affected and even more determined to do everything in their power to topple the Métis-led provisional government in Red River. Having had experience with both men I knew of their resolve and abilities so it worried me to no end that they both had escaped. The anxiety it caused in me caught up with me during the last week of February, which brought me down with the flu. Some murmured that I had a “brain fever” but these were my detractors, which was expected. I was nursed back to health within three or four days by my sister Sara and was back to light duties within the new provisional government. This was how things were during the first months of 1870 when things could have moved forward constructively and with permanence but this was not what transpired. Instead Mair and Schultz were given good reason to form an armed resistance against our government when the troublesome Thomas Scott became embroiled in the struggle against us in such a way that it would be the beginning of the end for the Métis-controlled government in Red River.

Anyone who had met Thomas Scott could see that he was a tall, lanky Orangeman who held his opinions on his sleeve. He was very outspoken and was fond of provoking emotions in others when it came to politics. It had been Thomas Scott who had led the strike against John Snow during the construction of Dawson Road years before. A big drinker and always edging for a fight, he often was involved in fights in Red River, especially when he was out of work after being convicted of assault against John Snow and losing his job in the Dawson Road construction crew. He found his way into the bars in Winnipeg, eventually becoming a bartender. With his sharp tongue it wasn’t long before he had met many of the firebrands who would fight against us in an Anti-French, anti-Métis tirade. He became one of the loudest mouthpieces against us and became well known and notorious for his passion for the Orange cause.

In today’s nomenclature he was an outspoken racist.

Some sympathized with his opinions but most disliked him.

Being now imprisoned in Fort Garry with the rest of Boulton’s men, Thomas Scott acted like an ass. He suffered from diarrhea and the guards were a bit slow to respond to his needs so Scott’s invective was raised a few notches against the guards. He called them scoundrels and threatened to kill their leader in a constant onslaught of verbal hatred. Many of his cellmates recorded in their journals the things he said and the way he acted. He was an immature child who resorted to cussing and threats. The guards put up with it for many weeks. On Mach 1st he pried the cell door open when the guards were there and tried to overcome his guards, only to be subdued by other guards into submission. He yelled to his fellow inmates to also try to escape but none did. For the Métis guards it was the last straw. So they took him into the courtyard and began beating him but Scott kept screaming. The ranting and raving continued as they beat him and would have likely beat him to death if it hadn’t been for a member of the provisional government overhearing the ruckus and intervening.

It boiled down to the guards who took issue with the non-stop blasting in their ears. This Thomas Scott was like a rabid animal and needed to be spoken to. So they pleaded with me to speak to the man. And so I did. And I found him tremendously offensive and threatening.

See, the Thomas Scott incident was important because it turned the tide against us. But what most historians get wrong was that it wasn’t an arbitrary assassination. Thomas Scott went to court and was found guilty of treason. Procedure was followed and I abstained from voting for the death penalty. But let me explain what transpired between March 1st and his death on March 4th.

When I spoke with him he was more than rude. He was like a raving lunatic. Should we have put him into a separate cell where he was far away from the others in Boulton’s force and away from the guards who were fed up? Perhaps, but we didn’t really have any separate cells. We would have had to build a separate cell, which we weren’t going to do for a troublemaker like Thomas Scott.

Here is Sanderson’s account of when I spoke to him:

When Riel came in, Scott says: “Where are my papers?” Riel answered, “I do not know anything about your papers, what sort of papers did you have?” Scott then cursed, “You God damn son of a bitch, I will have my papers in spite of you.” He was awfully mad. Riel answered, very quietly, “That’s no way to speak to a human being, a man like you coming from a civilized part of the country should know better than use such language, you will all get your papers and letters back before you leave here.”

This account gives you some idea of the state of mind poor Thomas Scott was in. He was cruising for a bruising and out to antagonize anyone he spoke with. Most of my men wanted Scott dead because they were fed up with his attitude and chronic abuse. And disrespect. None of us knew why this man kept at it for so long. If he had quietened and become a bit more subdued and patient, he would have been released like all the other prisoners. I’m sure some of my men took it personally this racial abuse and utter disrespect aimed at them being half Native and half French. This poor man Thomas Scott was playing with fire and seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was in prison inside a fort with guards with rifles loaded with real bullets.

So when some of my guards pleaded with me to shoot him, I told them I would again speak to this man. One of my men, Paul Proulx, recorded this second encounter with Thomas Scott.

The Métis said to Riel that if Scott was not executed, they would shoot him. Riel went to warn Scott, who seemingly said: “The Métis are a pack of cowards. They will never dare shoot me.” Then Riel asked him again: “Ask me anything at all for a punishment.” “I want nothing,” Scott retorted. “You are nothing but cowards.”

Losing patience with this man, Thomas Scott was court-marshalled on March 3rd for treason. He was taken into the council chambers in the evening where he faced seven council members who would hear his case and decide on his guilt and punishment. Several witnesses were brought to the court where they stated what they had witnessed under oath, saying that Thomas Scott had rebelled against the government with Boulton, how he had attacked the guards, how he had threatened to kill Riel during a time before the Boulton rebellion. Thomas Scott was brought in and read the charges presented against him to the court. There were no witnesses brought in to plead Scott’s innocence. One of the council members, Janvier Ritchot, made a motion that Thomas Scott should receive the death penalty, which was backed by André Nault and Goulet and Delorme. But Baptiste Lépine was opposed to the extreme punishment and Elzéar Lagomodière thought expelling him from the country was the best punishment. I abstained from the vote, leaving the verdict at four to two in favour of the death penalty. I read out the sentence to Thomas Scott in English in a clear and concise tone to ensure he understood what had happened.

He was then returned to his cell.

Then what proceeded to happen was a surprise to us. The English-speaking community came to us in the fort pleading for this man’s life. They argued that if I would spare Boulton, the leader of an armed uprising against the legitimate provisional government, then why would we sentence this foot soldier to death? Donald Smith pleaded with us as well, as did ministers of the English-speaking parishes. But we could not find it in our hearts to forgive this terrible man. Nothing was done until noon the next day, March 4th, when Thomas Scott was brought out into the courtyard in Fort Garry. He was allowed to say good-bye to his fellow prisoners and then a white blindfold was wrapped around his eyes. A presiding minister said a short prayer and then six men with loaded rifles lined up in front of poor Thomas Scott.

“This is horrible,” he said. “This is cold-blooded murder!” and then he began sobbing, realizing perhaps for the first time that he was about to die. He knelt in the snow and Andre Nault gave the sign to fire when he dropped a white handkerchief. All six rifles fired but only two bullets struck Scott. He fell bleeding and let out a dreadful groan. Francois Guillemette then stepped forward with his pistol and shot him in the head to put him out of his misery. This final act was captured as the ultimate act of corrupt justice by a raving mad group of half-breed French who were running out of control in the Red River Region. The image became a lasting and timeless example of the lawlessness of our methods and a rallying cry to the rest of Canada to aid in our destruction. It was a regrettable and terrible end to this young man’s life who hadn’t realize the severity of the situation and who exacerbated his predicament by excessive drinking and racist and incendiary language. And because his was a brother at the local Orange Lodge, his powerful friends were sure to seek retribution against us in any and every way they could.

The death of Thomas Scott signified a change in the fortunes of Riel’s government

Some say this is what led directly to the downfall of our government. To me it was a just act against an unstable instigator who was too irrational to be regarded with any degree of respect or sympathy. Perhaps it was just a bad situation that involved emotional guards and council members with frayed nerves and riddled with exhaustion, and extreme frustration by prisoners who hadn’t even had the intention of attacking Fort Garry yet ho had been imprisoned due to a stupid error of judgment by walking too close to the fort instead of following the road back to Portage la Prairie.

It was likely a combination of all these things.

I was in the courtyard watching the proceedings, but when it was done I took charge and ordered the crowds to disperse and made sure the body was put in a wooden casket. I refused requests that Thomas Scott’s body be interred at the local Presbyterian cemetery because I didn’t want his grave to become a martyr’s shrine. There was great confusion of what happened to his body but if truth be told I don’t know exactly what happened to it. I ordered that his body be removed from the fort and disposed of. My men did precisely that and his body was never found. Rumor circulated among my men that they took his body down to the river and was fed to the fish.

We wanted his death to dissuade others from participating in insurrection but the opposite occurred. Many took issue with the lack of justice and due process yet that was precisely what we did: follow the letter of the law. It might have been done in haste but all laws were obeyed. It was clear Thomas Scott was an inciter and rebel against the legitimate government yet the way his death was carried out, especially with that final gunshot to the head, it was seen as an arbitrary act of murder. So instead of dissuading others to foment rebellion it had the opposite effect. It incited an entire populace against us. Instead of executing an act of clemency against this detestable man, our justice ran afoul of the Englishman’s and Orangeman’s sense of justice, which is an extremely dangerous thing.

We argued that we had to take a life in order to save many lives. But the press, once they caught hold of what had transpired, with all the emotion involved during such a cold day after all the events that had occurred, used it to crush us. And the press reached enough of these very powerful Orangemen that we knew our days would be numbered. Thomas Scott was made out to be a just young man and loyalist who was gunned down by the savages who ran the new government in Rupert’s Land that should be part of Canada. Charlie Mair and John Schultz had been given the break they needed to round up an armed force of rebels to usurp our functional and legitimate government. The most frustrating thing was that we had followed the letter of the law and that all these news articles and reports in the newspapers did not present all the facts so that the picture that was painted was skewered. Leaving out facts was a way of lying and partiality, which is the kiss of death to any movement. Once the papers in Upper Canada caught hold of the story, we were fighting an unwinnable battle.

But we kept on and plowed through the growing resistance against us.

This excerpt from an article in The Globe newspaper published in Toronto in April 1870 gives you some idea of what the ethos was at the time. They published this resolution from the Orange Lodge meeting:

Whereas Brother Thomas Scott, a member of our Order was cruelly murdered by the enemies of our Queen, country and religion, there be it resolved…we, the members of L. O. L. No. 404 call upon the Government to avenge his death, pledging ourselves to assist in rescuing Red River Territory from those who have turned it over to Popery, and bring to justice the murderers of our countrymen.

It was frustrating to us how the language they used was so inaccurate. They say he was murdered. Well, no; he was executed according to a ruling from the court of law. There’s a difference. So in this vein our reaction to the Thomas Scott affair was defensive, and we regarded the Orangemen as dangerous and cunning, and not as honourable foe. For us, the Métis, this was an important aspect in how we responded to their lies, slander and outright unfounded hostility. Clearly, we were not dealing with a rational enemy.

And we treated them accordingly.

It was only five days later that the government opened for business. The timing of the sad Thomas Scott affair could not have been worse. My comments during that first day of government were recorded: “The people generally now have, for the first time in the history of this land, a voice in the direction of public affairs.” It was true that democracy had finally, for the first time, established itself here in the Red River Territory. It was supposed to be a great day but there was gloom. There was a divide between the French and the English though no one said anything about it.

And to complicate things further, Father Taché arrived in Red River after a visit to Rome and some consultations in Ottawa and Montreal. Father Taché had been appointed commissioner by the Canadian government after meeting with Sir John A MacDonald and George-Étienne Cartier. With this new title we weren’t sure what powers Father Taché now had. So when he arrived in Red River on March 8th he settled in the Bishop’s Palace beside St. Boniface Cathedral, we decided to put 20 guards around his residence to prevent agitators from finding a sympathetic ear. We also chose to arrest those who were most likely to bend the bishop’s ear against us: Charles Nolin, Salomon Hamelin, John Grant and Angus McKay. These troublemakers were put in jail.

Father Taché was annoyed with the guards and alarmed at what had transpired since his departure from the territory months before. When traveling through St. Paul on his way to Red River he had read in the newspaper there about the Bill of Rights of the new provisional government. But what had upset him the most was the involvement of his priest with this political movement. He believed the priest’s mission was always and only the spiritual life of their flock. It was overstepping and dangerous for a priest to become involved in local politics, and he had long felt this way in Red River with many priest having become politically involved. One of the first things he did when he returned was to remove two priests from their churches for such involvement, one being Father Giroux and the other Father Allard.



Finally we met on March 11th in my office in Fort Garry, with Lépine and O’Donoghue present as well. Father Taché informed us that the Canadian government were “on board” and that a general amnesty would be granted to all who were involved with the rebellion and with the formation of the provisional government. In other words, no one would get into trouble for what had transpired since December 1st. He told us that he had sent Joseph Howe a copy of the newspaper article outlining the Bill of Rights of the new Red River provisional government and had heard back from Howe that the bill “looked satisfactory” and that delegates should be sent as soon as possible to negotiate with the Canadian government.

To us this was great news. All of it. It meant that we had achieved what we had set out to do: create a government that would protect us from Manifest Destiny of the British and to protect our land from profit-hungry speculators. I was thrilled and ordered the guards to leave Father Taché’s residence. There was no more need for them there if things were now in motion to have negotiators go to Ottawa to form our province of Assiniboia as part of the confederation.

During the “Convention of Forty” the previous December, we had not only created a Bill of Rights but we had also elected three negotiators to go to Ottawa to deal directly with the federal government. In our selection at the time we aimed to have one from each of the three distinct groups found at the convention: English, French and American. So the three men that were selected for this important job were Alfred Scott, the bartender at O’Lone’s Saloon; Judge Black, a pro-British spokesman; and Father Ritchot, a man who had proven his beliefs for the French Métis. Before these three men left for Ottawa on March 23rd, we also made a point of adding three clauses to the existing Bill of Rights to ensure it accurately reflected the demands of the people of Red River. It would also ensure that the Bill of Rights was a legal entity since the provisional government was a legal institution according to law. The three clauses that were added were that one: the province to enter confederation would be called Assiniboia, two: the lieutenant-governor must be bilingual, and three: there would amnesty to all who participated in the Red River resistance. Then, as the trio were on their way to Ottawa, a final clause was added to the Bill of Rights: that provincial schools would be run by religious orders. This clause would of course cause some turbulence in the years to come, but at the time it was regarded as a rational addition to the Bill of Rights of our new province.

All the prisoners were released from Fort Garry on March 24th. After that everything in Red River returned to normal where farmers prepared for spring and the normal business of the day resumed without incident. There was hope in the air and we all hoped that the negotiations would succeed after all the hard work. Father Taché had been warmly welcomed by his parish and by all the priests in the territory, and his sermons attracted people from all around, leaving their hearts warmed and full of gratitude for our beautiful land. Many of us were moved to tears when he pleaded for peace and prosperity and union in our new province. For the first time in many months if not years, there was hope in my heart that we might achieve a just government, free of partial politics and racist policies that excluded Métis rights.

St. Patrick’s Day on March 24th was a big celebration. Father Taché gave his sermon in English, which added to the spirit of reconciliation and unity that dominated the Red River Territory during this time. We had taken time to assure the Saulteaux and Sioux that their rights too would be protected during the negotiations with Ottawa, so they too were relaxed and in the spirit of brotherly love also. It was the flush of spring almost and an optimism buoyed our spirits. For the first time I believed that we would succeed so it was important to get things in Red River back to normal. I decided to have a firm discussion with MacTavish and we agreed to re-open the Hudson’s Bay’s trading posts and general store, which had been closed since the troubles had begun. Mail resumed and a general amnesty was agreed upon so that everyone was forgiven for any rebellious activities they might have participated in. We kept our military force fed and busy, choosing to be safe than to open up ourselves to another insurrection, but the majority of people had grown used to the Métis guards around the territory so there was not issue with keeping them on.

The warm weather in April made many of the guards excited about returning to their farms to prepare for spring and the seeding of their lands.

I finally moved into my own dwelling within Fort Garry and used William McDougall’s furniture that he had left behind after he had fled east in disgrace. For a few weeks it felt like everything was working out. I was even able to entertain several American businessmen who wanted to build a railway from St. Paul Minnesota to Winnipeg, but I knew that they had plans for American annexation, which was still a very serious threat. With a large degree of tact I was able to not make any commitments, which perhaps led them to decide against building it.

Right around this time I wrote an announcement:

“To the People of the Northwest:

Happy country, to have escaped many misfortunes that were prepared for her! In seeing her children on the point of war, she recollects the old friendship which used to bind us, and by the ties of the same patriotism she has re-united them again for the sake of preserving their lives, their liberties and their happiness.”

It was, I think, an announcement that somehow captured that special feeling of victory and accomplishment and most importantly that optimism we all felt about our future in Red River, soon to become the province of Assiniboia – or so I thought. This feeling we enjoyed until the first week in May when the mail arrived. With the mail we learned that two of our negotiators had been arrested: both Father Ritchot and Alfred Scott. We learned rather quickly that Charlie Mair and John Schultz had used the Thomas Scott affair to their advantage and had utilized their connections in the Canada First Party and their newspaper connections to create an anti-Riel campaign that attacked us. They called us savages and exaggerated what had happened and distorted the facts that caused many citizens in the east to join them in condemning us and our methods. They used Thomas Scott’s execution as a rallying point to take action against us. The night Schultz and Mair arrived in Toronto there was a rally in front of City Hall where over 5000 people attended. There Schultz took the stage and told great exaggerated lies about what had happened and how all the patriots and true Canadians were in the dungeons of Fort Garry. It caught on that action was required so that the next day there was handbills and posters that were printed all around Orange Ontario saying:


Ritchot and Scott were arrested but then released because of the lack of evidence against them, so when they walked out of jail they were greeted by many admirers, Scott choosing to celebrate his newfound celebrity at the pub but Ritchot choosing instead to return to his hotel room and brood over these unforeseen developments. Ritchot was determined to begin negotiations as soon as possible but was told to wait for Judge Black, who had taken a different route to Ottawa. Finally, when the three of them were ready to negotiate in Ottawa, Prime Minister MacDonald was savvy enough to delay the proceedings while the furor surrounding Thomas Scott calmed down. There were many within his government that were aware of the extreme partiality of the Orangemen so he was wise to move slowly. Also there were many in his government who sympathized with the Métis of Assiniboia and were impressed with the bilingual nature of the Bill of Rights as they understood them. Ritchot demanded that he and his two other negotiators be granted official recognition by the Canadian government so that the execution of Thomas Scott be regarded as legitimate. The Prime Minister continued to delay, making excuses for not granting this recognition.

Finally it was promised but they would have to wait for a letter to come from Joseph Howe.

In the meantime, the three negotiators and the Canadian government settled down to discussed the new province joining confederation. It was exciting but as soon as negotiations began it was plain to see that Judge Black was inclined to agree with practically everything John A MacDonald proposed, and that Alfred Scott really wasn’t all that interested. It was Father Ritchot who really stuck to his guns and insisted on the key points of the Bill of Rights. After a rocky start, things soon began to take shape. The size of Rupert’s Land was so vast that MacDonald – for practical reasons – didn’t want to have a province bigger than Ontario or Quebec, especially with so many resources. The new province would be smaller, which made sense he argued because there were only 15,000 people. Also, the name of the province was to be called Manitoba, not Assiniboia. (This had been cleared with me because for many the name “Assiniboia” was too associated with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Manitoba was new and our own).

Ritchot conceded to the smaller province but he insisted that it become a province so that land claims of the Métis would be protected – crucial and paramount to the entire endeavor from the beginning. The Prime Minister was reluctant to grant so much land and thus natural resources to the ownership and control of the Métis government so he proposed that Manitoba become a province and that existing land claims be protected but 1.4 million acres of land be allocated to the children of the Métis to ensure their way of life and culture. For Ritchot this worked because it guaranteed each citizen’s land was protected from nasty and greedy Anglo land speculators and ensured the longevity and way of life of the Métis. Ritchot requested that the land be granted around existing Métis communities rather than in big chunks that was the way Native reserves had been set up in Canada so far. To this MacDonald agreed but when the “Manitoba Bill” was presented to the House of Commons on May 2nd there had been some last-minute changes made by the British government. Once change was that the new province of Manitoba now included the troublesome Portage la Prairie. The amount of land (1.4 million acres) to be allocated to the Métis and their descendants was the same but nowhere in the bill was it stated how its distribution and timeframe of this distribution would be done. Upon complaint by Ritchot, MacDonald smiled and assured him that it would be followed as they had discussed. This small moment of acquiescence was to haunt Ritchot for the rest of his life. And it was a crucial error in the negotiations that would lead to the deception and ultimately the suffering of the Métis in the region.

For MacDonald it was a stroke of genius not to explicitly state how the promised lands would be dispensed.

But for me and my men the most troublesome omission from the passage of the Manitoba Bill was that there was no clause guaranteeing the amnesty of all those who took up arms during the resistance and rebellion and forming of the provisional government. Ritchot has pressed this point and was assured repeatedly that the amnesty dated on December 6th, 1869 was sufficient enough for the amnesty, but thinking of the Thomas Scott issue that had happened after this date, I was worried that we might be arrested for our actions. Ritchot was unable to get anything in writing other than the assurance that the Queen would soon grant us all an amnesty since she was the only one who could legally grant this since at the time the Red River Territory was not Canadian land. Ritchot returned to Red River without a written guarantee of amnesty and arrived back in the northwest on June 17th. But before he had left he had written to the Queen a formal request for this amnesty with the approval and support of the Prime Minister and the governor-general Sir John Young.

He was told that this amnesty by the Queen would arrive before he landed back in Red River.

But when Ritchot arrived home mid-June he wasn’t surprised that the letter from the Queen had not yet arrived. Moreover we had heard that there was a “bloodthirsty force” of Orangemen on their way to Red River. Ritchot tried to calm me down by telling me that yes, a force had left Toronto on May 21st led by a General Wolseley but it was for us as a police force to help us manage the Natives and to have more strength managing our new province. Most importantly it was to quell any stirring of American annexation of Rupert’s Land, which was now Manitoba. We had also heard that some 150 boats that had been destined to serve Lake Superior we acquired by the Canadian government to form a force that was to be sent here to Red River to quell the unrest.

Ritchot could only re-iterate that a force was coming from Ottawa but that it was a benign force designed to support our efforts.

Regardless of these worrisome developments we went ahead and celebrated Ritchot’s return with a 21-gun salute. Both Judge Black and Alfred Scott did not return to Red River; Black moved back to Scotland permanently and Scott moved to New York City where there were certainly more taverns. One week after this we all met in the chambers and took an official vote to pass the Manitoba Act, which passed vote unanimously. MacDonald had insisted that I stay on as head of the interim government until the new lieutenant-governor arrived, a great vote of confidence that went a long way to quell my unease at the lack of official amnesty.

But I wasn’t the only one who felt anxiety over this question of amnesty. Father Taché was also worried – to the degree that he left for Ottawa to make sure it was official and written down. Arriving in Ottawa Father Taché was told the same thing by Cartier (the Prime Minister was ill) and reassured that if he remained in Ottawa for a few weeks the letter would arrive and he could bring it back to Red River with him when he returned. But Father Taché was far from reassured. In fact when he was invited to Niagara to review the troops with Cartier and met Sir John Young he was even more alarmed. The govern-general was rude to him, and distant in his replies to the question of amnesty. John Young brushed him off and showed no compassion or feeling for the matter.

Furthermore Father Taché learned that Charlie Mair and John Schultz were in Toronto and had organized a rally against Cartier and “the traitor Bishop Taché.” There were posters plastered all over Toronto that read:



The leader of the Canada First Party George Denison was also leading the charge, making sure people knew that “a half a continent was at stake, and it is a stake worth fighting for.” The Orangemen in Ontario (Upper Canada) were determined not to let the Thomas Scott execution rest without a fight.

Then another unsettling development came into view. On July 4th the Americans in Red River, now knowing that their dream of American annexation was all but over, were determined to celebrate the birthday of their nation so they really went to it with the party. George Emmerling decorated the front of his saloon with green branches symbolizing the olive branches on the American coat-of-arms, and O’Lone’s Saloon had somehow got their hands on one of the canons from Fort Garry and proceeded to use it. All day long on July 4th the drinking went on and the canon fired and the carousing spread throughout the town until later most were drunk and some of the prevailing sentiment came out. Americans aired their frustration at the turn of events and declared they’d like to hang me for “selling the Americans down the drain.”

Not only that, the Orangemen/Canadians and even some French made it be known they were tired of me as the leader and wanted me dead.



Red River still had a small population so it was easy to catch wind of these sentiments so the fact that the proclamation from the Queen declaring amnesty had still not arrived gave me further concern and reason to worry. Father Taché still had not telegraphed a message of success in getting the letter officially declaring amnesty, all the while with this impending military force on its way west. We know now what Sir John A MacDonald had written at the time:

“These impulsive half-breeds have got spoilt by this emeute [rioting] and must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of the settlers.”

The cunning politician had a plan to buy some time until the force could land in Red River to subdue the Métis but he had run into a problem: the Americans did not allow an armed force to travel through their country to Red River – for obvious national security reasons. So it forced his hand to hack a new trail along the north shore of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron (the North Channel) and Lake Superior to get to Red River. The problem was that this was tough land through which to carve a road, especially in winter.

The Prime Minister wanted British military soldiers to accompany the expedition west to Red River but the British, who had plenty of experience of quelling rebellions in colonies all over the world in 1870, refused to participate. MacDonald was right that the sight of Red-coated British soldiers would intimidate us more than a bunch of rounded-up green Canadian militia so he pressed the British to join the expedition even harder. The British were worried that to antagonize the Natives in Rupert’s Land would anger the Americans with whom they were trying very hard to re-establish relations. Finally the British agreed to provide 400 soldiers on the condition that the “Roman Catholic” settlers were given a fair settlement. One can see now the risk and the design MacDonald and Cartier had in mind during the negotiations with Father Ritchot, Alfred Scott and Judge Black.

It is indeed a political world out there.

Colonel Wolseley, commander of the Prime Minister’s forces in Red River

Colonel Wolseley was the right man to lead the armed force west to Winnipeg. He had served in the British army overseas in the Crimea, India and China, and had been in Canada since 1861. To know the man would be to say that he was very much a British officer. One can discern for themselves from the following passage he wrote about me after the conflict:

Instead of [becoming a priest], he [Riel] became a clerk in a shop at St. Paul Minnesota, where he resided for a few years and was eventually dismissed for dishonesty. His prospects being under a cloud, he returned to the neighbourhood of Fort Garry and lived in the greatest poverty with his mother. So indigent were their circumstances, that finding himself succeeding in his role of demagogue, and considering it necessary to be the possessor of a black cloth coat, he was obliged to sell his mother’s only cow to procure the money required for that purpose.

One can only wonder how he was able to extrapolate this from the roadmap of my life. It reveals a way of thinking so completely out of touch with reality that it can either make you laugh or make your blood boil.

But Wolseley was a powerful man with over 1200 soldiers under his command. The force was made up of the 400 British regulars, 400 from the Canadian militia and 400 from the Quebec militia. It proved difficult to fill the 400 spaces with Frenchmen so the Orangemen in Upper Canada were all too happy to step forward and join the campaign. These were angry young men hell-bent on pursuing Manifest Destiny and making the dominion strong with British and Scots-Irish stock at any cost.

An excerpt by one of the many soldiers who undertook the campaign gives a good impression of how they saw the Red River campaign:

They [the soldiers] were prompted by a desire to protect the rights and liberty of the loyal people of Red River settlement, and to restore the Union Jack to its proper place over the walls of Fort Garry. In accomplishing this, they expected to meet in honourable combat, the scoundrels, who insulted our flag, robbed and plundered our fallen subjects, and hunted like wild beasts, the sturdy English-speaking pioneers who composed the bones and sinews of the settlement, and lastly without provocation, dyed their hands in the most diabolical butchery of a fellow being tortured in a manner that Nena Tahile in his palmiest days could never think of.

This of course was the thinking of one of the soldiers in this “friendly expedition [that was to] insure the safety of the Red River Settlement.” 

Regardless of the opinions of the soldiers involved in this campaign, let it be said that these men endured one of the hardest and most challenging marches in Canadian military history. The force made it to Fort William (Thunder Bay) on the north shore of Lake Superior but when they were supposed to meet up with the newly built Dawson Road they were horribly disappointed. The road had been washed out and destroyed by forest fires, leaving nothing but an overgrown forest and fallen timbers. Back-breaking work was required to overcome the obstacles in their way, each man carrying their own kit plus the artillery of canons and ammunition needed to subdue the Métis. Even the boats that had been allocated for the journey proved to be troublesome, many not well designed for the lakes and portages that had to be traversed in order to reach their destination. The portages were agonizing, with some over 50 miles long, which included carrying the boats and the hundreds of pounds of food needed to feed the troops during this arduous journey.

There were long periods of marching through soft muskeg and swamp and the mosquitoes and the wild black bears made it all seem like hell to most of the men. And this journey that took place in the late spring and summer of 1870 was wet with melted snow and then, near the end, beset with very hot temperatures with black flies and the horrors of boots not sturdy enough to take on the terrain. It was a dreadful experience and one that certainly affected the average soldier’s state of mind when they finally arrived in the Red River Territory.

Their frustration and anger at the terrain and weather for more than three months of journeying needed an outlet and our men the Métis were their focus of revenge.

It was the end of August when Wolseley’s force finally arrived in Red River, at first occupying the old Stone Fort just north of Fort Garry. Alfred Scott had returned from New York City and upon catching up with the latest developments, urged us to send out a force to meet them on Dawson’s Road and demand that the amnesty be produced lest they encounter resistance by the Métis. Scott insisted that we not let them enter Red River and that we hunker down and fight them in a guerilla war because we knew the terrain and best sniper spots and could hold them off until there was some settlement of the issue of amnesty. I was very tempted to follow this way of greeting Wolseley but it was Father Taché who insisted that the amnesty was only days away and that starting armed conflict with such a group of angry men was a no-win situation.

He cited the letter that had arrived directly from Colonel Wolseley that read:

The force which I have the honour of commanding will enter your Province representing no party, either in religion or politics and will afford equal protection to the lives and property of all races and of all creeds. Strictest order and discipline will be maintained and private property will be carefully respected.

For me this was the guarantee I needed to choose not to confront this force with armed conflict. The words and the things stated in this letter were exactly what I wanted to hear and I was happy enough with its contents. I even oversaw the printing of this letter and proceeded to give each citizen a copy of the letter to assuage any anxiety they might harbour knowing that 1200 hardened soldiers had walked and boated all the way here from Ottawa.

I even planned to celebrate their arrival with a big bonfire and speeches, one made by myself welcoming them to Red River. We were to have a grand feast followed by a church service. And to facilitate their prompt arrival I even sent out four boatloads of men to help clear the old Dawson Road to expedite their journey.

But none of this transpired.

When our men returned after hearing the banter around the campfires of the soldiers at night, we heard of nothing but their red-hot desire for revenge against the savages of Red River. Our men told us that these soldiers of this police force were out for blood. Even worse was the weather on August 23rd, the night they were on their way south to Fort Garry from the old Stone Fort. It was a storm and the rain decimated the soldier’s tents, leaving them waterlogged and miserable – a terrible state for any discourse of friendly peace. The writing was on the wall: we had been deceived by the Prime Minister and the Canadian government into thinking these men wanted peace and to protect us. It was an outright deception of monumental proportion. We hadn’t even prepared for this degree of deception.

Too trusting we had been perhaps?

Regardless, our choices were either to dig in our heels and fight this force hardened and chomping at the bit to kills us half-breeds in a racist fury, or to quietly abandon the fort and open the doors so that they could end their fiery journey in the comforts of the fort.

The rain did not subside and the men we sent out to see where they were returned late at night, saying the Wolseley force was only two miles away. I ordered all my men to gather their belongings in preparation of leaving the fort in the morning, which they did. I could only sleep less than an hour that night, dreading with worry the potential lethal confrontation that might happen when these wet, dangerous soldiers arrived at the fort. We were all able to leave Fort Garry just before the arrival of Wolseley’s men.

In fact I was only 300 yards away from the fort when they entered Fort Garry.

I even heard them give three cheers for the Queen as I stood beside my trusted ally O’Donoghue. I knew it was the end of it all and that I had to now fend for myself and protect myself from death via an angry bullet.

I had become an outlaw.



Thus began a period in my life I had never prepared for. It was all so new to me – an educated failed priest who for the love of family and country had decided to become a humble farmer but who had been caught up in the protection of my land as well as the lands of my brothers. From there I had followed the course of justice to ensure we were all protected, not consciously choosing a career in politics. I had stumbled into it all and now found myself reviled and chased by a group of men with hatred in their eyes after being promised goodwill and amnesty by a group of elected officials in Ottawa.

It was injustice pure and simple.

And it was so fundamentally wrong that at the time it brought me to the boiling point. However, perhaps due to my deep religious beliefs I did resign myself to fate but at the same time was not averse to fight against this intrigue and cunning. I chose to continue to protect myself from men who wanted me dead. In this I wholeheartedly threw myself into this new phase of running from “the law” and in effect became an outlaw.

It is true that most of this guile and deception had been born from the Thomas Scott affair. It was the outward reason why so many had jumped on the pro-British bandwagon and found justice of a kind in the seeking of my head on a platter, yet the irony was that Thomas Scott had been found guilty in a court of law and that his execution had not been cold-blooded murder. The twisting of facts and a focused propaganda war had created a firestorm with me at the centre of it all. It was like a nightmare that I could awake from.

And this was to become my life.

At the young age of 26.

Most students in schools throughout Canada read about my history in forming Manitoba and defending Métis land rights, and are aware of the major events of my life, but so very few are given an adequate understanding of how I came to be regarded as an outlaw. This is what this narrative addresses.

But I cannot leave the reader standing here without some summary of events that were to follow. It is true that I escaped to St Joseph’s Mission in the Dakota Territory. It was there where I became ill, not strong enough to return to my beloved Red River even as the new government took power, with many of my men taking positions of power. When I did eventually return in May, 1871, it was to aid Adams George Archibald in his defense of Manitoba against the Fenian raids coming from the US. He had allowed me back into Canada and had actually shaken my hand in front of the 50 or so troops I had under my command in the defense of Canada from these Irish-American insurgents.

This one handshake caused a stir in Upper Canada that whipped up both anti-Riel sentiment but also anti-Archibald sentiment.

I was bribed to stay in the US but I resisted, instead running for office in the riding of Provencher, where I would have won but instead handed my seat to Cartier, who was in favour of my amnesty. His early death ended my hopes of this much-needed amnesty and again I was an outlaw in my own country so I was ultimately forced to flee to upstate New York where I took work with Oblate Brothers in Plattsburgh. I became more interested in religion than politics so that my focus became all about God. Unfortunately my fervor soon knew no bounds for the Almighty and I had a few outbursts, which landed me in a mental asylum in Montreal under a pseudonym ‘Louis R David.” There, from 1875 to 1876 I was treated in the Longue-Pointe Asylum near Montreal, and I was sent to Beauport Asylum near Quebec City under the name ‘Louis Larochelle” where I went unnoticed due to the large beard I now had. I found religion as my calling and spent my days writing. I grew calmer and was soon released in 23 January, 1878.

I now called myself Louis David Riel, Prophet, Infallible Pontiff, and Priest King.” I regarded myself as guided by God.

I returned to upstate New York where I met a woman I wanted to marry in Keeseville. But my heart was still in the west so I decided to move west and then send for my fiancé Evelina Martin dite Barnabé. I returned to St Paul and met friends but then went farther west to the Montana Territory near Fort Benton where I worked as an interpreter and trader before becoming a teacher at a Jesuit Mission there. Montana was where I was out of reach of the Orangemen and the revengeful militia men that had made the tough journey across the North Channel of Lake Huron to Winnipeg, essentially connecting eastern Canada to western Canada. I met and married a fellow Métis Marguerite Monet dite Bellehumeur. I was rather happy with my books and my wife and two children living in Montana so close to the border of Canada but my name and what I stood for was not forgotten.

Great men like Gabriel Dumont fought on against injustices in Manitoba and Saskatchewan who eventually came to down Montana to fetch me to lead the movement once again against prejudice against the Métis and our struggle for fair representation.  

Gabriel Dumont, famous buffalo hunter and Red River fighter

This was to lead to the second rebellion that would be known in history as the North West Rebellion of 1885 – an event in Canadian history that I would become famous and that I would not survive. My religious fervor was strong and I chose to take up arms rather than trust the delaying tactics of the federal government, just as they had done 15 years ago. We raised our guns and fought valiantly at the Battle of Fish Creek on 24 April, 1885, and then at the Battle of Batoche from May 9 to 12. During these two battles I did not carry a gun; I merely led my troops on my horse carrying the cross. Nonetheless I was captured and put on trial with a jury of six Anglophones in Regina, Saskatchewan for treason. I was found guilty of treason but the jury recommended leniency, but I was sentenced to death – not for treason – but for the death of Thomas Scott.

Every schoolboy in Canada is given my speech to read and study. I spoke these words below knowing that they would be recorded and that my early and unjust death would count for something for centuries to come wherever there is racial injustice and an issue with land rights. I leave that speech here for readers to have idea of the impact my life had on subsequent generations of Canadians and students of justice around the world.

The Speech:

Your Honours, gentlemen of the jury: It would be easy for me today to play insanity, because the circumstances are such as to excite any man, and under the natural excitement of what is taking place today (I cannot speak English very well, but am to do so, because most of those here speak English), under the excitement which my trial causes me would justify me not to appear as usual, but with my mind out of its ordinary condition. I hope with the help of God I will maintain calmness and decorum as suits this honourable court, this honourable jury.

The Northwest my mother

You have seen by the papers in the hands of the Crown that I am naturally inclined to think of God at the beginning of my actions. I wish if I do it you won’t take it as a mark of insanity, that you won’t take it as part of a play of insanity. Oh, my God, help me through Thy grace and the divine influence of Jesus Christ. Oh, my God, bless me, bless this honourable court, bless this honourable jury, bless my good lawyers who have come seven hundred leagues to try to save my life, bless also the lawyers for the Crown, because they have done, I am sure, what they thought their duty. They have shown me fairness which at first I did not expect from them. Oh, my God, bless all those who are around me through the grace and influence of Jesus Christ our Savior. Change the curiosity of those who are paying attention to me, change that curiosity into sympathy with me.

The day of my birth I was helpless and my mother took care of me although she was not able to do it alone; there was someone to help her to take care of me and I lived. Today, although a man I am as helpless before this court, in the Dominion of Canada and in this world, as I was helpless on the knees of my mother the day of my birth. The Northwest is also my mother; it is my mother country and although my mother country is sick and confirmed in a certain way, there are some from Lower Canada who came to help her to take care of me during her sickness and I am sure that my mother country will not kill me more than my mother did forty years ago when I came into the world, because a mother is always a mother, and even if I have my faults, if she can see I am true, she will be full of love for me.

Indians suffering

When I came into the Northwest in July, the 1st of July 1884, I found the Indians suffering. I found the half-breeds eating the rotten pork of the Hudson Bay Company and getting sick and weak every day. Although a half-breed, and having no pretension to help the whites, I also paid attention to them. I saw they were deprived of responsible government, I saw that they were deprived of their public liberties. I remembered that half-breed meant white and Indian and while I paid attention to the suffering Indians and the half-breeds I remembered that the greatest part of my heart and blood was white and I have directed my attention to help the Indians, help the half-breeds and to help the whites to the best of my ability. We have made petitions, I have made petitions with others to the Canadian government asking to relieve the condition of this country.

We have taken time; we have tried to unite all classes, even may speak, all parties. Those who have been in close communication with me know I have suffered, that I have waited for months to bring some of the people of the Saskatchewan to an understanding of certain important points in our petition to the Canadian government and I have done my duty . . .

The agitation in the Northwest Territories would have been constitutional, and would certainly be constitutional today if, in my opinion, we had not been attacked. Perhaps the Crown has not been able to find out the particulars, that we were attacked, but as we were on the scene it was easy to understand. When we sent petitions to the government, they used to answer us by sending police, and when the rumours were increasing every day that Riel had been shot here or there, or that Riel was going to be shot by such and such a man, the police would not pay any attention to it. I am glad that I have mentioned the police, because of the testimony that has been given in the box during the examination of many of the witnesses. If I had been allowed to put questions to the witnesses, I would have asked them when it was I said a single word against a single policeman or a single officer . . .

Religious belief

As to religion, what is my belief? What is my insanity about that? My insanity, Your Honours, gentlemen of the jury, is that I wish to leave Rome aside, inasmuch as it is the cause of division between Catholics and Protestants. I did not wish to force my views, because in Batoche to the half-breeds that followed me I used the word, carte blanche. If I have any influence in the new world it is to help in that way and even if it takes two hundred years to become practical, then after my death that will bring out practical results, and then my children’s children will shake hands with the Protestants of the new world in a friendly manner. I do not wish these evils which exist in Europe to be continued, as much as I can influence it, among the half-breeds. I do not wish that to be repeated in America. That work is not the work of some days or some years, it is the work of hundreds of years.

Not insane

My condition is helpless, so helpless that my good lawyers, and they have done it by conviction—Mr. Fitzpatrick in his beautiful speech has proved he believed I was insane—my condition seems to be so helpless that they have recourse to try and prove insanity to try and save me in that way. If I am insane, of course I don’t know it, it is a property of insanity to be unable to know it . . .

You have given me your attention, Your Honours; you have given me your attention, gentlemen of the jury, and this great audience. I see that if I go any further on that point I will lose the favour you have granted me up to this time, and as I am aiming all the time at practical results, I will stop here, master of myself, through the help of God. I have only a few more words to say, Your Honours. Gentlemen of the jury, my reputation, my liberty, my life, are at your discretion. So confident am I, that I have not the slightest anxiety, not even the slightest doubt, as to your verdict . . .

Sham legislature 

The only things I would like to call your attention to before you retire to deliberate are: first, that the House of Commons, Senate, and ministers of the Dominion, and who make laws for this land and govern it, are no representation whatever of the people of the Northwest.

Second, that the Northwest Council generated by the federal government has the great defect of its parent.

Third, the number of members elected for the council by the people make it only a sham representative legislature and no representative government at all . . .

Acquit me

If you take the plea of the defence that I am not responsible for my acts, acquit me completely since I have been quarrelling with an insane and irresponsible government. If you pronounce in favour of the Crown, which contends that I am responsible, acquit me all the same. You are perfectly justified in declaring that having my reason and sound mind.

I have acted reasonably and in self-defence, while the government, my accuser, being irresponsible, and consequently insane, cannot but have acted wrong, and if high treason there is it must be on its side and not on my part.

HIS HONOUR: Are you done?
RIEL: Not yet, if you have the kindness to permit me your attention for a while.
HIS HONOUR: Well, proceed . . .

RIEL: I thank Your Honour for the favour you have granted me in speaking; I thank you for the attention you have given me, gentlemen of the jury, and I thank those who have had the kindness to encourage my imperfect way of speaking the English language by your good attention. I put my speech under the protection of my God, my Saviour, He is the only one who can make it effective. It is possible it should become effective, as it is proposed to good men, to good people, and to good ladies also.

These were the last words recorded from my life before I was hung from the rafters there that day, November 16, in Regina, Saskatchewan, 1885.

It took over four minutes for the life in me to stop before my spirit rose to heaven.

I was elected to the House of Commons as a representative three different times but I was not able to sit in the illustrious building in Ottawa due to the lack of amnesty that never came from the Queen of England. This one missing piece was the primary cause of my misfortune and led to the end of my life in 1885.

The Louis Riel stamp