The-"Rill of Rights" was published on December 5th. It tended to
reassure the English settlers and induce them to wait for a peaceable
settlement of the troubles of the colony. The collapse of Colonel
Dennis' attempt to raise an armed force and his proclamation tended in
the same direction. Joint action on the part of the Metis and English
factions seemed possible once more. Many of the Metis retired from Port
Garry to their homes, leaving only about sixty men there.
December 10th, two days after he had proclaimed the establishment of a
provisional government, Riel hoisted its flag over Fort Garry The design
on the tiag combined the
fleur-de-lis with the shamrock; and it is
said that the latter emblem was added at the suggestion of W. R.
O'Donoghue, one of Riel's councillors from St. Boniface. The adoption of
the shamrock as one of the. emblems on his flag may have given rise to
the rumor that Riel was acting in collusion with Fenians across the
international boundary, and the rumor received some corroboration from
articles advocating annexation to the United States, which appeared in
the New Nation
about the time that paper became the organ of Riel's party. Riel
himself, however, steadily protested that he was opposed to annexation
and that he desired to maintain a provisional government, representative
of all classes in the community, until the rights of the people could be
secured from Canada. Had his acts been as moderate as his statements and
had he kept faith with the men who surrendered at Dr. Schultz' house, he
might have won the co-operation of the English element in the
population; but unfortunately the breakdown of the movement in
opposition to him made him more arbitrary than ever. lie persistently
refused to release his prisoners and added to their number by
incarcerating men who were known to disapprove strongly of his methods;
and he continued to take from the stores of the Hudson's Bay Company and
private merchants what he needed for his followers.
Dominion government finally took action in regard to the Red River
rebellion, although it was a step towards pacification rather than
definite settlement of the trouble. On December 4th the secretary of
state, Hon. Mr. Howe, instructed Rev. Grand Vicar Thibault to proceed to
the Red River Settlement and present the views and purposes of the
government to the people there. Colonel de Salaberrv was to act as his
colleague. Mr. Howe's letter of instructions to the two commissioners
gave them no real power to conclude any arrangements with the colony and
was very vague and general in what it promised to the people. It stated
that, in the four provinces already federated men of all classes, races,
and creeds were on perfect equality the eyes of the government and the
law, and that no government would attempt to establish different
conditions in the North-West; it pointed to the fact that the rights of
the Indians in eastern Canada had always been respected and that no
Indian wars had ever occurred there, and it promised that the Indians of
the west would be justly treated; it declared that there would have been
bloodshed in the Red River Settlement, if the Dominion and imperial
governments had not shown so much moderation; it assured the people that
proclamation and the instructions to Governor McDougall would show them
how groundless were their fears that they would receive unfair treatment
or that their political rights would be ignored; intimated that the
fullest measure of self-government would be given the colony as soon as
possible; and concluded with a little fling at the indiscretion shown by
December 6th the proclamation of the governor-general, Sir John Young,
afterwards Lord Lisgar, was issued to the people of the Nortli-West
Territories. The following are its principal clauses:
t'^'The Queen has charged me, as Her Representative, to inform you that
certain misguided persons in Her Settlement on the Red River have banded
themselves together to oppose by force the entry into Her North-West
Territories of the officer selected to administer, in Her name, the
government, when the Territories are united to the Dominion of Canada,
under the authority of the late Act of Parliament of the ITnited
Kingdom; and that those parties have also forcibly, and with violence,
prevented others of Her loyal subjects from ingress into the country.
"Her Majesty feels assured that she may rely upon the loyalty of Her
subjects in the North-West, and believes those men, who have thus
illegally joined together, have done so from some misrepresentation.
"The Queen is convinced that, in sanctioning the union of the North-West
Territories with Canada, she is promoting the best interests of the
residents, and at the same time strengthening and consolidating Her
North American possessions as part of the British Empire. You may then
judge of the sorrow and displeasure with which the Queen reviews the
unreasonable and lawless proceedings which have occurred.
"Her Majesty commands me to state to you that she will always be ready,
through me as Her Representative, to redress all well-founded
grievances, and that she has instructed me to hear and consider any
complaints that may be made, or desires that may be expressed to me as
Governor-General. At the same time she has charged me to exercise all
the powers and authority with which she has trusted me in the support of
order and the suppression of unlawful disturbances.
Her Majesty's authority, I do therefore assure you, that on the union
with Canada all your civil and religious rights and privileges will be
respected, your properties secured to you, and that your country will be
governed, as in the past, under British laws and in the spirit of
do further, under Her authority, entreat and command those of you who
are still assembled and banded together in defiance of law, peaceably to
disperse and return to your homes, under the penalties of the law in
case of disobedience.
"And I do lastly inform you, that in case of your immediate and
peaceable obedience and dispersion, I shall order that no legal
proceedings be taken against any parties implicated in these unfortunate
breaches of the law."
the next day Mr. Howe sent a letter to Governor McDougall, amplifying
the pledges contained in the proclamation of the governor general.
Unfortunately the letter reached Pembina after the governor had departed
for Ottawa, and its contents were not made known to the people of Red
River until January 25th. Mr. Howe said:
"You will now be in a position, in your communications with 1he
residents of the North-West, to assure them:
That all their civil and religious liberties and privileges will be
That all their properties, rights and equities of every kind, as enjoyed
under the government of the Hudson's Bay Company, ;<will be continued to
That in granting titles to land now occupied by the settlers, the most
libera] policy will be pursued.
That the present tariff of customs duties will be continued for two
years from the 1st of January next, except in the case of spirituous
liquors, as specified in the order-in-council above alluded to.
That in forming your council the Governor-General will see that not only
the Hudson's Bay Company but the other classes of the residents are
fully and fairly represented.
That your council will have the power of establishing municipal self
government at once, and in such manner as they think most beneficial to
That the country will be governed, as in the past, by British law, and
according to the spirit of British justice.
That the present government is to be considered as merely provisional
and temporary, and that the Government of Canada will be prepared to
submit a measure to parliament, granting a liberal constitution, so soon
as you, as Governor, and your council have had an opportunity of
reporting fully on the wants and requirements of the territory.
"You had, of course, instructions on the above-mentioned points,
excepting as regards the tariff, before you left Ottawa, but it has been
thought well that I should repeat them to you in this authoritative l&rmjfi
sending out Rev. Thihault and Colonel de Salaberry the government hoped
to pacify the insurgents without committing itself to any precise plan
for the future government of the colony ; but a few days later it
decided that more definite action was necessary, and it dispatched to
Fort Garry a representative invested with real power to deal with the
discontented colonists. Shortly after his arrival at Pembina Governor
McDougall had reported to Ottawa that the inactivity of the Hudson's Bay
Company seemed to 'warrant the; inference that its officials had
considerable sympathy with the position taken by the Metis. This was
scarcely fair, however, for on November 24th Mr. Donald A. Smith, now
Lord Strathcona, wrote to Hon. Mr. Howe, by request of the directors of
the Hudson's Bay Company, offering all the assistance in its power to
restore peace and order in the Red River Settlement. After some
deliberation the government accepted this offer, and on December 10th
the secretary of state wrote to Mr. Smith, appointing him a commissioner
with power to bring about the best settlement possible with the people
of the western colony The
letter was as follows:
"Sir—1 have the honor to inform you that His Excellency the
Governor-General has been pleased to appoint you Special Commissioner,
to inquire into and report upon the causes and extent of the armed
obstruction offered at the Red River, in the North-West Territories, to
the peaceful ingress of the Hon. Wm. McDougall, the gentleman selected
to be the Lieutenant-Governor of that country on its union with Canada.
"Also, to inquire into and report upon the causes of the discontent and
dissatisfaction at the proposed change that now exists there.
"Also, to explain to the inhabitants the principles on which the
Government of Canada intends to govern the country, and to remove any
misapprehension which may exist on the subject.
''And also to take such steps, in concert with Mr. McDougall and
Governor Mactavish, as may seem most proper for effecting the peaceable
transfer of the country and the government from the Hudson's Bay
authorities to the Government of the Dominion. You will consider this
communication as your letter of appointment as Government Commissioner.
"With this letter you will receive:
copy of the letter of instructions given to Mr McDougall on leaving
Ottawa, dated 28th September last;
''Copy of further letter of instructions to Mr. McDougall. dated 7th
"Copy of the Proclamation issued by nis Excellency the Governor-General,
addressed to the inhabitants of the North-West Territories, by the
express desire of Her Majesty.
"These will enable you to speak authoritatively on the subject of your
"You will proceed with all dispatch to Pembina, and arrange with Mr.
McDougall as to your future course of action; and then go on to Fort
Garry, and take such steps as, after such consultation, may seem most
expedient. You will, of course, consult Governor Mactavish, and endeavor
to arrange one system of concerted action in the pacification of the
country, with Mr. McDougall, the Hudson 's Bay authorities, and yourself
the information received by the Government here is necessarily
imperfect, and as the circumstances at. the Red River are continually
changing, it is not considered expedient to hamper you with more
specific instructions. You will, therefore, act according to the best of
your judgment in concert with Mr. McDougall, and you will keep me fully
informed by every mail of the progress of events.
addition to the more immediate object of your mission, you are requested
to report on the best mode of dealing with the Indian Tribes in the
country, and generally to make such suggestions as may occur to you as
to the requirements of the country for the future."
Smith left at once for Fort Garry and reached it on December 27th. He
took the precaution of leaving his commission and the official documents
committed to him in the hands of Mr. J. A. N. Provencher at Pembina, ne
found Colonel de Salaberry at the border town, for that gentlemen was
doubtful if the Metis would allow him to enter the settlement; but Rev.
Thibault had gone forward and had reached St. Boniface a day before Mr.
Smith arrived at Fort Garry. lie had left his commission with his
colleague; but that gentleman rejoined him on January 6th, and then
their papers were handed to Riel. The Metis leader, having read the
documents, remarked that they gave the bearers no power and retained
them. The two commissioners were kept as virtual prisoners in the
bishop's palace and had no
chance to discuss matters with the people, and so they accomplished very
little. Perhaps the government did not expect them to do more. Mr. Smith
was allowed to occupy quarters with his fellow officers of the Hudson's
Bay Company; but he, too, was closely watched by Riel's men and was
little better than a prisoner.
December 25, 1869, Mr. Bruce resigned as president of the Metis council,
and at a meeting, held two days later, Riel was appointed as his
successor. On January 8th the following notices were gazetted in the
New Nation: "Orders of the Provisional
Government of Rupert's Land. "The people of Rupert's Land are notified
by these presents:— "That at a meeting of the Representatives of the
People, held at Fort Garry, on the 27th day of December, 1869, the
following resolutions were adopted:—
"1st.—Mr. John Bruce having, on account of ill health, resigned his
position as president, Mr. Louis Riel was chosen to replace him.
"The new president takes this opportunity, in conjunction with the
Representatives of the People, to express their high sense of the
qualities which distinguish the ex-president. Among others, his modesty,
the natural moderation of his character, and the justness of his
judgment. These qualities, which were of such great assistance to the
people, deserve public recognition, and the Representatives accepted his
resignation only in the hope hereby to preserve the health of one dear
"2nd.—Mr. Francois Xavier Dauphinais has been chosen Vice-President, t,
"3rd.—Mr. Louis Schmidt has been aj>pointed Secretary of the Council
"4th.—Mr. W. B. O'Donoghue has been appointed Secretary-Treasurer.
"5tli.—Mr. Ambroise Lepine has been appointed Adjutant-General on
'6th.—It has been decided that Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne should be
continued in his position as Postmaster.
"7th.—All the officers or employees of the old government who might
pretend to exercise that old authority shall be punished for high
shall be administered by the Adjutant-General, whose council shall be
composed of Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne, F. X. Dauphinais, and Pierre Poitras.
This council will sit on the first and third Monday of each month.
"9th.—All licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors must be given by
the Adjutant's council, and all those who took this kind of license on
the 1st of December last, must have them renewed by the said council.
publishing these orders the President and Representatives of the People,
anxious to draw upon the exercise of their authority the blessing of
Heaven and the approbation of all. announce to the people of Rupert's
Land that they have pardoned twelve political prisoner's, showing
thereby that clemency and forgiveness are as familiar to them a?
a month Kiel's prisoners had endured, as bravely as they might, the
hardships and indignities meted out to them by their captors. Major
Boulton says': "They were detained for 110 offence, but merely that Riel
might use them to'serve his purpose in any way that seemed to him
expedient. Their confinement and poor food were not long in telling 011
them7 but they were unable to get any release, or any amelioration of
their lot, for Riel was obdurate, and they were closely guarded by a
large force. Their sufferings were greater by reason of the inclemency
of the weather, it now being the depth of winter; and neither sufficient
warmth or clothing was allowed them. Having been confined for some weeks
without am hope of speedy release, nothing having been so far
accomplished by the mission of Mr. Smith, some of the prisoners
determined to effect their escape. The guards had become careless; and,
an opportunity presenting itself, they made a dash for their liberty.
But the difficulties they had to contend with in finding their way
across the snow-clad prairies after effecting their escape were greater
than they anticipated. Out of the twelve who escaped seven were retaken.
One of them, poor Hyman, was badly frozen. Charles Mair and Thomas
Scott, whose life was afterwards taken by Riel, reached Portage la
recaptured men were taken back to prison on January 11th. Up to that
time the prisoners—nearly sixty in all—had been confined in the jail of
the Hudson's Bay Company, a rather dilapidated structure which stood
just outside the fort; but after the capture of those who escaped, all
were immured in buildings inside the walls of the fort. Dr. Schultz was
kept in a room by himself, and believing that Riel meditated some
special act of vengeance against him, he determined to escape. His wife
and one or two friends assisted him in his preparations, and on the 23d
of January everything was ready. By the aid of a knife and a gimlet he
opened the window of his prison; his buffalo robe, cut into strips,
furnished a rope by which he descended to the ground; a severe blizzard
screened his movements; and when he was outside the walls of the fort, a
cutter was waiting to carry him to the house of Mr. McBeth in Kildonan,
where he was safe for a time. "When his fellow-prisoners learned the
next day of the doctor's escape, neither the abuse nor the threats of
their guards could keep them from cheering.
When Mr. Donald A. Smith reached Fort C4arry, he was taken by some of
the guards to Riel who introduced him to some of the members of his
"provisional government." He was asked the purport of his visit, and
replied that he came as the representative of the Canadian government
and would show his credentials to the people of Red River as soon as
they were ready to receive him. He was required to take an oath not to
attempt to leave the fort; but he declined to do this, and was careful
throughout his stay not to recognize the provincial government as having
any legal existence. For two months he was practically a prisoner; for
although Riel gave him permission to go outside the walls of the fort
for exercise, if accompanied by two armed guards, he never availed
himself of the privilege. On January 6th he had an interview with Riel,
which convinced him that no good would come of any negotiations with 1he
Metis council. He decided that it was better to deal with individuals
among the disaffected people.
Smith, in his report to the government, said: '"Meantime we had frequent
visits in the fort from some of the most influential and most reliable
men in the settlement, who gladly made known to the people generally the
liberal intentions of the Canadian Government, and, in consequence, one
after another of Riel's councillors seceded from him, and being joined
by their friends, and by many of their compatriots and co-religionists,
who had throughout held aloof from the insurgents, they determined
110 longer to submit to his dictation."
January 14 Riel informed Mr. Smith that he had had an interview with
Grand Vicar Thibault and Colonel de Salaberry and had found that they
were without authority to guarantee the rights of the colonists, should
the Red River Settlement be federated with Canada; and he asked to see
Mr. Smith's commission. Being informed that it was not in Mr. Smith's
possession, he demanded a written order that the document should be
delivered to his messenger. This was refused; hut when Riel assured him
that the papers would be delivered into his hands, Mr Smith agreed to
send for them. That evening he dispatched Mr. Hardistv, his brother-in
law, who had accompanied him from Montreal, to Pembina for the papers
left in the hands of Mr. Provencher. Riel sent one of his guards with
Mr. Hardisty, and he placed a guard over Mr. Smith, with instructions
not to lose sight of him for a moment and to prevent him from having any
communication with other people. The next morning, several hours before
daybreak, Mr. Smith was awakened and found Riel and a guard standing
beside his bed. The new president of the provisional government demanded
a written order for the delivery of Mr. Smith's official papers and
again met with a refusal.
well-affected people among the French, having been informed of these
incidents and suspecting Riel's purpose, determined to prevent him from
seizing the papers. They collected seventy or eighty men—mostly
French—and, without giving others any inkling of their purpose, rode
south to meet Mr. Hardisty. As they were escorting him back on the 18th,
Riel met the party a few miles south of Fort Garry. The Metis leader,
who was accompanied by Father Ritchot and a few of his followers,
attempted to interfere; but when Pierre Laveiller levelled a revolver at
his head and told him to fall into line with the others, he thought it
wise to obey. The president of the provisional government was not an
absolute ruler by any means.
During the afternoon Very Rev. Vicar Thibault, Colonel de Salaberry, and
Father Lestanc called on Mr. Smith, and while they were discussing the
intentions of the Canadian government with regard to Rupert's Land, Mr.
Hardisty and his escort arrived with Mr. Smith's papers. As these
established his status as a representative of the Dominion government,
he demanded that the guard be removed and that he be allowed to
communicate freely with the people of the colony. Riel consented to this
at once. An altercation then arose between members of Mr. Hardisty's
escort and Riel, O'Donoghue, and others of the extreme Metis party, but
finally it was agreed that a meeting of inhabitants from all parts of
the settlement would be called for the next day to hear the proposals
brought by Mr. Smith from the Dominion government. A guard of forty men
remained to watch the documents which he had received. During the
evening some of Riel's most ardent supporters were busy among the
followers who had grown lukewarm and persuaded many of them to show a
united front at the meeting to be held on the morrow.