Riel, however, realizing that the people had a grievance, took advantage of the circumstance to arouse their fears and hostilities, to obtain their support and enable him to usurp authority, not scrupling to take life, that he might occupy the position of autocrat of the country. After the arrival of the Canadian Commissioners, with power to treat with the people, Riel was criminal in every act that he committed. He was going beyond the constitutional privileges which are the great safeguard and protection of the people. In retaining prisoners and keeping them confined in unwholesome prisons, he was cruel, vindictive, and tyrannical. In taking the life of Scott, for no other reason than to make his power felt as dictator and autocrat of the country, he was a murderer. That crime was done at his bidding and for the purpose of advancing his personal ends. The circumstances of the country at the time were such that the Government could not bring him to justice for his crime. The amnesty having once been promised by Archbishop Taché put a different phase upon the circumstances, and Riel escaped the consequences of his act with the moderate punishment of banishment for five years to the United States - a country where he had for some time previously resided and where he was quite satisfied to make his home.
The years go by, and the half-breeds recollect the excitement and the profit they derived from the rebellion of 1869-70, and remember that the benefits of scrip which had been accorded to them at that time were withheld, or rather that the principle of issuing scrip had not yet been extended to the North-West Territory. More than that, the half-breeds who had left the Province of Manitoba, and who had there secured the patents for their lands, and obtained the scrip for themselves and families, now thought that they could claim the same privileges over again as residents of the North-West Territory. In order to obtain the pecuniary advantage of the scrip which the government issued, they sent for Riel as having the ability to make this demand in such a forcible way that they might have some hope of obtaining it. The secret of the rebellion lies in the fact that the majority of the half-breeds were petitioning for something they were not entitled to, and were not likely to get by constitutional means, but which might be obtained by extreme measures of violence if successful. Riel also formulated a scheme which raised the hopes and ambitions of the half-breeds and Indians. The half-breed reserve in the Province of Manitoba was allotted on the proportion of one-seventh of the lands contained in the Province at that time created, which, upon computation, was found to be 1,400,000 acres, or 240 acres of land to each resident half-breed then born. Riel at once made the bold claim that the principle of one-seventh of the land which had been accorded in the Province of Manitoba should be carried out in the North-West Territory, and and held out hopes to the Indians that one-seventh of the land should be theirs also. It was those ambitious ideas that enabled him to exercise a control over the half-breeds and Indians, in leading them to break out into open and murderous rebellion, while Riel hoped to make a big stake for himself in consequence, as he supposed, of the weakness of the Government.
In proceeding against Riel for leading the new rebellion, the Government placed the case for the Crown in the hands of Mr. Christopher Robinson, son of the late Sir John Beverley Robinson, in his lifetime Chief Justice of Upper Canada, and Mr. B. B. Osler, assisted by Mr. Burbidge, Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr. Casgrain, of Quebec, and Mr. Scott, of Regina. Riel's friends in Quebec raised a fund for his defence, and Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Lemieux, of Quebec, were employed to defend him. The presiding judge was Colonel Richardson, Stipendiary Magistrate for the district. The charges were formulated and proven. The trial was fair and open, every opportunity being given to the prisoner's counsel to defend him. The proofs of his criminality were so overwhelming that his counsel did not attempt to refute them, but relied entirely upon the plea that insanity, which it was sought to prove, existed in their client's case. Riel, being endowed with a vain, egotistical disposition, and feeling that his counsel were not adopting the best methods for obtaining his acquittal, took the ground, as he cleverly expressed it at the trial, that "the Government was trying to prove him guilty, and that his friends were trying to prove him insane." "Life, without the dignity of an intelligent being," as he phrased it, "was not worth having." He attempted to defend himself upon the plea that he was right in what he did, and this interference almost led his counsel to abandon his case. He made a most eloquent and pathetic appeal to the jury, lasting several hours, and when the jury retired and appeared again in court, they returned a verdict of "Guilty." In consequence of his pathetic appeal, the verdict was accompanied with a recommendation to mercy. The sentence of death was pronounced upon him by Colonel Richardson, and he was condemned to be executed on the 18th of September.
After sentence had been passed on Riel, Mr. Fitzpatrick, one of the prisoner's counsel, gave notice of appeal for new trial to the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba upon the question of the jurisdiction of the Court. The trial and sentence was upheld by the Court of Queen's Bench at the sitting of the full Court in Winnipeg, on the 9th of September. Chief Justice Wallbridge, in delivering judgment, referred to the facts brought before the Court, to the Statutes by which the stipendiary magistrates are appointed in the North-West, to the powers given them for the trial of cases before them, and to the cases, including treason, which have to be tried before magistrate with a Justice of the Peace and a Jury of six. His Lordship held that the constitutionality of the Court was established by the Statutes passed, which he cited. If the Act passed by the Dominion Parliament was ultra vires, as claimed by the defence, it was clearly confirmed by the Imperial Act, subsequently passed, which made the Dominion Act equal to an Imperial Act. The objections were to his mind purely technical, and therefore not valid. His opinion was that a new trial should be refused, and the conviction of the Superior Court be confirmed. After judgment had been delivered by the Court of Queen's Bench, Riel's counsel notified the Executive that they would appeal to the Privy Counsel in England. In order to give the prisoner's counsel an opportunity to test fully the legality of the proceedings, a respite was granted until the 10th of November. The appeal was heard before the Privy Council in England and was dismissed, and the sentence of the Court was confirmed.
No doubt, to give Riel due notice that the sentence of the Court would be carried into execution, a further respite was granted from the 10th November until the 16th, and on the 16th November his execution took place. Father André, his spiritual adviser, spent much time with him to prepare him for his end, and Riel was allowed the privilege of having writing materials, that he might employ his time while in prison to write a book, giving the history of his life. Latterly, Riel began to realize that it would have been wiser if he had yielded to the legal advice of his friends, and accepted the position they adopted to get him off upon the plea of insanity. For some time previous to his execution he therefore attempted to give evidence by his acts that he was not sane; but it was too late now to avail himself of this, for the evidence of experts, who watched him carefully throughout his trial and afterwards, showed that he was perfectly cognizant of, and responsible for, the crimes he had committed. Riel played for a big stake, in the hope that he would get a large pecuniary benefit out of the agitation and that the Government would accede to his demands rather than go to the labour and expense of upholding the laws of the country, in so remote a portion of it. In this he was mistaken, for the Government were bound to show the people, as well as the Indians and half-breeds, that they were able and determined to uphold the laws of the country, and to protect the people throughout the North-West, and that neither expense nor distance was too great to prevent the dignity and power of the country being expressed.
On the morning of the 16th November, the time came when Riel had to undergo the same ordeal he had put Scott through fifteen years previously, and the similarity of proceedings in both cases is a coincidence. Riel for some time had had the benefit of the constant attendance of Père André, his spiritual adviser, who was with him during the whole of his last night on earth. About eight o'clock in the morning, the deputy sheriff, Mr. Gibson, went to his cell and told Riel that his time had come. Riel at the moment turned pale, realizing his position, but braced himself up and a procession was formed. Father McWilliams, who was also in attendance on Riel, went first, Riel next, and Father André followed, the deputy sheriff leading the way. After them came the orderly officer of the Mounted Police, Captain White-Fraser, with ten men who had been on guard all night. They were followed by Colonel Irvine, four or five officers of the Mounted Police, Dr. Jukes, as medical officer, and four correspondents. They all marched up some steps to the room above the guard-room and through this barrackroom to a small building which had been erected to contain the gallows. As they passed through the barrack-room, Riel exclaimed, "Courage, mon Père!" The gallows was entered by a window, temporarily used as a door, where the hangman awaited them.
Before stepping through the window the priests knelt down with the prisoner. The remainder, with the exception of the guards, removed their hats, and Father André prayed, Riel making the responses in a firm voice and praying also. His demeanour betokened suppressed excitement; his brow was covered with drops of sweat. Contrary to popular expectation, Riel met his death like a man, all the while holding a candle in one hand and a crucifix, which had been lent to him by Madame Forget, in the other. After praying for some time, at twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock, the deputy sheriff touched Father McWilliams on the shoulder and told him the time was up. Père André saw this, and notified Riel that they must cease. They then all rose up and Père André, after explaining to Riel that the end was at hand, asked him if he was at peace with men. Riel answered "Yes." The next question was, "Do you forgive all your enemies ?" "Yes." Riel then asked him if he might speak. Father André advised him not to do so. He then received the kiss of peace from both the priests, and Father André exclaimed in French, "Alors, allez au ciel!"
While this conversation was taking place, the hangman was engaged in pinioning the prisoner's arms. The procession then went through the window, preceded by the hangman, who happened to be one of the men whom Riel had held in prison in 1869. Dr. Jukes and Colonel Irvine went on to the platform with Father McWilliams and Père André and two correspondents. The prisoner got on to the drop, his legs were pinioned and the rope adjusted. His last words were to say good-bye to Dr. Jukes and thank him for his kindness, and just before the white cap was pulled over his face he said, "Remerciez, Madame Forget." The cap was pulled down, and while he was praying the trap was pulled. Death was instantaneous. His pulse ceased beating four minutes after the trap-door fell. The body was to have been interred inside the gallows' enclosure, and the grave was commenced, but an order came from the Lieutenant-Governor to hand the body over to Sheriff Chapleau which was accordingly done that night. Previously however, to handing it over, Colonel Irvine, in presence of Dr. Jukes, Colonel McLeod and others, had the coffin opened to inspect the body, in consequence of reports which had spread, and which had even got into the papers, that Riel's body had been mutilated. The mutilations consisted in Father McWilliams having cut off a lock of his hair and beard, and in taking off his moccasin. The other moccasin and other locks of his hair had been distributed among some of his friends. Next day he was interred beneath the Roman Catholic Church in Regina. Subsequently his body was removed to his mother's house, near Winnipeg, and there in presence of a large number of people was interred at St. Boniface.
Thus ended the life of a man who, in order to carry out his plans, did not regard the lives of his fellow-creatures. His death is a warning to those who refuse to employ the constitutional means which, happily, in a free country like ours, are available for the redress of any grievances they may feel themselves labouring under. It also shows that in the present day men cannot with impunity tyrannize over their fellow-countrymen and jeopardize the lives of peaceful citizens to gratify their own ambition.
The execution of Riel was the signal for an outburst of political excitement in the Province of Quebec; and the extraordinary argument was advanced that because his crime was a political one, the extreme penalty of the law should not have been carried out by the Government. In other words, that because there was a large number of voters who demanded that he should not be hanged, therefore he should not have been hanged, and reasons, more or less fatuous, were advanced to support this assumption. The question was a most momentous one. One of the vital principles affecting the country was at stake, on account of the two distinct nationalities from which Canadians are descended. Was the Government going to yield to political exigencies and interfere with the course of the law, or, practically, was there to be one law for one class and one law for another? The feelings of the people were strained over the whole country; but the Government upheld the constitution and not seeing any reason for recommending clemency of the Crown, allowed the law to take its course. Riel had twice headed an armed rebellion against the laws of the country. In the first he had murdered Scott, and on the second occasion he had attempted raise the Indian population to support him, the natural result of which, from past experiences elsewhere, would be a general massacre of innocent, peaceable citizens. That this massacre was not universal in the country is owing to the friendly relations which exist between the whites and the Indians, and to the liberal manner in which they are treated by Government. It speaks volumes for the country that in the midst of all the excitement over that extended, isolated region, only in one instance was there a massacre by the Indians. In addition to the Frog Lake massacre, and some isolated murders committed by Indians, a large number of valuable lives of peaceable citizens were sacrificed, for which Riel alone was personally responsible. He was the guide and man of influence to whom his people and the Indians looked. Having due regard to the protection of the people who inhabit the North-West Territory, the Government would not have been justified in interfering with the sentence of the court. The hanging of Riel, which has created so much excitement will do good from a political point of view for it will lead to a better understanding among those who are descended from the two distinct nationalities who form the population of Canada. It will lead the sensible people in all parts of the country to realize that their influence must be used for the good of the whole of the Canadian people, and that sectional sympathies must not be allowed to prevail, although toleration and respect for class prejudices and feelings should still be the guiding principle in the country.
The French population, who are the original Canadians, and who laid the foundation of the country, love their language and their religion. This being recognized they were protected by treaty when the country was handed over to British rule, and for the space of many years that treaty has been respected. Canadians of all classes, moreover, have renewed that treaty by their own acts in the confederation of the various Provinces which constitute the Dominion, and have loyally sought to perpetuate it for the benefit of their French Canadian countrymen. It may be fairly extended that it is not a disadvantage to the country to have the French language implanted on this soil. It is an advantage to individuals to be able to speak two languages. By acquiring a knowledge of both languages, their character is moulded on two different lines of thought, and their minds are broadened thereby. If people would view the matter in this light there would not be so much prejudice in regard to the question of language, the difference in which need not affect the national feelings and aspirations of the population.
On the other hand, it would be an ungrateful return for the good faith which has been kept with our French Canadian countrymen, in all that they hold dear, if they were to listen to those who seek to raise a different spirit from the true Canadian instincts which they have hitherto evinced, and with which their English-speaking countrymen are so strongly imbued. Equally ungrateful would it be if they were to take advantage of the liberality of the constitution from which they draw their freedom, to throw any obstacle in the way of that healthy national life which will enable Canada to prosper and add to the strength of the British Empire which has conferred so many benefits on the world. Moreover, while the constitution under which we live is free, it was never intended that that freedom should be used for any purpose but to preserve the integrity of the country and the welfare of its citizens.
In addition to the trial of Riel in Regina, a number of half-breeds were tried on the charge of treason-felony. These men composed Riel's council. They were defended by Mr. H. J. Clarke, of Winnipeg, a former Attorney-General of the Province of Manitoba. They pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in the Manitoba Penitentiary, as follows :-
Seven years each: Alexander Cayen, Maxime Dubois, Pierre Henry, Maxime Lepine, Albert Monckman, Pierre Paranteau, Pierre Vandelle, Philip Guardepuy, Philip Garnot, James Short, Bapti Vandalle.
Three years: Alexander Fisher, Pierre Guardepuy, Moise Ouillette.
One year: Joseph Arcand, Ignace Poitras, junior, Ignace Poitras, senior, Moise Paranteau.
Discharged: Joseph Delorme, Alexander Labombarde, Joseph Pilon, Bapti Rocheleau, Poitrie Tourand, Francis Tourand, to appear for sentence when called upon.
In addition to these half-breeds, One Arrow, the chief of his tribe, White Cap, chief of his tribe, Poundmaker and Big Bear, chiefs of their tribes, were all tried at the same time at Regina, before Judge Richardson and Colonel McLeod. They were defended by Mr. Beverley Robertson, who was instructed by the Crown to do so. With the exception of White Cap, these chiefs were likewise sentenced to undergo an imprisonment in the Manitoba Penitentiary. At Battleford, the Indians who had committed the murders around that region and the massacre at Frog Lake were arraigned before Judge Rouleau, upon the charge of murder. Other Indians were also arraigned upon minor charges. Eleven of them were sentenced to be hanged upon the 27th November. Two of them had been convicted of murdering a squaw, who was accused by the Indians of the crime of "wittigo" or cannibalism; they were reprieved, and their sentences commuted to imprisonment for life. Louis Mongrain, who shot Cowan, at Fort Pitt, had his sentence also commuted to imprisonment for life. This clemency was in consequence of his having notified the farm instructor, Mr. Mann, and his family, in time to save their lives at Onion Lake.
The following are the names of those who were tried before Judge Rouleau, and sentenced to be hanged: Pa-pa-mah-cha-kaw-yo (Wandering Spirit), for murdering Thomas Quinn, Indian Agent; Ickta, for the murder of Payne, the farm instructor at Battleford: Louison Mongrain, who killed Cowan, shooting him dead after he was wounded, sentenced to be hanged, sentence commuted; Apistaskous (Little Bear), and Napase, alias Iron Body, were sentenced for the murder of George Dill; Pa-pa-mek-sick (Round the Sky), was sentenced for the murder of the Rev. Francois Xavier Farfard, who was killed by him when wounded; Wawanitch (the Man Without Blood), was sentenced for the murder of Bernard Tremont; Manetchus (Bad Arrow) and Kitiemakyin (Miserable Man) were sentenced to be hanged for the murder of Charles Gouin. The Indian who killed the the Rev. Father Marchand escaped to the United States with Little Poplar.
For the lesser crimes of larceny and arson, the following were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment:- Charles Poyack, a Cree Indian; Joseph Heanault, a half-breed; Eli Francis, Natoos; Bazil Favil; Frederick Armainson; Jacob, a Cree Indian; Louisan Sayer; Pierre Descoteaux; Papakwesitaus; Siahkatamo; Wyassikyin (the last three were Crees); White Face; Leon Francis; Mistatimawos, a Cree; Big Belly, alias Louis; Wyenoos, a Cree; Opinewewin; Mussinass; Pyechin, treason-felony: Watchiwein (Mountain Man), larceny; Katchewabeo (the Old Man); Kapachas (Little Running); Manitomenekick (God's Otter), larceny; Kawanitowas (the Idol), larceny; Tah-ko-gan, a Cree, larceny; Colbert Laplante, larceny; Wa-pa-hoo (White Owl); Wapaya (White Man), treason-felony; Osimaeasikawiw (Erect Man), receiver of stolen property; Ma-ha-ka-nis (Little Wolf), arson; Picous (Sand Fly), escaping from jail; Toussaint, alias Calling Bull, arson; Nawo-ki-sick-o-hinas (Four Sky Thunder), arson.
On the morning of the 27th November, at Battleford, the day broke dark and cloudy, with a frosty air, upon the execution of the eight Indians who had been sentenced to be hanged for murder. The hangings were conducted publicly, and were witnessed by a large number of whites and a few Indians. The Government authorities had permitted Indians from reserves distant ten or fifteen miles from Battleford to be present at the execution, and all night groups of the braves hung about the stores and camped upon the open ground in the vicinity of the barracks of the Mounted Police. Camp-fires lit up the prairies, and the comrades of the warriors to be executed could be heard chanting the death-songs of their tribes. Fathers Bigonnesse and Cochin remained with the condemned Indians all night. At 7:30 in the morning, each man was pinioned and marched to the scaffold, around which a strong guard was thrown. The scaffold was so arranged that each man took his place on the trap, side by side. When they were asked if they had anything to say, Wandering Spirit, in his native tongue, acknowledged that he deserved death. He warned his people not to make war on the whites, as they were their friends. He told of the Frog Lake massacre, and took the burden of the crime upon himself. He was followed by Miserable Man, who spoke in the same strain. When he had concluded, the condemned Indians, who had remained quiet through the speeches, except to exclaim "how" at various periods during Wandering Spirit's address, to signify their acquiescence in what he said, began to chant their death-song. All the while the priests could be heard reciting prayers. The chant of the savages continued even after the white caps had been adjusted, and in the midst of their song the bolt was drawn and all fell together, each one apparently dying instantly. Dr. Rolph examined the bodies and pronounced life extinct, and in fifteen minutes they were cut down and placed in coffins, and handed over to the coroner and jury. The executions occurred without any mishap. The Indians who stood at a distance and witnessed the affair were quiet, and immediately after the executions most of them set out for their reserves. Those who remained behind showed no special signs of excitement. Though all must deplore the necessity that arose for setting so severe an example, it was done in the cause of humanity. The lesson which the Indians have been taught has been a severe one and most judicial in its character, but it will do them good in the long run, and render the peace of the country more secure - and now having asserted the majesty of the law, Canadians will realize that clemency to those misguided men who are undergoing their sentence would be magnanimous and humane.