ARCHBISHOP TACHE - THE QU'APPELLE MISSION THE PEOPLE OF REGINA - CAPTURING A LIVE BUFFALO - AN INTERRUPTED TEA PARTY - THE HALFBREEDS AND THEIR GRIEVANCES - GOVERNMENTAL INDIFFERENCE CAUSES OF THE REBELLION - BRITISH GOVERNMENT OPPOSED EXECUTION OF RIEL - THE LAST MELANCHOLY DAY OF THE REBEL LEADER.
I remember Archbishop Tache of St. Boniface being a guest at our home in 1884 when he came to Regina to consecrate the little Roman Catholic Church that had been built there. He was one of the kindest of men and always had time to be friendly with children. I listened then to the story of his experiences when he was a young missionary among the Indian tribes of the far north. Afterwards, when I was a lonely little girl at school in St. Boniface, he came to the Convent on the occasion of some celebration, and I was hurt because he did not recognize me among all the other little girls.
He spent most of his life in the West and was greatly respected by everyone. At an age when many other men had barely completed their education, he was summoned from his wilderness mission at Ile-a-la Crosse to succeed Bishop Provencher in what must have been one of the largest dioceses in the world. He belonged to an old seigneurial family of French Canada, related to that of de La Verendrye, probably the first white man to penetrate from eastern Canada to the prairies.
A pretty tale is told of the founding of the "Qu'Appelle Mission". During the early sixties of last century Bishop Tache, while on his way from Ile a la Crosse to the Red River, found himself benighted on the plains. In the morning his guide, who had been scouting around, announced the proximity of a large valley, and the Prelate decided to investigate.
It was a beautiful summer morning when they reached the northern verge of the Qu'Appelle. The Lake with its little dancing waves that sparkled in the sunlight and changed colour with the speeding cloud shadows, the sightly poplar groves that stood in clumps on the wide savannahs, the rich and verdant meadows carpeted with wildflowers, and the lodges of the Metis hunters by the Riverbank, all combined in a pleasant scene to eyes long vexed by the interminable sweep of the prairie scene.
The equipage of the Bishop was soon perceived; the news spread through the Valley that "Monseigneur" has come, and the simple children of the wilderness gathered to do him honour.
Taking advantage of his presence, they requested that a priest might be sent to minister to them. Delighted with the place and his welcome, Monseigneur Tache gave the promise, and the establishment of the Qu'Appelle Mission was the result. A little shrine in later years was built on the northern hillside to mark the spot where he entered the valley of the Qu'Appelle on that long-gone summer day.
The situation of the Qu'Appelle Mission and the Industrial School is one of the most picturesque in all the prairie country. The buildings are on the verge of a lovely lake. Close at hand and joined to the Mission Lake by a short creek is Lake Kahtapwe, the loveliest of all the waters of the Qu'Appelle chain. It was from the native name of this latter Lake that the name Qu'Appelle was evolved. At one portion of Lake Kahtapwe, there is a wonderful echo, and the tradition is that when the old-time Indians were paddling their canoes in the still evening air they could hear sounds that appeared to them to be human voices. They called out in the Cree language "kahtapwao" which in that tongue means "What is calling?" and their own words were flung back at them from bank to bank of the Valley. A tradition grew among them that the far bank of the Lake was haunted by a disembodied spirit that wandered along the northern shore of the Lake crying out: "kahtapwao".
The region was exploited by the "Northwesters" long before the Hudson's Bay Company had advanced much beyond the Red River into the prairie country. The French language was the speech of the North West Company and the transition from "Kahtapwao" to the "Qu'Appelle" was entirely natural. There have been many fanciful and romantic stories about the name "Qu'Appelle" but this is the only true one.
The old North West Council had its meeting in Regina during the eighties of last century. At first, when it met in Battleford, its members were all appointed by the Federal Government. They acted as a sort of advisory committee to the Lieutenant Governor, but there was nothing democratic in its constitution. At the first meeting in Regina, however, elected members, some of them representing immense constituencies, put in an appearance. Among them were Frank Oliver of Edmonton, afterwards Minister of the Interior in the Federal Cabinet; James Hamilton Ross of Moose Jaw, then at the beginning of a distinguished political career; Dr Brett of Banff, long regarded as the doyen of advanced medicine in western Canada; and A. E. Forget, Clerk of the Council, whom I remember best of all.
Mr. Forget was an important personage in Regina at that time. He had been Secretary to the Hon. David Laird and Clerk of the first North-West Council. He continued in the latter position under Mr Dewdney. He was a native of Marieville in the Province of Quebec, not far from our family homes. He was educated for the priesthood but abandoned his theological studies for law and journalism. He was sent by a French-language newspaper to the Red River to cover the trial of Ambroise Lepine for the "murder" of Thomas Scott during the troubles of 1869-70. His companion on the long journey from Montreal to Winnipeg was Sir Adolphe Chapleau, the great French-Canadian statesman who defended Lepine. A friendship then sprang up between the two men that lasted until Chapleau's death.
As I remember Mr Forget he was a handsome, dignified man, and I used to think he had the courtly manners of a king. He claimed descent from the Forget who was Secretary to Henri of Navarre, the first Bourbon King of France. He was afterwards Indian Commissioner, and still later the last Lieutenant Governor of the North West Territories and subsequently first Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. His wife was a sister of Chevallier Drolet, who had been one of the Papal Zouaves during the Garibaldi Wars. He ended his career as a senator of Canada.
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During those early years, cowboys from the American side frequently came to Regina, adding a picturesque element to the life of the place. They usually brought with them bands of Montana broncos, as wild as antelope, which they sold to the new settlers after a very sketchy breaking process.
My father, who had always been interested in livestock, learned from these men about the fine range country in the Wood Mountain and Willow Bunch districts, some hundred and twenty miles to the south and west of Regina, and my eldest brother Pascal went down to the border region to learn the cattle business as it was practised on the western plains. From that time until his death in 1909, he was identified with the stock industry under open range conditions.
For a while we had a live young buffalo of our own. It was kept in a caged enclosure near our store, and sometimes I would poke sticks and things at it through the bars when it would make rushes at me. My brother Pascal had captured it in the south country. He was riding with a round-up outfit near the Boundary when he fell in with a party of surveyors whose cook had wandered away on the prairie. My brother volunteered to look for him. While he was riding along trying to pick up the trail of the missing man, a mustang bounded out of a coulee and thundered away with tail and mane streaming in the wind. Pascal put spurs to his horse and galloped in pursuit. After a headlong race, he got close enough to cast the loop of his lariat about the neck of the wild horse and then ensued a battle royal. My brother's horse was well broken to the rope, and at last, he had the mustang sufficiently subdued to bring it to camp. Then getting a fresh mount, he went out again on the search for the missing man.
Not far from where he caught the horse, he came upon a young buffalo cow, which made "quick tracks" as he approached. He soon ran it down and roped and tied it. He then continued his search for the unfortunate cook whom he found in an almost demented condition. He brought all three, man, wild horse and buffalo to Regina.
The cowboys from the south sometimes got into trouble with the authorities. When my husband was in the little town of Bend on the Deschutes River in Oregon many years afterwards, a ranchman there, on learning that he came from Regina, said: "Oh! I was there once in the early eighties. I was bringing in a band of broncos and had driven them over a wooden sidewalk when a man in a red coat came up and told me they did not allow things like that in Canada. I had been drinking some prohibition whisky and was feeling quite independent. I called him a gold be - shangled Queen Victoria so and so. He summoned a patrol of his comrades and they locked me up in their jail. I had to pay a fine and apologize for my disrespectful remarks about their Queen before they would let me out. I felt it was no country for a self-respecting cowboy, so I never went back again."
About 1884 an Englishman named Henry Fisher established the first large wheat farm on the Regina plains, about four miles from Regina. He named the place "Bayswater Farm" after his birthplace in England. He was the first man to use a steam plough on the prairies, but it was not the tractor-drawn implement of today. It was operated using a cable strung between two stationary engines placed half a mile apart. This contrivance worked all right as long as the going was on the level, but when a slough was encountered, the plough dangled futilely in the air. The experiment was not a success.
Mr. Fisher built a house on his farm and brought his family from the Old Country. Shortly after their arrival, his two daughters were invited to tea at Government House. Suitably attired for a formal afternoon function they drove in from the Bayswater Farm. On the way one of them espied a little animal running along the prairie trail. "Look!" she said to her sister, "there is a dear little kitty. It must be lost and if we leave it here some wild animal will devour it."
One of the young ladies climbed out of the buggy and succeeded in snaring the little creature in a handsome cashmere shawl. It seemed contented enough and snuggled down in the soft covering. In due time the girls arrived at Government House, carrying the stray with them. They noticed that the servant who admitted them turned his head away and seemed to regard them with some aversion. "Dear me!" said one of the girls. "There is a strange odour here. If we were in the Old Country, I would think that there was something wrong with the drains."
When they were ushered into the drawing-room, several Regina people who were taking tea with the Governor and Mrs Dewdney looked at them with obvious distaste, and then, as if by one concerted movement, abruptly left the premises. Mr Dewdney, however, greeted them courteously and suggested that they have some tea. But neither of the young ladies had any desire for refreshments. Indeed, nausea seemed to be overpowering them. In an endeavour to relieve the strain of the situation, the girl who had caught "the dear little kitty" opened her shawl and displayed her prize. Polite as he was, the Governor could not restrain a burst of laughter. "Why, Miss Fisher," he said, "your captive is a baby skunk."
Kind Mrs Dewdney had tubs of hot water provided and every attempt was made to remove from the persons of the girls the evidence of their contact with a member of the skunk family. Late that night Mr Dewdney's stableman was observed conveying what looked like a pile of feminine garments on the prongs of a pitchfork to a sepulchre on the prairie.
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In 1884, there were rumours of trouble among the Metis of the Saskatchewan and some of the Indian tribes were engaging in war talk and dancing. No one seemed to pay much attention to these things, perhaps least of all the Government officials on the ground, but when Mr Legare came in from Wood Mountain he talked with my father, and shook his head gravely, anticipating trouble.
When the treaties had been signed with the Indians for the surrender of their rights in the country to the Crown, the consideration consisted of certain services, specific annuities, and a considerable landed estate administered in trust for them by a specially constituted branch of the Federal Government. The Indians themselves always insisted that their "Half - brothers", as they called the Halfbreeds, were joint inheritors with them in their native land and that they should get equal consideration. Promises were made but neither placed in contract form nor fulfilled. At that time the only concession made to the Halfbreeds was that if they so desired they could "take Treaty" as Indians.
When Manitoba became a Province in 1870, Louis Riel and the members of his Provisional Government obtained for the Metis of that Province a landed estate of 1,400,000 acres. This left the people of the mixed-blood living beyond the Manitoba boundaries. The chief settlements of the western natives then were along both branches of the Saskatchewan River, in the Qu'Appelle Valley, the Cypress Hills, at Wood Mountain, Willow Bunch, near the American Boundary; there were also some Metis families at Fort Edmonton, Fort Pitt and Fort Pelley. Previously many of the men had been engaged in the buffalo hunt or employed as voyageurs, freighters, interpreters and in similar capacities by the Hudson's Bay Company.
The Halfbreeds, or "Metis" as they called themselves, were not generally the offspring of irregular relations between white men and Indian women. They often owed their origin to unions sanctioned by the Church or, when priest or minister was not available, to a sort of matrimonial contract known as "marriage according to the custom of the country".
The Hudson's Bay Company called itself a company of "gentlemen adventurers" and it was just that. Some of the most important names in England were borne by directors. The officers of the North West Company were, as a rule, members of Scottish Highland families, some of whom, being Jacobites, was living in Montreal in self - imposed exile; and French Canadians, often belonging to families who, in the days of the Old Regime had held seigneuries along the St. Lawrence. The directors of both companies regarded the positions in the field as personal perquisites, and they were often filled by members of their own families.
Living as these young men did, far from civilization, where they might not see a white woman for years, it was not unnatural that they should have cast favouring eyes upon the comeliest of the "Daughters of Heth", and taken wives to themselves from the families of the Indian chiefs of the tribes amongst whom they lived. Some of these white men, when their terms of service expired, abandoned the responsibilities thus incurred. Others, with a better appreciation of the relationship into which they had entered, provided quite well for their native families, and sent some of the most promising of their children to Canada and even to the Old Country to be educated. The Orkney boatmen of the Hudson's Bay Company and the hunters and voyageurs of the North West Company also made alliances of more or less regular nature with Indian women, and the people of the mixed-blood became of considerable importance in the life of the country.
The majority of these natives of another generation were good people, reliable, and quite often were given positions of responsibility by their employers. They were a strong and vigorous folk, adept in all forms of plain craft and, owing to the life they led, familiar with the use of weapons.
The passing of the Hudson's Bay Company as the lords paramount of the country, the advance of settlement and the disappearance of the buffalo dealt a staggering blow to the economic life of these people. The buffalo hunt was an important industry. During the sixties of last century, as many as four thousand carts came annually from the Red River to the plains of Saskatchewan for the summer hunt, and these were augmented by many others from the Hudson's Bay posts of the North West Territories. In one decade the buffalo had vanished; the fur trade diminished; railway transportation took the place of the wilderness caravans, and the brigades of canoes and York boats disappeared from lake and river. These people, who knew no other occupations than those to which they had been accustomed, were left without any means of livelihood. Certain of them took up land in the North Saskatchewan country and did some desultory cultivation, but few had either the necessary capital or experience and their agricultural adventures were usually unsuccessful.
When things were in this condition, a drought settled upon the country. Crops and even grass withered and died; the prairie creeks and sloughs, which in normal times supported broods of wildfowl, dried up and large game retreated to the northern forests. At that unpropitious time, the Indian Department adopted a cheese-paring and penurious policy that had adverse repercussions among the Metis people. They were faced with utter starvation. Under those distressing conditions, they remembered the promises that had been made at the time of the Indian Treaties and appealed to Ottawa for help. At that time, the early eighties, nothing whatsoever had been done by the Federal Government either to acknowledge their claims or to afford them relief.
No real explanation has ever been given of the callous indifference then displayed by Ottawa. The situation verged on the tragic; indeed it was tragic in some instances. Lawrence Clarke, the Hudson's Bay Factor at Carlton, the first elected member of any legislative body in the prairie country, and a man of influence and standing, directed strong representations to the Government; Bishop Grandin of the Church of Rome, several times sent urgent appeals to Ottawa for aid for the suffering natives; Mounted Police officers warned that trouble was brewing, and the Metis themselves sent to the Government petitions signed by most of their own people who could write and marked by many of those who could only make a cross. But nothing seemed to stir the Government of Canada out of the deadly lethargy into which it had fallen in respect to these unfortunate folk. No action was taken on letters and petitions. Most of them were never even answered.
In the summer of 1884 a delegation went from the North Saskatchewan to Riel at his little school on the Missouri and endeavours were made to induce him to return to the country and lead the Metis in an agitation for what they believed were their rights. It is now known from letters written by Riel to the members of his family in Canada, that he debated for a long time with himself before yielding to the pressure placed upon him by the delegates. At first, he refused to take any steps that would again involve him in political action in his native land. When still a very young man, he had accomplished a great deal for his compatriots at the time of the passage of the Manitoba Act; he had twice been elected to the Canadian House of Commons but was denied his seat, and probably the frustrations then experienced brought on a mental condition that made it advisable for him to undergo treatment in an institution in Quebec. He had married in Montana and had made an application for American citizenship and seemed fairly contented in his position as a teacher at the Jesuit Mission.
Gabriel Dumont, the leader of the delegation, finally persuaded him that his own people urgently needed his leadership, and during that summer he accompanied the delegation to the Saskatchewan country.
There seems to be little doubt that at that stage the intention was to make the agitation for the rights of the Metis entirely constitutional. There were meetings at St. Laurent, Batoche, Prince Albert and the Fork-of-the-Road in the heart of the Metis country, attended by many of the old buffalo hunters, and at first, a majority of the white settlers were thoroughly sympathetic. But even the presence of Riel in the country and the fiery speeches of Dumont and other native leaders failed to stir the Ottawa Government from its apparent indifference.
It was the habit of the Halfbreeds, dating from the Indian days, to carry weapons on their journeys, and many of the white settlers took alarm at the mustering of so many armed men. It has never been quite clear whether these mobilizations were arranged for the purpose of revolt, or if those attending them were merely following the custom of the country in bringing weapons to their gatherings. In any case, there is no doubt that, as the winter of 1884-85 drew towards its conclusion, excitement and irritation were growing among the native population.
There was then a strong garrison of the North-West Mounted Police under Major Crozier at Fort Carlton, which for many years had been an important establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company, but was then unoccupied by that corporation. Carlton was close to the most populous native settlements.
In March 1885, a raid was made on a trading store at Duck Lake, belonging to Hillyard Mitchell, but it has never been certain whether it was carried out by a party of irresponsible Halfbreeds, or was the first step in a considered uprising. However, Major Crozier, an impetuous, high-tempered man, marched out from Carlton at the head of a strong force of Mounted Police and civilian volunteers to attack the position of the raiders.
Crozier found the way to Duck Lake barred by a party of armed Metis. He halted his command and attempted to parley. It was generally understood that the first shot was fired from the ranks of the Police by "Joe" MacKay, Crozier's Halfbreed Interpreter. The late J. H. Heffernan, an Inspector in the Mounted Police for many years, showed me an affidavit taken by the late Captain Davidson, who at that time was a Corporal in Crozier's command, to the effect that the first bullet in the Duck Lake engagement came from a rifle in the hand's of one of the Insurgents. It is reasonably certain that until that shot was fired a little common sense and conciliatory action on the part of the Government would have averted the outbreak of hostilities. As it was, the Halfbreeds under the leadership of Gabriel Dumont, a man of bold and resolute character, inflicted a sharp defeat on Crozier's force, which was compelled to retreat to Carlton after a number of the police and volunteers had been killed and wounded. After the Duck Lake battle, the revolt spread like a flame through the Metis settlements. Almost coincident with the Duck Lake engagement, the Government set up a Commission to investigate the Halfbreed Question in the Saskatchewan region. It has always been the opinion of the people well informed about the situation that, had this action been taken a month earlier, there would have been no Rebellion in 1885.
As soon as the Government at Ottawa received the news of the defeat of Crozier, preparations were made to send out an expedition under General Middleton, an experienced British Officer, to put down the uprising.
Even though the first hostilities occurred more than two hundred miles north of Regina, the little Territorial Capital was by no means out of the danger zone. Several of the Plains' tribes known to be in sympathy with the rebels were situated within raiding distance and were excited and restless.
About a week previous to the Duck Lake battle, Colonel Irvine, the Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, at the head of about a hundred of his men, commenced a forced march of more than two hundred and fifty miles through the unbroken snow of late winter from Regina to protect Prince Albert, thought to be in some danger from raiding parties. This reduction of the garrison at Regina caused a feeling of insecurity to pervade the place.
Colonel Alan Macdonald, the Indian Agent for the Qu'Appelle Treaty, displayed strength and judgment in dealing with the situation. Indeed in this respect, he presented a sharp contrast to many of the officials then charged with responsibility. He "drove" the reserves night and day and, when it is considered that practically all the Crees, Saulteaux and Assiniboines of the prairie country were under his supervision, it will be understood that his task was arduous and exacting.
When any of the disaffected Indians sought permission to leave the reserves his reply was invariably as follows:
"Certainly I will give you all the passes you want. I suppose you intend going to the Saskatchewan. Well! go if you like. The soldiers are coming from the East with their rifles and bayonets and cannon and horses, and if you go, it will only mean that I won't be bothered any more with a lot of worthless Indians."
This method proved effective and, with the assistance of men like Father Hugonard of the Qu'Appelle Mission and Archibald McDonald of the Hudson's Bay Company and the influence exerted by Piapot, an able chief of the Qu'Appelle Valley Crees, he succeeded in keeping his Indians at home and at peace.
Nevertheless, the proximity of the Qu'Appelle reserves caused a good deal of uneasiness among the residents of Regina. A body of home guards was formed and most of the able-bodied citizens enlisted to defend hearth and home. Arms were issued; there was marching and counter-marching, and sentries were posted on the outskirts of the town at night. There were some false alarms, but nothing serious happened. I was too young at that time to understand the situation, but I remember well the excitement that affected the grown-up people and even extended to the children.
The Rebellion is of course. Canadian history and there is no need for recapitulation here; but such incidents as the defeat of Major Crozier at Duck Lake; the halting with serious casualties of General Middleton's Expeditionary Force at Fish Creek with its horse, foot and artillery, by a greatly inferior number of Metis hunters under Dumont; the repulse of General Otter at the hands of Poundmaker's Indians, whom he had attacked in their homes among their women and children; the confiscation by General Middleton and some of his officers of the furs of Bremner at Battleford and a few similar incidents, would indicate that the North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a rather inglorious page in the history of the Dominion.
There is no doubt that after the capture of Batoche by Middleton's Force and the consequent collapse of the Rebellion, Riel could have escaped by accompanying the party of Gabriel Dumont and other Metis leaders that reached American territory without difficulty. Dumont urged Riel to go with him but he refused, declaring that he would surrender to the authorities so that his trial might direct the attention of the people of Canada to the injustice with which he believed his compatriots had been treated. Shortly after saying farewell to Dumont, Riel encountered "Tom" Hourie, a native of the mixed blood who had been active as a despatch rider for Middleton, and another scout named Armstrong. Riel placed himself under the care of Hourie by whom he was taken to General Middleton's tent.
There was a good deal of excitement in Regina during the Rebellion trials in the late summer of 1885. Louis Riel was placed on trial for his life under a statute of Edward III, that recited witchcraft among other things as a form of treason. Other Metis leaders were also charged, while Poundmaker, Beardy, Big Bear, One Arrow and other Indians alleged to have taken the warpath were arraigned for making war upon the Queen's Majesty. A jury of six members that included neither French, Metis nor Roman Catholic, found Riel guilty of High Treason but recommended mercy. He was sentenced to death.
Certain members of the British Government believed that the infliction of the death penalty on the Rebel Leader would be a mistake and so informed the Governor-General, but of course they could not intervene although some of the diplomatic correspondence would indicate that Queen Victoria herself had expressed a wish that Riel's life be spared.
My father had no sympathy with rebellion, but he, and many others thought the death penalty too severe. The Government was in a difficult position. Sir John Macdonald was naturally a humane man, and it is likely he viewed with distaste the idea of sending Riel to the gallows. Quebec took the attitude that Riel was the victim of political persecution, while Ontario, inflamed by agitators playing on the strings of religious and racial passions, clamoured for his blood.
Late one night a Mounted Policeman came to our house with a message to my father that the Lieutenant Governor wished to see him. The day after his interview with Mr Dewdney, father went away on a journey and mother seemed anxious. It was then arranged that my father should post relays of fast horses every ten miles between Regina and the Boundary. Riel was to be given a chance to escape from the Mounted Police guardroom and, with half an hour's start, not all the riders in the country could have caught him. Once in the United States, as a political offender, he would have been safe. One of the Willow Bunch Metis employed to look after the horse relays, quite innocently spoke of the plan to a man suspected of complicity in the Rebellion, who was on unfriendly terms with Riel. Whatever his reason, this man is supposed to have disclosed the plan to the authorities, and the last chance of saving Riel from the scaffold was lost.
'Shortly before her death my mother related this incident to me, and I often afterwards discussed it with my father, as well as with certain Metis of the Willow Bunch district whose services had been enlisted to snatch Louis Riel from the very foot of the scaffold.
As the cold November days dragged on towards the date set for the execution, a gloomy and tragic air seemed to settle over Regina. I remember the arrival of Riel's wife and mother to take a sad farewell of the condemned man. They rested at our house, and by instinct, we hushed our play in their presence.
His mother was of the pure white blood, a daughter of one of the most respected families of the Red River. Her picture is fixed firmly in my mind, a steady faced woman a little beyond middle age, garbed in sombre garments, sitting quiet and a little apart with hands folded in her lap. She volunteered no speech, but when addressed, responded with quiet dignity. My father drove the two women backwards and forwards to the Mounted Police Barracks where Riel was awaiting execution.
The morning of Riel's execution, November 16, 1885, was chill and frosty. To me, it seemed as if there was a melancholy hush over everything. People were subdued and sorrowful. Sheriff Chapleau drove up to take my father to the final tragic scene at the Mounted Police Barracks. I watched the Sheriff's horse standing with drooping head in the shafts of the buggy, and I thought that even the poor horse was sad, although I did not fully realize what was going on.
With a cruel stupidity almost incomprehensible, the authorities engaged a man to be Riel's executioner who for many years had been his bitter personal enemy. He was an old Highlander, named John Henderson, from the Island of Skye, who had long lived on the western plains. He claimed to have been a prisoner at Fort Garry during the Red River troubles of 1869-70. It is stated that as he adjusted the rope, he whispered: "Louis Riel, do you know me? It is my turn today."
We have the word of Mr Davin, who was there, that Riel died like a "man and a Christian". Riel intimated to Father Andre, the priest who attended him on the scaffold, that he would like to address those present.
"No! my son; make a denial in that respect a sacrifice to God," said Father Andre; and the prisoner deferred to his spiritual adviser.
The wife of Mr Forget, then Clerk of the Assembly had been kind to Riel during his imprisonment and his last words on an earthly subject were: "Remerciez Madame Forget."
The feeling against Riel in certain quarters had been bitter and vindictive and persisted even after his death. Some of the most fanatical of his enemies were determined that his body should have only the burial accorded to a murderer. But the Authorities, after taking the life of the unfortunate man, had no desire to allow further indignity, and his body was delivered to my father, who had it coffined and interred in a shallow grave beneath the floor of the little. Roman Catholic Church in Regina. My father and brother took turns watching by the grave. They never left it unguarded and as winter had come, it was often a bitter vigil. Again and again through those long nights, people moved about outside the Church, peering through the windows and even trying the doors. But my father was powerful and resolute, and my brother had the cowboy habit of those days of going armed, and no violence was attempted.
After some weeks had elapsed, Governor Dewdney sent word to my father that a boxcar to convey Riel's body to his people on the Red River had been placed on a siding on the outskirts of Regina. To have brought a conveyance to the Church might have attracted attention. The snow had fallen and was drifting before a rising wind. Late that night my brother Pascal disinterred Riel's frozen body and carried it through the snow and darkness to a safe distance, where a sleigh containing a rough coffin-shaped box was waiting. He placed it in the box and drove his burden to the siding where, with the assistance of Robert Sinton, who now in 1950 was still a resident of Regina, it was loaded on a car. My brother accompanied the body to Winnipeg, where he delivered it to his relatives.
Louis Riel was buried in a beautiful spot in the cemetery of the Cathedral at St. Boniface. His grave is marked by a modest but dignified monument bearing the simple inscription "Riel".
Time has softened some of the bitterness engendered, first by the so-called Red River Insurrection, and later by the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885. Viewed in the calm perspective of history, the life and actions of Riel are taking on an entirely different aspect from that with which they were endowed when religious and racial passions were invoked, and two parties in the Dominion were making political capital out of the actions of this unhappy man.
That Riel was misguided, particularly in the Saskatchewan uprising, there can be no doubt; but the descriptions of him that have been given currency by ill-informed and partisan writers, as an ignorant Halfbreed and a cruel - minded Rebel are false and misleading. He had scarcely a tincture of Indian blood in his veins; the members of his family were independent and respected; he was well educated; his character was gentle and humane, and he was actuated by a deep and sincere love of his native land and his people. The impartial student of the early history of this Western Land is surely concluding that the execution of Louis Riel was a sacrifice to the moloch of political expediency.