Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XXX - Life, Character and Fate of Riel

Parentage of Riel—Befriended by Tache—Educated in Montreal— Early Delusions—Disturbances of 1S69, 1870—Exciting Career Prior to Banishment, 1S75—Confinement for Insanity—Settles in Western States—Invitation from Saskatchewan Half-breeds and Their Sympathizers—Report on Riel's Manner of Life—Gradual Relapse Into Paranoia—Observations and Opinions of Dr. Daniel Clarke—Evidence from Riel's Commonplace Book—Riel's Letter Accepting Invitation of Canadian Agitators—Trial—Riel's Address to the Court— Honorable Mr. Justice Richardson's Sentence and Comments —Appeals—Letter Addressed to Richardson by Riel—Canada Swept by Whirlwind of Political and Religious Animosities— Attitude of Government—Conversations With Father Andre— Pathetic Letter to Riel's Mother—Execution.

Louis Riel was born at Red River in the year 1844. His Indian blood he derived from his paternal grandmother. His father was a bold and energetic defender of popular rights,—as witnessed by his successful organization of an armed force of Metis to intimidate the court into releasing Sayer in 1849, and thus overcome the Hudson Bay Company's claim to a monopoly of the fur trade. The son of such a father might well prove an uncontrollable tribute of the Halfbreed people. His mother was Julie de Lagimodiere, the first white woman born in the West. According to Haydon, Riel came of a very mixed stock,—Indian, French, Irish and Scandinavian,— and Riel himself seems to have believed that he could trace his ancestors from Sweden to Germany, France, Ireland, and finally to Lower Canada. The accuracy of this genealogical tree is, I think, open to very serious doubt. At all events, his faults, virtues, manner and general appearance were those typical of the French Halfbreed.

On returning from a prolonged Episcopal tour, Archbishop Tache found in the little college attached to his See at St. Boniface, three Metis lads of special promise: MacDougal, Scotch; Schmidt, German; and Riel, French. The Archbishop took strong personal interest in the young students and also interested in them a wealthy and pious French lady, while in Montreal in 1858. Accordingly, the young men were given an opportunity to attend colleges in Lower Canada. Nine years later, while in Montreal on a visit, the Archbishop again met Riel and told him that as he had now secured an education, he must endeavor to carve out for himself a respectable career.

It had been intended that the lad should become a priest, but Tache had already realized that he was unfitted for holy orders. The erratic nature of the boy's disposition was already evident. He was subject to delusions which led him into some astounding escapades. On one occasion he entered the home of a wealthy citizen of Montreal and demanded ten thousand dollars, with which to carry on some Quixotic crusade. This request was, of course, refused. On another occasion during his school days, he induced his feeble minded old mother to sell her effects in order to supply him with the funds necessary for his plans. The poor old woman did as she was bid and set out on a three weeks' journey of four hundred miles in a Red River cart to meet an appointment with her son, in 1867. On reaching her destination she found waiting her only a letter from young Riel, explaining that still another important mission had presented itself which required him to remain in Montreal. This same year, however, he returned to Manitoba where his unquestionable ability, superior schooling, fervid imagination and oratorical powers soon won him a position of leadership among the Metis.

The part which he played in the disturbance of 1869 ^J0 has already been related. His apologists have made numerous but unconvincing attempts to palliate his conduct in connection with the execution of Scott, but it seems probable that that tragedy was simply the product of homicidal mania.

In 1871, on the occasion of the threatened Fenian invasion, it will be remembered that Riel responded to the summons of Lieutenant-Governor Archibald by raising and placing at his disposal an armed force of some two hundred and fifty mounted Halfbreeds. In the following year, Riel was a candidate for the Dominion Parliament in the constituency of Provencher, which be could certainly have carried. However, through Tache's influence, he was induced to retire in favor of Sir George Cartier, and at the request and with the financial assistance of the Ottawa Cabinet, he left the country for a time. Sir George Cartier died in 1873 and Riel, who had now returned, was elected by acclamation. He went to Ottawa, but found Ontario then too hot for him, as on November 15th, Henry J. Clarke obtained from a grand jury a true bill against him for the murder of Scott. He was never placed upon trial, however, and in the general elections of 1874 he was again returned for Provencher. He attempted to take his seat, but on a vote of 144 to 68 he was expelled from the House. On February 15, 1S75, he was banished for a period of five years.

Nevertheless, be returned to Quebec, where his mental condition again caused his friends great anxiety. In 1876, at Montreal, he on one occasion made a noisy interruption during mass. He declared himself the superior of any of the dignitaries present and demanded permission to conduct the service. Official inquiry into his mental condition then resulted in his being committed to the asylum at Longue Point, from which he was presently transferred to Beauport Asylum. Being released after a year and a half he went to Washington, where his insanity again manifested itself. He was placed under arrest, but was liberated shortly afterwards and allowed to return to his family.

In 1878 he was for a time in Minnesota and in the following year he settled in Montana. There he followed various occupations with but indifferent financial success. His unsettled habits and erratic character made him the object of much well founded suspicion on the part of the authorities of that State, with whom in 1879 we find him in serious trouble. However, after his marriage with a French Canadian Halfbreed, he settled down to the useful if prosaic career of a school teacher. In this capacity he was employed at the St. Pierre Mission when he unfortunately was visited by the delegation representing the Halfbreeds of Batoche and its vicinity, and received the letter elsewhere quoted,1 in which his old friend, the venerable missionary, Father Andre, urged him to come to Saskatchewan. The conditions under which Riel was then living are interestingly portrayed in the following report presented by the delegates upon their return:

"We have travelled the long journey of about seven hundred miles to seek an interview with Mr. Riel.

"We had to go to the Territory of Montana, as far as St. Peter's Mission, situated in the County of Louis and Clark, beyond Sun River, at the foot of the Great Rockies.

"We found him humbly and respectably employed as a teacher in the Industrial College of the Jesuit Fathers of that place. After having acquainted him with the object of our mission, we handed him our credentials and the six resolutions on which we had to consult with him, also the document whereby our public invites him to the North West. We asked him to come with us if he could and to aid us. This interview took place 011 the 4th of June. Air. Riel read our papers of trust, and begged to be allowed twenty-four hours to think the matter over before giving an answer.

"We were received by Mr. and Mrs. Riel in a very friendly manner; their courtesy was sincere, simple and true. Generally when one enters the house of a very poor man the feeling of the visitor is more or less painful, but, entering Air. Riel's house, our impression was different. The humble condition of his home reminded us of the opportunities he had for several years to become rich, and even to make an exceptional fortune, and how at all risks he stood firm by the confidence of his people. We know how much he wrought for Manitoba, and how much he struggled for the whole North West, and seeing how little be worked for himself, we came back after a long trip of some fourteen hundred miles, with twice as much confidence in him as we had on leaving to go and seek him in a foreign land."

Had Riel remained amid the quiet and wholesome influences surrounding him in his home at St. Pierre he would probably not again have suffered from the mental disease that had clouded his youth. Indeed, for a considerable time after his return to Canada his conduct was entirely rational. The long months of excitement and disappointment, the adulation of his followers and the flattering enmity of his opponents then again unhinged his brilliant but unstable intellect. He again commenced to see visions. In season and out of season, night and day, he devoted himself to religious observances, though not many mouths had elapsed before he had established himself at the head of a religious crusade directed against Roman hierarchy. He himself assumed saeredotal functions, administering baptism, hearing confession, granting absolution and publicly celebrating confirmation at the altar. In order to transmit to the congregation the breath of the Holy Spirit, he uttered three long and penetrating cries.2 Iu brief, he developed all the marked evidence of religious mania and his old dreams of a special divine mission took entire possession of his mind.

To quote from Riel's speech at his trial:

"Some persons," he said, "had known beforehand of my supernatural power, but I only knew it myself on the 18th of December, 1874. Thc late Archbishop of Montreal, Monseigneur Bourget, was the first to inform me of this favor of the Saviour. This learned prelate wrote to me and I have his letter still in my possession, that I had a mission to fulfill. At first I was inclined to doubt it, but later on I recognized my error.

"On the 18th of December, 1874, while I was seated on the top of a mountain near Washington, in Dakota, the same spirit who showed himself to Moses in the midst of the fire and cloud appeared to me in the same manner. I was stupefied; I was confused. He said to me, 'Rise up, Louis David Riel, you have a mission to fulfill.' Stretching out my arms and bending my head, I received this heavenly message. I have worked for men, and with what success the world already knows. Events are not finished in a few days or in a few hours. A century is but a spoke in the wheel of eternity. I have obtained practical results, but much more still remains to do."

When the actual outbreak occurred, Riel was, in point of fact, so insane that the real work of leadership had to be assumed by Dumont and his associates.

Dr. Daniel Clarke says: "I spoke to some of the Halfbreeds who were in all the engagements with Riel, and they uniformly said he was not the same man after the first fight. He seemed to have changed entirely, and became frenzied. He organized 110 opposition after that time, did no fighting, but was looked on as inspired by bis deluded followers, and ran about from pit to pit holding aloft a crucifix and calling on the Trinity for aid."

On July 28, 1885, the distinguished alienist to whom we have just referred visited Riel in his prison at Regina and subsequently reported as follows:

"He was very talkative, and his egotism made itself manifest, not only in his movements, but also in his expressed pleasure in being the central figure of a State trial, which was likely to become historic. The writer stated to him that his lawyers were trying to save his life bv proving that he had been insane. At this statement he got very much excited, and paced up and down his cell like a chained animal, until his irons rattled, saying with great vehemence and gesticulation, 'My lawyers do wrong to try and prove I am insane. I scorn to put in that plea. I. the leader of my people, the centre of a national movement, a priest and prophet, to be proved an' idiot! As a prophet I know beforehand the jury will acquit me. They will not ignore my rights. I was put in Longue Point and Beauport Asylums by my persecutors, and was arrested without cause when discharging my duty. The Lord delivered me out of their hands.'

"I questioned him very closely as to his plans in the past, but he did not seem to be communicative on these points. He said he would insist on examining the witnesses for himself. He did not feel disposed to allow his lawyers to do it for him, if they were determined to try to prove he was insane. During the trial he made several attempts to take the case into his own hands, as in questioning the witnesses his importance seemed to be ignored by his counsel. I asked him if he thought he could elicit more on his own behalf than men expert in law could. He proudly said, 'I will show you as the case develops.' He walked about a good deal as he talked, at the same time putting on his hat and taking it off in a nervous way. His fidgety way, his swagger, his egotistic attitudes, his evident delight at such a trying hour in being so conspicuous a personage impressed me very strongly as being so like the insane with delusions of greatness, whether paretic's or not. A hundred and one little things in appearance, movement and conversation, which cannot be described in writing, are matters of everyday observation by asylum medical officers. I may say they are almost intuitions in this respect. 'Such knowledge as this which we acquire by everyday acquaintance of the insane would be laughed out of court by the legal profession, who cannot discern any valid evidence that does not tally with a metaphysical and obsolete definition.

"It was evident to me that Riel was concealing to some extent the inner workings of his mind, and that he had an object in view in hiding his thoughts. I endeavored to make him angry by speaking contemptuously of his pretensions. He only shrugged his shoulders and gave me a smile of pity at my ignorance. I touched upon his selfishness in asking thirty-five thousand dollars from the Government, and on receipt of it to cease agitation. He smiled at my charge and said that the money had been promised to him and was clue to him. Had he received it he would have established a newspaper to advocate the rights of his kindred. It would have been a glorious work for him to be able to control a newspaper, and to promulgate in print his mission to the world.

"Dr. Roy and myself had a second examination of Riel at the Police Barracks on the evening of the 28th of July. He was closely catechized by Dr. Roy in French and by me in English. The insanity plea was abhorrent to him and he scorned to take that ground, even to save his life. Friends and foes were convinced of his honesty and candor in his repudiation of this defense. He would rather die as a deliverer than live as a lunatic.

"Suddenly he calmed down and with great self-possession said, 'His legal friends had mistaken his mission. At present he was an important State prisoner and he was suffering not only for himself but also for others.' He also told me that he wrote a book, which was still in existence. In it he clearly proved that he was a great prophet, and as a prophet he knew beforehand that a verdict would be given in his favor. 1 closely questioned him as to why he thought so, but his only reply was in putting his hand to his heart and saying, pathetically, 'It is revealed to me.' I informed him that there was a bitter feeling hostile to him outside, and that so far the evidence was strongly against him and that he would probably be hanged as a felon. He smiled cynically at my ignorance, but the alternative did not seem to affect him. 1 told him the feeling had not subsided for the murder of Scott in 1870. In reply he said the North West Council sentenced Scott to death for treason. He was only one of the thirteen. He suddenly broke away from this subject and began to pour out a torrent of vigorous language on the head of Dr. Schultz, of Winnipeg, whom he associated in some way with Scott and the rebellion of 1870. Before I left he came back to the fulcrum idea that he was yet to be a great political and religious leader, who would revolutionize the world."

In dealing with so obscure a subject as the evidence of insanity lay opinions are of little value. To the Queen's Quarterly of April and July, 1905, however, another well known authority on mental disease, Doctor C. K. Clarke, contributed a "Critic Study of the Case of Louis Riel," to which I am already indebted. Says he:

"Riel was simply a case of evolutional insanity, which would, in the modern school, no doubt, be classed as one of thc paranoiac forms of dementia. The first manifestations, as were to be expected, weie observed when he was at a critical period of his boyhood, and even then the egotism, which is so characteristic of the paranoiac, was apparent. . . .

"Among well-educated people his mental defect would, early in the day, have led to his confinement in an institution, but among the ignorant Metis, suffering from wrongs they thought unbearable, Riel, with his education, prophetic and inspired pretensions, naturally became a leader.

"Those of us familiar with paranoia do not for one moment think that nineteen months' residence in Longue Point and Beauport in 1876 resulted in a cure, but no doubt there was a favourable remission, and a lapse into a condition of comparative quiet, such as we are accustomed to see every day. If Riel could have been left quiet in the Jesuit school in Montana the chances are that he would never again have been heard of, as in the monotony of that humdrum life there was enough to keep his mind employed in safe directions, but there was no incentive to let his delusions and hallucinations carry him and others to destruction. It was certainly an evil hour when Dumont and his associates planned their visit to Montana.

"Before the Duck Lake fight Riel was a mental weakling; after that event a maniacal paranoiac beyond the reach of human control, useless as a leader and a menace to the lives of friends and foes alike. The contention that he was posing simply to excite his countrymen who believed in his inspiration to carry on the rebellion is without force. The successful charlatan is built on very different lines from Louis Riel; his mission was no trumped up affair to him, and his consistency was the consistency of the insane enthusiast. What of it if he did resort to trickery, deception and intrigue at times? Surely sanity has not the monopoly of these things."

The pages of the Commonplace Book, seized at Batoche, are filled with the incoherent outpourings of a disordered mind. Take the following extracts for example:

"The Spirit of God showed me that I had a piece of wood of some length under my feet. I gave it several strokes with an axe. I suppose four, and it seemed to me that these four strokes had 110 more force than if I had only given two. I had scarcely perceived this, yet I bad made formidable notches on the long piece from the aspen tree of good size, which I had under my feet. I shall hold it under my right foot and remain/axe in hand."

"The Spirit of God has made me see a shadow which passed. It disappeared from before my view almost before I had time to look at it."

"When I close my eyes I see a light greater than that of the sun."

On May 6th he addressed a frenzied appeal "To the Citizens of the United States of America," through the Irish World. Nevertheless, during the same period of distress and alarm, we find him confiding to his diary columns of bitter vituperation against America and the Americans:

"The Spirit of God put me into a conveyance with Michael Dumas. We set out for the United States. I accompanied him for a certain distance. We talked of the United States. I don't remember the words of the ideas I expressed, but I finished by saying, 'Look on me as air example to thee.'

"I parted from him. I returned. He went on. As I was looking at him proceeding 011 his way I perceived a large red colored serpent, which went after him. This serpent, however, had no attendants. But it was large. I did not attach much importance to it. I turned back in order to go to the place from which I had come. There was a certain space of the land around me clear and clean. All the rest swarmed with serpents. There were more serpents than I could tell you of. Oh, the invitation of American help is a dangerous one. Take care of adventurers from the United States, for I assure you that they are to be feared. They have neither manners, faith nor heart. They are dirty clogs, foul jackals, raving wolves, furious tigers."

"O, my God, preserve us from the misfortune of having anything to do with the United States. Let the United States protect us indirectly, spontaneously, and by the arrangement of Thy Holy Providence, but never by a direct engagement, or by any understanding on our part."

"I have lived miserably in the United States among serpents, in the very midst of poisonous vipers. 1 was there so surrounded that whenever I wished to place my feet I saw them swarming. The ground was positively alive with them. The United States are, in a sense, a perfect hell for an honest man. The virtuous, respectable family is there held in discredit; it is turned into ridicule; it is made a jest of. O, it is an awful misfortune to be obliged to seek a refuge in the United States."

A fact that subsequently told heavily against Riel was that during the period of agitation prior to the rebellion he expressed his willingness to withdraw from the country if a sufficient financial consideration was offered by the Dominion authorities. Even this serious misstep was perhaps not entirely in conflict with his grandiloquent claims to be engaged in a great public mission. As has already been indicated, it was part of his dream to establish a great paper which would be the organ of Halfbreed interests in the United States and Canada and it is not improbable that in the suggestion of obtaining a large sum of money from Ottawa he thought he saw the means ultimately of righting his people's wrongs by constitutional methods. Moreover, he had long cherished the idea that the Dominion Government actually owed him a large sum of money and when he came over from Montana it seems quite evident that he expected to return thither. Much additional evidence could be quoted in this connection, but the following letter3 addressed to delegates will suffice for our present purposes:

"To Messrs. James Isbister, Gabriel Dumont, Moise Ouellette, and Michel Dumas.

"Gentlemen:—You have travelled more than seven hundred miles from the Saskatchewan country, across the international line, to make me a visit. The communities in the midst of which you live have sent you as their delegate to ask my advice on various difficulties which have rendered the British North West as yet unhappy under the Ottawa Government. Moreover, you invite me to go and stay amongst you, your hope being that I. for one, could help to better in some respects your condition. Cordial and pressing is your invitation. You want me and my family to accompany you. I am at liberty to excuse myself and say no. Yet, you are waiting for me, so that I have only to get ready, and your letters of delegation give me the assurance that a family welcome awaits me in the midst of those who have sent yon. Gentlemen, your personal visit does me honor, and causes great pleasure, but on account of its representative character, your coming to me has the proportions of a remarkable fact; I record it as one of the gratifications of my life. It is a good event which my family will remember, and I pray to God that your delegation may become a blessing amongst the blessings of this my fortieth year.

"To be frank is the shortest. I doubt whether my advice, given to you on tins soil concerning affairs on Canadian territory, could cross the borders and retain any influence. But here is another view. The Canadian Government owe me two hundred and fifty acres of land, according to the thirty-first clause of the Manitoba treaty. They owe me also five lots, valuable on account of hay. timber and river frontage. These lots were mine according to the different paragraphs of the same thirty-first clause of the above mentioned Manitoba treaty. It is the Canadian Government which has deprived me, directly or indirectly, of those properties. Besides, if they only pay attention to it a minute, they will cosily find out that they owe me something else.

"Those, my claims against them, are such as to hold good notwithstanding the fact that I have become an American citizen. Considering then, your interest and mine, I accept your very kind invitation. I will go and spend some time amongst you. By petitioning the Government with you. perhaps we will all have the good fortune of obtaining something. But my intention is to come back early this Fall.

"Montana has a pretty numerous Halfbreed element. If we count with them the white men interested in the Halfbreed welfare, bv being themselves heads of Halfbreed families, or related to them in any other way, I believe it safe to assert that the Halfbreed element of Montana is a pretty strong one. I am just getting acquainted with that element. I am one of these who would like to unite and direct its vote so as to make it profitable to themselves and useful to their friends. Moreover, I have made acquaintance and friends amongst whom I like to live. I start with you but to come back here sonic time in September.

"I have the honor to be, gentlemen delegated to me,

"Your humble servant.

"Louis Reil."

With the public mind still agitated by the great loss of life and property which the rebellion entailed, and especially by the Indian atrocities which had threatened to be the prelude of a general massacre of the white population, the issue of Riel's trial, if it were to take place before an English jury at Regina, was a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the fact that a capital charge was, in accordance with the laws of the Territories, to be conducted merely by a Stipendiary Magistrate assisted by a Justice of the Peace with a jury of only six persons, excited general alarm among his sympathizers, especially in Lower Canada. A considerable fund was raised for his defense by popular subscription and Messrs. Charles Fitzpatrick and F. N. Lemieux, of Quebec, were employed as his counsel, and with them were associated Messrs. J. AI. Greenshields and T. C. Johnson. Earnest efforts were made to secure his trial before the Supreme Court, and in Lower Canada, but without avail, and on the First of August the jury of Regina brought in a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation to mercy.

Before sentence was passed. Riel made a long and passionate oration in self-justification, prefacing his speech by prayer for himself, the Magistrate, the jury and all others concerned in his trial. Those who heard this address speak of it as very impressive, but it is not so in cold print. It is evidence not of the reasonableness of Riel's conduct, but of the persistent and malign influence of an idea fixed.

In pronouncing sentence, Mr. Justice Richardson spoke as follows:

"Louis Riel, after a long consideration of your case, in which you have been defended with as great ability as I think counsel could have defended you with, you have been found, by a jury who have shown I might almost say unexampled patience, guilty of a crime the most pernicious and the greatest that man can commit. You have been found guilty of high treason. You have been proved to have let loose the flood gates of rapine and bloodshed. You have, with such assistance as yon had in the Saskatchewan country, managed to arouse the Indians, and have brought ruin and misery to many families, who, if you had simply left them alone, were in comfort, and many of them were on the road to affluence.

"For what you did. the remarks you have made form no excuse whatever. For what you have done the law requires you to answer. It is true that the jury, in merciful consideration, have asked Her Majesty to give your case such merciful consideration as she can bestow upon it. I had almost forgotten that those who are defending you have placed in my hands a notice that the objection which they raised at the opening of the court must not be forgotten from the record, in order that if they see fit they may raise the question in the proper place. That has been done. But, in spite of that, I cannot hold out any hope to you that you will succeed in getting entirely free, or that Her Majesty will, after what you have been the cause of doing, open her hand of clemency to you.

"For me, I have only one more duty to perform, that is to tell you what the sentence of the law is upon you. I have, as I must, given time to enable your case to be heard. All I can suggest or advise you is to prepare to meet your end. That is all the advice or suggestion I can offer."

Upon the question of the jurisdiction of the local Court, Mr. Fitzpatrick appealed for a new trial, but on September 9th, the Court of the Queen's Bench at Winnipeg confirmed the legality of his trial and sentence. Accordingly a new trial was refused. An appeal was then made to the Privy Council in England, but it failed also. Meantime an official inquiry had been made into the question of Riel's sanity, but this we would not err in characterizing as merely an idle form.

When the prisoner was informed of the brief reprieve granted to allow of this investigation he addressed to Judge Richardson a curious and touching letter of thanks. It reads as follows:

"To His Honor

"Judge Hugh Richardson,

"Sir:—God, whose mercy is great for all men, has made use of your honorable hand to sign in my favor another postponement. When the document was being read to me, I was at the same time hearing the voice which habitually and mercifully speaks to me from above. The voice of my salvation was saying: Acknowledge most openly my help and kneel down before me and before my servants.

"Thus I knelt down, according to the word of my Lord, thanking him for his divine mercy and thanking the Empire for its clemency.

"As to you, Judge, I sincerely pray to God, through our Common Redeemer, that you may be amongst the first who will acknowledge me for the prophet of the 'New World,' and that through our God's mercy, it may be so written, to your injury nor to mine; but to your best advantage in every possible way and to my greatest happiness. For there is nothing impossible to God. What is not possible to man, is possible to Him.

"Receive with my acknowledgment, my best wishes.

"Your humble and obedient prisoner,

"Louis 'David' Riel.

"Nov. 12th, 1885,

Regina Jail."

All Canada was now convulsed in the agitation for or against the execution of Riel. A careful examination of the press at that time shows, however, that his fate had become merely an incident in a general outbreak of racial, political and religious animosities. The leading newspapers of Toronto, for example, changed front from time to time with astonishing and discreditable alacrity, to defend or to decry the utterances of political leaders, swayed by the ebb and flow of popular passion. Among the extreme wings of protestant fanaticism, Riel's execution was demanded, not for his doings at Batoche. but for the murder of Scott, fifteen years before. This aspect of the case was even publicly defended in Parliament and elsewhere. The Honorable John S. D. Thompson, Minister of Justice, said on this subject:

"The policy of considering what the past history of the convict has been is one which is recognized, not only in the practice of every tribunal administering criminal justice, but is recognized by Parliament as well."

The agitation in Quebec was as unreasonable as that in Ontario, though inspired bv the most contrary motives, and it continued for a long time, maintaining throughout its dangerous racial and religious character. It is an exercise making for humility for a Canadian of today to study the newspaper files of the year following the rebellion.

In spite of the storm of protest from French and Catholic quarters, the Government stood firm in its ultimate determination to let the law take its course and to refrain from any exercise of executive clemency on Riel's behalf. Consequently. On the 16th of November, 1885, the rebel chief paid the forfeit of his life on the scaffold at Regina. Whatever his past crimes, his conduct in the trying time immediately preceding the final tragedy was calm, courageous and befitting of a Christian's last hours. "Nothing in his life became him as the leaving it."

"All the night preceding his death," said Father Andre in a personal letter to Mr. F. N. Lemicnx, "Riel manifested not the least symptom of fear. He prayed during a great part of the night, and that with a fervor, a beauty of expression and a look which transfigured him and gave to his features an expression of celestial beauty. All night long he had not a word of complaint against his death sentence, or against his conspirators. He was happy; joyous to see his captivity about to end. He often said to me: 'I cannot tell you how glad I am to die; my heart leaps with joy!' and he would laugh de bon cocur. He embraced me with effusion and thanked me warmly for having remained with him to the end. . . . Fie said to me, emphatically, 'Do not fear. I will not shame my friends nor rejoice my enemies, nor the enemies of religion by dying like a coward. For fifteen years they have pursued mc with their hatred and never yet have they made me flinch ; today still less when they are leading me to the scaffold ; and I am infinitely grateful to them for delivering me from this harsh captivity which is weighing upon me. I assuredly have my relatives, my wife, my children, my country and my compatriots; the prospect of being free and of living with them would have made my heart beat with joy. But the thought of passing my life in an insane asylum or in a penitentiary, mingling with all the scum of society and obliged to submit to all insults, fills me with horror. I thank God for having spared mc this trial and I accept death with joy and gratitude. . . .' "

Among the letters to which Father Andre refers, was one to his mother. Nothing but the serious desire to arrive at a fair and rational judgment regarding thc character and mental condition of the writer, can justify the reading of this sacred message; but with that motive as authority, we may properly consider this last sad communication to an aged mother, from a son awaiting bis executioner.

"My Dear Mother:—I received your letter of blessing and yesterday, Sunday, I asked Father Andre to place it upon the altar during the celebration of mass, that its spirit might be diffused upon me. I asked him then to place his hands on my head so that I might receive it with efficacy, since I could not go to the church, and it has thus shed upon me the graces of the mass with its abundance of benefits, spiritual and temporal.

"To my wife, my children, my brothers, my sister-in-law and other relatives who are all dear to me, say farewell on my behalf.

"Dear mother, it is the desire of your eldest son that your prayers for me may mount to the throne of Jesus Christ, to Mary, to Joseph, my good protector, and that the mercy and abundant consolations of God may be shed upon you, upon my wife, my children and other relatives from generation to generation,—the plenitude of spiritual blessing in return for those you have called down upon me: and that they may rain especially upon you, who have been for me so good a mother. May your faith, your hope, your charity and your example be as a tree laden with abundant fruit for the present and for the future. May God, when your last hour sounds, be so pleased with your piety that He will cause your spirit to be borne from the earth on the wings of angels.

"It is now two o'clock in the morning of this day, the last I am to pass upon this earth, and Father Andre has told me to hold myself in readiness for the great event. I have listened to him and intend to do everything according to his desires and recommendations.

"God is holding me in his hand to keep me in peace and quietness, as oil is held in a vial, so none can disturb. I am doing what I can to be ready. I am even calm, in accordance with the pious exhortations of the venerable Archbishop Bourget. Yesterday and today I prayed God to reassure you and to dispense to you all manner of consolation so that your heart may not be troubled by care and anxiety. I am brave. I embrace you with all affection.

"I embrace you as a son respectful to his duty; you, my dear wife, as a Christian husband in accordance with the spirit of Christian marriage; I .embrace your children, entrusting them to the greatness of divine mercy. And you all, brothers and sisters-in-law, relatives and friends, I embrace with all the affection with which my heart is capable.

"Dear mother, I am, your son, affectionate, obedient and submissive.

"Louis David Riel."

At a quarter past eight in the morning, the Sheriff's assistant appeared at the door of the cell, where he stood in silence, dreading to announce the fatal order of which he was the bearer. Riel came to his relief, saying to him without the least evidence of emotion, "Mr. Gibson, you want me? I am ready."

His habitual courtesy and thoughtfulness marked his conduct to the last. At the scaffold Riel was the most self-controlled of all the party, and immediately before devoting himself to his final prayer he endeavored to comfort his revered old friend and confessor, Father Andre. Pie was praying earnestly when the fatal bolt was shot, his soul passing to its ultimate tribunal as he uttered the words "Jcsu! Marie! Assistez-moi."

Upon the wisdom or justice of his execution, I do not feel called upon to express my personal opinion, but I have endeavored faithfully to portray Riel's actual character and impartially to marshal the facts of his case for the consideration of my readers.

Had Riel retained in his grasp the tiller of his mind, and, while patiently championing his people, restrained them from foolish violence, any position in the gift of the West might have been his.—Alas, the pity of it!

Return to our History of Saskatchewan Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.