THE RIDDLE OF LOUIS RIEL
A MACLEAN'S FLASHBACK
in two parts
They hanged Riel for his part in the bitterness and bloodshed that swept the Canadian west in its struggle for self-government. Was the métis mystic a murderer or a messiah? A famous Canadian writer takes a sharp objective look at fact and legend
W. O. MITCHELL
ON NOV. 16, 1885, the government of Canada hanged an American citizen as a traitor and a rebel. Sixty-six years later, at Battleford, Sask., the Prime Minister of Canada spoke up in the rebellious traitor’s defense. Instantly, so powerful are the feelings engendered by his name, a storm of hot discussion spread through the west. Newspapers broke out in a rash of letters to the editor as church dignities, service clubs, Mounted Police veterans and plain citizens placed indignant or approving pen to paper.
After half a century Louis “David” Riel is still a storm centre of bitter controversy. These things have been said about him and are still being said: Louis Riel was the founder of Manitoba; Louis Riel was the rebel murderer of a defenseless patriot whose resistance to Riel’s plotting brought him blindfolded before a firing squad; Louis Riel saved the Canadian northwest from annexation by the United States; Louis Riel intended giving the Canadian northwest to the United States; Louis Riel was insane; Lous Riel was eminently sane and feigned insanity for a purpose; Louis Riel was a gentle man who grew faint at the sight or thought of bloodshed; Louis Riel was responsible for and exulted in all the blood spilled in the Saskatchewan Insurrection of 1885; Louis Riel despised money, could not support his family or
purchase a respectabis sst of clothes in his entire life; Louis Riel was willing to sell any cause for a price; Louis Riel was a devout Roman Catholic; Louis Riel was an apostate bent on founding a heretic religion under a North American pope of his own choosing; Louis Riel, in short, was a hypocritical, dishonorable, treacherous rascal; Louis Riel, in short, was a noble, dedicated, visionary, patriotic hero.
The dark threads of classic tragedy form the fabric of the Riel story. This strange intense man with the brooding spirit went to his death on the scaffold after a swift fifteen-year span of events which changed the history of Canada. In that time—a decade of it spent in exile—Riel’s name fired the northwest like a prairie blaze. He sparked two rebellions, marked by massacre, prayer, cannon war and execution, twice set up a provisional government with himself as president, ran successfully for federal parliament while a hunted fugitive with a price on his he id, went insane, recovered, taught school, wrote poetry and, in eliect, fathered the new province of Manitoba.
Louis Riel was a riddle. A mystic one, of prairie wilderness and church and métis prid ?. History cornered him in the riddle of east and west, of fur trader and farmer, of church and state, of nationhood and colonialism, of conservatism and liberalism. His very personal life was a riddle. A classical sch lar and university graduate who wore moccasins for most of his life, he won the heart of a cultured woman and jilted her for an illiterate Montana halfbreed. If there could be any answer to what lay within his complex spirit it was in the shrieking wheels of Red River carts, the cry of a prairie wind compelling grasses low, the dying thunder of buffalo hooves wild sounds that could not carry over half a continent to parliamentary ears. Perhaps Riel himself came closest to the answer when the deputy sheriff on the Regina scaffold asked if he had anything to leave to his people. “Only my heart and I gave that to my people fifteen years ago,” he said.
This poet, orator, leader, mystic and martyr for fifteen years a thorn in the political side of Sir John A. Macdonald, known and respected by Joseph Howe, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and President Grant of the United States had a modest enough beginning in a one-room log cabin. Here in 1844, on the banks of the Assiniboine, where St. Vital now stands, he was born into a non-nomadic métis family. His mother was a pious Canadien woman married to Louis Riel Sr., from whom Louis inherited his one eighth of Indian blood.
From childhood he attended Mass at the twintowered cathedral in St. Boniface, where Bishop Taché preached down to the dark upturned faces of a congregation bright in checkered and colored flannel, fringed buckskin and brilliant capots. When he was seven he began school in the bishop’s library. At ten he was a dark-eyed, obedient and intently serious boy studying Latin. Already introspective and given to lonely contemplation, he was a mother’s boy. Long solitary walks under the prairie sky made him a dreamer who loved nature and the spacious freedom of the plains.
On a Rock on Mount Royal
Bishop Taché soon picked him and three other métis boys as promising candidates for further education at Montreal College. In Chicago, en route, young Louis saw and ate his first orange.
Montreal was even more exotic and alien to young Riel. He replaced his moccasins and their pink-stitched pattern of wild roses with boots. A barber’s haircut supplanted his mother’s rough trim. College life in Montreal, away from a family to which he was deeply attached, pushed Riel a little further into his habit of daydreaming. He announced to his teachers one day that he was not Louis Riel at all but a Jew, Mordecai, who had been substituted for Louis Riel. When his bishop asked Riel the meaning of this silliness Louis said it was just a whim. There was a long pause. Louis cleared his throat. “All the same,” he added, “it could be.” J
His father died in 1864 when Riel was twenty. He became the absent head of a family composed of his mother and eight younger children. He began to miss classes, to sit alone on a rock on Mount Royal. He went to study law rather than continue in studies for the priesthood. In his spare time he took up the writing of poetry, a habit that continued throughout his life.
Finally, he left Montreal for the west. By midsummer 1868 he was back in Red River.
When he stepped off the boat Riel was a comparatively unknown young man of twenty-four. Warm and emotional in nature he had a hairtrigger temper which he did his best to control. He would frequently switch from anger to politeness, asling the person he had just been raging at to forgive him. Contradiction in an argument annoyed him most. He was clever and articulate, spoke passable English and carried himself with noticeable erect ness. He was proud of his brown hair which he parted on the right side and brought over in a curl. He was considered handsome by both the métis and English girls of the settlement. Carried away in the excitement of a discussion he used his slender graceful hands freely in gesture. He had a weakness for punning and a quick wit. Five feet eleven inches tall with a broad brow and dark rather protuberant eyes which had a disconcerting steadiness, he selciom laughed but frequently smiled a slow and reluctant smile.
The Jail That Was a Joke
The year of Louis’ arrival in the colonial Red River settlement was a bad year for the métis and English settlers. The buffalo hunt failed. A plague of grasshoppers ruined the crops. The Canadian government began the building of the Dawson road to the east. Surveyors ! came like grasshoppers running their lines on the section plan, cutting across the long strip holdings of the métis along the river banks.
Perhaps the most unsettling influence was the Nor’wester, a four-page newspaper published by a Dr. John Christian Schultz, who had gathered around himself a group known as the Canadian Party. Schultz controlled the only newspaper in the settlement. A bear of a man in his late twenties, he and his group made a noise far out of proportion to their numbers. An opportunist, Schultz became friendly with Col. J. S. Dennis, the head surveyor, and bought himself huge tracts of land.
Another loud and articulate voice in the Canadian Party was that of Thomas Scott, a lean and gangling North Irishman who had come from Ontario with the Dawson road gang. A rabid and violent Orangeman, Scott had tried to drown a man. Found guilty, he was fined twenty-five dollars for his little burst of frontier spirit. His angular face with its two glinting gold teeth was a familiar one at. meetings in the Nor’wester printing building, or the Schultz store, where the Canadian Party met.
A community of stone forts, stores, mud huts and saloons ringed by the tepees of Saulteaux and Sioux who had (led across the border after a massacre in Minnesota, the Red River settlement was desperately in need of strong sure government. Its dwellers were tensely uncertain of their fate now that the Hudson’s Bay was giving up its charter. They were worried about the title to their lands and divided by religious and racial differences.
The settlement’s government in fact was the almost impotent Council of Assiniboia composed of sixteen members all appointed by the Hudson’s Bay Company from London. Its courts were a laughing stock. In 1862 Rev. James Corbett of Headingly was arrested, tried and imprisoned after ! a disappointing abortion performed on a servant girl in his employ. His friends stormed the prison and released him. In the spring of 1868 Dr. Schultz, the self-assertive publisher of the Nor’wester, was brought to court and ordered to pay money owed to creditors. The bailiff who went to his home to execute the judgment returned beaten up. Schultz was put in jail. Twelve of his friends called together by Mrs. Schultz broke open the prison and carried him away on their
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shoulders. Schultz never paid the judgment.
The arrival of the surveyors running lines indiscriminately over the métis farms added to the pervading insecurity and uncertainty. No one knew what was going to become of the northwest now that it was understood the Hudson’s Bay Company had agreed to sell the ancient fur preserve to Canada.
Most upset of all the Red River people, the métis held many meetings. Riel—clever, articulate, educated, possessed of an instinctive flair for leadership—seemed a natural choice for a spokesman. He and a group began to pull up surveyors’ stakes until they had effectively stopped all work. Then they formed the National Council of Métis, based on their old buffalo-hunt governments. Riel was secretary but, in effect, leader.
If the building of the Dawson road and the indiscriminate surveying of the Red River settlement had been hasty, Sir John A. Macdonald’s next step was breathless. He appointed Hon. William McDougall lieutenant-governor of the northwest and sent him west with powers to select his own council of fifteen. The Métis Council, which the members of the Canadian Party referred to slightingly as “the pemmican government,” decided no one was imposing a government on them until they had been consulted. The council erected a barricade on the road from the American border, in St. Norbert; they sent messengers who stopped McDougall at the border.
Just before this Joseph Howe, Secretary of State, had visited the settlement and had a long talk with Louis Riel. The two had much in common, since Howe’s own Nova Scotia had appealed to Britain after Confederation for redress of grievances. Howe told Riel to sit tight. On his way back east Howe passed William McDougall and his entourage. He told them not a word about what they were likely to run into.
McDougall made an unsucceasful attempt to cross the border with his entourage. He was forced to return. He wrote to Sir John A. Macdonald, explaining how he was being forced to leapfrog across the border. The Prime Minister, who was not particularly warm toward McDougall, laughed uproariously and wrote the exiled governor to go cautiously for he was trying to enter a foreign country just as surely as though he were crossing the American border to Buffalo. He told him more sternly not to come back to Canada and cover himself and his party with indignity. Ironically he added: “This Riel is a clever fellow whom you should try to retain in your future police.” He suggested that McDougall might have to bribe his way in, building a “golden bridge” to the Red River Settlement. Then to further help McDougall along, Macdonald refused to take delivery of the northwest territory from Great Britain. A state of war existed. The agreement, he said, was for the delivery of one territory at peace.
In the meantime Dr. Schultz had begun to form a small army of his own, using his store for a fort. McDougall, impatient on the border, decided that a drastic situation demanded drastic measures. He reached for his quill, stilled his chattering teeth, and drafted a royal but false proclamation in the name of Queen Victoria, announcing that the northwest had been turned over to Canada. McDougall’s impressive proclamation expressed the hope that all the Queen’s beloved Red River settlers would now submit to his
authority. In a letter-writing mood that night he sent a note to Secretary of State Joseph Howe, saying: “I hope I am not wrong in using Her Majesty’s name in such an emphatic fashion.” He had Col. Dennis, the head surveyor, post copies of the proclamation on the doors and walls of Fort Garry. He also commissioned Dennis to raise an army to attack the métis and seize their horses, carts and wagons. Then through Dr. Schultz he made arrangements to arouse the Sioux Indians, who surrounded the settlement.
Riel recognized the proclamation as counterfeit. He soothed the Sioux and on Dec. 18 McDougall, now nicknamed Wandering Willie, pulled up stakes and headed back for Upper Canada. Meanwhile Riel moved against Dr. Schultz and his Canadian Party members, who had barricaded themselves in Schultz’ warehouse. They surrendered to the métis, who discovered afterward that the fireplaces and stoves had been stuffed with gunpowder in the hope that Riel might ask for a little warmth while making an inventory of the government salt pork which was stored there.
Not One Drop of Blood
Riel lowered the Hudson’s Bay Co. banner from the Fort Garry flagpole, ran up a new flag with the fleur-de-lis on a white background and a small buffalo in one corner. The fort’s cannons fired a salute; a band played; métis leaders made speeches; Riel addressed the crowd. On Dec. 27 he was elected president of the Métis Council. Riel announced he would recognize only the dictates of the British government as the settlement now belonged neither to Canada or the the Hudson’s Bay Co. Next month three delegates arrived from the Canadian government: John A. Macdonald had stopped laughing over the Red River impasse—there was a distinct threat that the territory might become part of the U. S. With Ottawa’s blessing, a provisional government was formed headed by Riel. Fireworks, originally stocked to mark McDougall’s arrival, were set off in celebration. Riel released sixteen of his prisoners—taken during the raid on Schultz—and promised to set the rest free.
Without the shedding of a drop of blood Riel had led the métis and English settlers into the calm waters of unity, an astonishing feat in leadership for a young man of twenty-five, forced to make split-second decisions from hour to hour. He had surely walked a tightrope course, balancing without a misstep in spite of harassment from both sides and at either end of the wire.
In the meantime, a number of the prisoners had escaped from the fort, among them Thomas Scott and Dr. Schultz, who had torn his buffalo robe up in strips and lowered himself from the window of his cell. Schultz and Scott went to Portage la Prairie and with the help of Maj. Charles A. Boulton, a member of the Dennis survey party, began to organize an army to release the rest of the prisoners and overthrow Riel’s government. They were recaptured. In jail or out, Thomas Scott caused Riel trouble. He had never ceased to rail at his guards. He planned an escape which involved setting fire to the place and getting away in the excitement. On another day he leaped on his guard, shouting for the other prisoners to do the same. Riel went to Scott’s cell and told him that if he didn’t change his tune there would be an execution.
“You wouldn’t dare,” said Scott.
“Ask me what other sort of punishment you’d prefer?” Riel said to him.
“I want nothing from you,” Scott retorted. “You’re just a bunch of criminals!”
“That’s enough of that,” said one of Riel’s men. “That man deserves to be court-martialed. It’s going to be his life or yours!”
On March 3 Scott was tried for armed revolt and for continued insubordination in the prison. As Scott was led in Riel was going out. The prisoner struggled to escape his guards and get at Riel. He defied the court to condemn him to death. They offered to conduct him to the American border if he would leave the country.
“Lead me out of the country if it suits you,” Scott said. “As soon as your back’s turned I’ll be on my way back! I’ll get to the settlement just as soon as you will. Sentence me to death, if you dare!”
At neon on March 4 the Anglican Bishop of Saskatchewan, Archdeacon Maclean, with a Bible, went into Scott’s room. Followed by twenty guards Scott visited each room where there were prisoners; at each door he said “Good-by boys.” He was marched down the stairs with his hands tied behind his back with a white rag tied around his neck and hanging down behind ready to be lifted to his eyes.
He knelt in the snow and, as two rifle balls struck him almost deadcentre in the chest, he fell forward, his blood running out with shocking generosity to honeycomb the new snow with its warmth. Ambroise Lépine, who was to give the coup de grâce, said “I can’t do it.”
André Nault, Riel’s second-in-command, stepped forward, drew out his
Colt and put a cartridge through Scott’s ear. The body was never seen again.
Riel said: “The political complications of the Red River settlement made his death inevitable.”
Five days later Riel’s old benefactor, Bishop Taché, who had been recalled from Rome by the Canadian government to straighten out the Red River trouble, arrived in the settlement to tell Riel and his people they would have a voice in the terms of their entry into Confederation and that there would be a general amnesty.
The fireworks were over. Riel released his prisoners. Three delegates were sent to Ottawa with a bill of rights asking for provincial self-government. The Manitoba Act was adopted and passed on May 12. It, gave Riel everything he asked for except the promised amnesty. Based on his bill of rights it, made Manitoba a province of Canada governed by a lieutenantgovernor, upper house and legislature. Existing property rights were to be respected and bilingual separate schools were provided for.
On Aug. 24, in a driving rain, Col. Garnet Wolseley and his army entered Fort Garry. He had been sent out by Ottawa to assure peace and order in the Red River. Riel’s scouts reported that his soldiers were recruited most ly from Ontario Orangemen and were yelling for Riel’s blood. Riel himself was sitting at breakfast when suddenly James Stewart, one of his followers, burst in, crying: “For God's sake get out! The troops are only two miles away and the soldiers are talking of killing you!”
As Riel left one door of the fort Wolseley’s soldiers entered another. In St. Boniface he called on Bishop Taché, who asked him what he was going to do.
“Climb on a horse and go with the grace of God.” said Riel. “It doesn’t matter what happens now. The rights of the métis-of their religion and their language—are assured by the Manitoba Act. My mission is completed.”
In Disguise in Ottawa
The promised general pardon for the Red River rebels was side-stepped for reasons of expediency. Riel’s secondin-command, André Nault, was beaten, bayoneted and left for dead. A friend, Bob O’Lone, was killed in a dance-hall brawl. Elzéar Goulet was chased into the Assiniboine and stoned until he sank. The bitterness engendered by Scott’s execution still hadn’t thinned when Riel came to trial fifteen years later.
By 1871 there was a price of five thousand dollars on Riel’s head. It was placed there by the province of Ontario and Thomas Scott’s home county of Middlesex. Riel himself moved from hiding place to hiding place. One evening at dusk he appeared phantomlike from a haystack before a passing boy. “Tell them,” said Riel, “that he who reigned over the fort is now a homeless wanderer with only a dried sucker for food.”
But, exile or no, he ran as member of parliament for Provencher riding and was elected by a majority of a hundred and twenty-six votes. In March 1874 he made his way to Ottawa, which was guarded by extra police ready to apprehend him if he showed up. Disguised, he was sworn in the day before parliament opened. Only after he left did the parliamentary clerk recognize the sure well-formed strokes of his signature and the R with its extra loop. Riel never took his seat and was therefore expelled. Later that summer he turned up in Washington where he met and impressed President Ulysses Grant and sought appointment as government
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agent to the Indians in the western
A year later, in spite of strong opposition, a full amnesty was granted to all involved in the 1870 trouble, except for Riel and two other leaders. Riel was banished from Her Majesty’s Dominions for five years and political privileges taken from him for life. The price on his head was removed.
During his exile Riel had come to know Evelina Barnabe, sister of Father Barnabe of Keeseville, N. Y. He had become almost one of the family, living in the rectory, going regularly to Mass with Evelina. The magic of his personality was such that Evelina fell in love with him and they became engaged.
But where his heart sought rest (here was no rest for his turbulent mind. He found it almost impossible to sleep. He shocked Evelina and Father Barnabe by striding about the rectory roaring like a buffalo bull. He was certain now that he was one of a divine trilogy made up of the Count of Chambord, Don Carlos and Louis Riel. It was bovine: a white hull, Chambord; a black bull, Don Carlos, and a red bull, Louis Riel.
He was taken to Longue Pointe asylum where he smashed the ornaments and candles in the choir to show the Mother Superior that he must be treated as a gentleman. He stood against the wall of his room with arms out as a crucifix to prove he was Christ crucified; he broke his iron cot with his bare hands and used it to smash the ventilators, the sashes, the entire cell. It took three men to subdue him.
The storms subsided and after his release Riel was able to look back on (hem with some objectivity. “I had come to believe myself a prophet . . . Today I am better, I laugh at myself, at my hallucinations of the brain. I have a free spirit, but when one speaks to me of the metis, those poor tragic people, of the fanatic Orangemen, of the brave hunters who are treated like savages, who are of my blood, who have chosen me as their leader, who love me, and whom I love as brothers, ah, alas! my blood boils, my head gets on fire, and it is wiser to speak of other things.”
He was still hopeful of finding a position with the U. S. Indian Department hut in the spring of 1878 he decided to go to the western territories without official status. He promised Evelina he would send for her.
Not long afterward Evelina picked up a Montana newspaper and saw in t he births, marriages and death column the announcement of a marriage between Louis Riel and Marguerite Monet Belhumeur. Louis had married a gentle, illiterate woman of the prairies, one-half Blackfoot.
For the next five years Riel lived at St. Peter’s, Mont., teaching school. He took out his American citizenship papers, wrote letters to the papers protesting the debauching of the 1 ndians and metis by white rum traders, got. into a lawsuit on the charge of persuading métis to vote illegally and was acquitted. By 1884 he had a daughter and an infant son. He might have ended his life a sort of buckskin schoolmaster writing poems and indignant letters to newspapers if a delegation had not called on him, saddle-sore and weary after their long ride from northern Saskatchewan, then a federal district of the Canadian northwest along with Assiniboia, Alberta and Athabaska.
It was the same old story: government surveyors marking out land on the section-square American plan so that their lines ran through the long métis strips stretching back from the rivers. There was uncertainty as to the title of the land northwest settlers
had squatted on. There were petitions sent to Ottawa again and again over a period of twelve years: delegates
traveled east, but the eighty-four petitions from Prince Albert, Qu’Appelle, from the Cypress Hills, from Duck Lake, and the letters from priests, inspectorsof mounted police, lieutenantgovernors, members of the Northwest Council, by private citizens—all were shelved or ignored in Ottawa. The delegation led by Gabriel Dumont had come to ask Riel to be their leader. He accepted.
Riel arrived in Saskatchewan about July 1, 1884, after a decade in the U. S. He addressed meetings during summer and fall, advising patience and moderation. His cause was championed throughout the country. In December under Riel’s guidance a bill of rights was adopted and forwarded to Ottawa. It was ignored.
By early spring in 1885 no one in the northwest doubted the discontent would break out in armed conflict. It came at Duck Lake about forty miles southwest of Prince Albert.
Riel had set up a provisional government. Now he ordered Superintendent Crozier, the mounted police officer in charge of Fort Carlton—not far from Duck Lake—to surrender all government supplies. Otherwise, Riel wrote, ‘‘We intend to attack when the Lord’s Day is over,” and signed himself Louis “David” Riel, Exovede. Crozier refused. With a force of fifty-six Mounties and forty-three Prince Albert volunteers he met Riel’s armed métis at Duck Lake. A short parley followed, a scuffle ensued, Crozier’s halfbreed translator shot Gabriel Dumont’s brother, Isidore, dead. The battle of Duck Lake was on.
It lasted thirty-five minutes. Nine volunteers and three policemen were killed and twenty-five wounded by an enemy they could not see and in snow' so deep they could not charge and dislodge by direct attack. The volunteers died with last words such as those of William Napier: “Tell Mother I died like a man.”
On the métis side Riel, on horseback and unarmed, rode about with a crucifix in his hand. When Crozier and his men retreated, Gabriel Dumont, who had received a head wound, called on his people to pursue and destroy them. Riel asked that for the love of God no more be slain, and Crozier of the Mounted Police was allowed to get away.
Throughout the rest of the Saskatchewan affair half of Riel’s energies were expended in moderating the enthusiams of Dumont, the other half in keeping métis supporters intent on rebellion. In a sense the insurrection was as much a religious movement as it was racial and political. The minutes of Riel’s war council often read more like those of a church convention. Dumont on the other hand was more hard headed. A giant of a man, he was known as the best shot, the finest swimmer, the hardest rider in the northwest. From the age of twenty-five he had led a roving band of métis and Sarcee and Cree Indians. It was he rather than Riel who set about stirring up the Indians to help the métis cause. The more or less systematic agitation among the Indians was climaxed by the massacre at Frog Lake on April 2.
The Frog Lake post, about a hundred miles from Battleford, came under the command of Insp. Dickens of nearby Fort Pitt, son of the author of Oliver Twist. It was in the territory of Big Bear and his band of three hundred Cree warriors. Big Bear and his people were hungry. At the beginning of the winter Thomas Quinn, the Indian agent, had cut their food ration in half. A fiery-tempered alcoholic, Quinn had no qualms about selling the other half
of Big Bear’s treaty rations at a profit.
The night of April 1, 1885, a great quantity of ochre and vermilion was smeared and streaked over Cree warriors’ cheeks The next morning a hand of Crees under the leadership of Wandering Spirit abducted Quinn from his bedroom, ordered him downstairs, then went to the Hudson’s Bay store, where they forced the trader to give them more arms.
The Indians herded the whites to the church, where Mass was said. Then Wandering Spirit ordered the Frog Dike people to start marching for the Indian camp. Quinn angrily refused.
Wandering Spirit stared at the man he considered responsible for his empty belly, a man who was halfbreed Sioux and therefore a double enemy of any Cree. He repeated this command again. As Quinn did not obey, Wandering Spirit said angrily, “If you care for your life you’re going to do what I tell you! Go to the camp!”
Quinn again refused and again. “I’ll stay here,” he said stubbornly.
“I told you to go!” yelled Wandering Spirit, and as he spoke he shot Quinn through the heart.
The massacre of the rest took only a few moments. The Indians rushed at George Dill, a trader, who broke and ran in stumbling terror. It was an unequal race, Dill on foot, the Indians on ponies. Dill stopped and stood helplessly still to be slaughtered. They turned then to shoot William Gilchrist, a bookkeeper, his twitching body falling next to George Dill’s. Then came the turn of seventy - five - year - old Williseraft, who ran in the direction of the rest of the whites on their way to Indian camp. He had just reached Gowanlock, owner of the Frog Lake mills, screaming, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” when he pitched forward into the bushes with a bullet between his thin shoulder blades. Gowanlock had only time to say, “My dear wife, he brave to the end,” before the clear crack of a bullet put the period to his last words.
Delaney, the agricultural instructor whom the Indians hated almost as much as they had Quinn, received a mortal wound. Father Fafard threw himself down beside the dying man and Delaney, with the bright blood of a lung wound, began the confiteor. “My poor brother,” said Fafard, “I think you are safe with God.” He said the last word, another Indian gun cracked and he fell prostrate over the body of Delaney - both of them writhing together.
As Father Marchand tried to lift the dying priest’s body he received his bullet. The last to die was C. Gouin, a Sioux halfbreed carpenter.
One man escaped, Cameron, the Hudson’s Bay Company trader, who made it to the bush, then to friendly Indians. Two women, Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Gowanlock, were dragged from their husband’s bodies and taken to the Indian camp where they were saved by a métis who ransomed them for two horses and thirty dollars.
With the Duck Lake battle and the Frog Lake massacre, the government roused itself from its lethargy. General Frederick Middleton had been sent to Winnipeg, arriving there on March 27. There he called out the 90th Battalion; in the east troops from the 10th Royal Grenadiers, the Queen’s Own Rifles, the 65th Mount Royal Rifles, and others were raised.
The Saskatchewan insurrection of 1885 and the last chapter in the tragic life of Louis Riel had truly and officially begun.
In the second and concluding installment in the next issue of Maclean’s, W. O. Mitchell tells the dramatic story of Riel’s capture, trial and execution. it