THE PLOT THICKENS
The Honourable Mr. Howe, Secretary of State, who, previous to accepting a portfolio, had been the leader of a party in Nova Scotia strenuously opposed to Confederation upon the terms of settlement, had just visited the country. Mr. Howe had taken a strongly hostile position in the matter of his own province, appealing to the foot of the throne for repeal or for the redress of grievances from which his province suffered. The policy of confederating the provinces being a broad and grand scheme, could not be jeopardized by any precipitate action on the part of one of the provinces; and Mr. Howe, in his loyalty to the crown, no doubt felt that a modification of the terms of union was better than to upset the great work just consummated. With these views he took a seat in the Dominion Cabinet. As a member of the Government, previous to Mr. Macdougall's departure for Manitoba, Mr. Howe paid a visit to the North-West Territory; and probably from his sympathetic nature, having just come from the agitation of grievances in his own province, he sought for information as to the condition of affairs in Manitoba, suited to his own peculiar views. On his return to Canada, he met the Honourable Mr. Macdougall, his colleague in the Government, who was then on his way to the country in the capacity of Governor. Strangely enough, the two statesmen met and parted without exchanging ideas, or without giving information the one to the other upon the local questions disturbing the public mind in the newly-acquired territory.
A good deal of comment arose from the fact that Mr. Howe did not enlighten Mr. Macdougall upon the result of his inquiries. But Mr. Howe did not realize from the information he obtained that Riel's movements threatened the peace of the country, and wrote privately to the Governor from St. Paul upon matters of general policy.
The Government in the previous session had passed an Act for the administration of affairs in the North-West suitable to a crown colony, and, with the highest motives and in an enterprising spirit, provided for the government of the territory. But finding that, in addition to paying three hundred thousand pounds for the acquisition of the territory, possibly a greater burden might be in store to obtain or enforce possession, the Government withheld the purchase money, and caused a postponement of the proclamation annexing it to Canada.
The Government, however, sent friendly commissioners, in the persons of Vicar-General Thibault, who had spent many years in the country, and Colonel de Salaberry, to assure the people of their good intentions, and also appointed Mr. Donald A. smith, an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, a commissioner on behalf of Canada. The two former were sent for the purpose of enlightening the French half-breeds as to the good disposition of the Government towards them, and to reassure the people. The latter was armed with a commission giving him more extended powers. They arrived almost simultaneously. But Riel by this time had so agitated the public mind and acquired such power that his ambition knew no bounds. He was therefore not disposed to allow any influence to be used over his people, which would interfere with the plans maturing in his mind for the founding of an independent state, probably flying the stars and stripes, with himself as dictator, in the full enjoyment of all the honours and emoluments of the position. His people, however, were loyal to Canadian connection; so his schemes in that direction were happily frustrated.
Riel was a man of great natural ability. He had been well educated, at the expense of Madame Masson, whose aid had been obtained by the kind interest of Archbishop Tache, who, recognizing the boy's ability, had hoped to educate him for the priesthood. At the time when the political troubles arose in the settlement, Riel was a freighter on the plains between St. Paul and Winnipeg. While so occupied he acquired much knowledge of the half-breed character, and his education, on the other hand, enabled him to exercise considerable influence on the half-breed in return. At this formative period in his life, he drew a great deal of inspiration from American companions and counsellors, of whom there were not a few at the time in the neighbourhood. Archbishop Tache's acquaintance with Riel will prove of interest to show the latter's early training and career. Had Riel remained under the guidance of this venerable prelate, he might have been a useful citizen of the country to-day; hut his depraved, ambitious nature and lack of moral rectitude has brought him to the unerring fate of the criminal. I here insert the following cutting from a newspaper. On being interviewed the Archbishop made this statement:
"Every old settler knows the facts, hut I will again go over the simple story in a few words for the benefit of the public. When I returned to the Red River settlement from the far north to resume my episcopal duties, I found then, in the small college attached to my See at St. Boniface, three Metis lads, one French, one German) and one Scotch, viz., Macdougall (since dead), Schmidt, and Riel. I found them studying Latin, and took a great interest in their aptness for study. While in Montreal in 1858 I obtained admission for two of them to the College of Montreal, and for the other at St. Hyacinthe College. They went to college that year, and I returned to my diocese. In 1867, while in Montreal on a visit, I met Riel and told him that now that I had secured an education for him he must begin to look out for himself and endeavour to gain a respectable living. He went to the United States and remained there until he returned to his mother in the Red River settlement in the fall of 1868. From the time of his return till the outbreak of 1869 I did not see much of him, being a good deal absent in connection with my duties, so, as a matter of fact, I had but a comparatively slight acquaintance with Riel."Reil's vanity and self-confidence had been immensely puffed up by the success he had gained through a variety of fortuitous circumstances, which had so far helped him. He could not be called a bold man, for he felt his way, bit by bit, but was clever enough to take advantage of the circumstances favoring his schemes.
He did not at first ignore Mr. Donald A. Smith, as a commissioner from the Canadian Government, but admitted him into the Fort, where he was allowed to take up his quarters with his brother officers of the Company. Here, however, he was virtually a prisoner in his hands, and was not allowed to exercise his authority as a commissioner, but remained a mere spectator of the events daily occurring in and around the Fort. Nor was he able to exercise any influence in obtaining the release of the prisoners or in mitigating the severity of the rule which Riel exercised in the vicinity of Fort Garry. Neither was the mission of the Rev. Mr. Thibault or of Colonel de Salaberry productive of results, though they were allowed a greater freedom than was accorded to Mr. Smith, whom Riel regarded with suspicion, as an official of the Canadian Government. On their arrival at Fort Garry, Mr. Thibault and Colonel de Salaberry handed their papers to Riel, who took possession of them, and that was the last that was seen of them. Mr. Donald A. Smith was more wary, and took the precaution of leaving his papers at Pembina, in the care of Mr. Provencher, until he could be assured of bringing them in with safety.
The indignities the prisoners suffered while in close confinement were humiliating in the extreme. They were detained for no offence, but merely that Riel might use them to serve his purpose in any way that seemed to him expedient. Their confinement and poor food were not long in telling on them; but they were unable to get release, or any amelioration of their lot, for Riel was obdurate, and they were closely guarded by a large force. Their sufferings were greater by reason of the inclemency of the weather, it now being the depth of winter; and neither sufficient warmth or clothing was allowed them. Having been confined for some weeks without any hope of speedy release, nothing having so far been accomplished by the mission of Mr. Smith, some of the prisoners determined to effect their escape. The guards had become careless; and, an opportunity presenting itself, they made a dash for their liberty. But the difficulties they had to contend with in finding their way across the snow-clad prairies after effecting their escape were greater than they anticipated. Out of twelve who escaped seven were re-taken. One of them, poor Hyman, was badly frozen. Charles Mair, and Thomas Scott, whose life was afterwards taken by Riel, reached Portage la Prairie.
The prisoners had hitherto been confined in the Company's gaol, outside the Fort, which was in rather a dilapidated condition; but after this they were removed to quarters inside the Fort. Their reincarceration occurred on the 9th of January, 1870. Dr. Schultz was confined in a room by himself; and this act led the doctor to fear that he had been marked out as a special object of Riel's vengeance. But the doctor was not the man quietly to submit to any sinister designs of such a man as Riel. He had a devoted and noble wife, who kept watch and ward, from without the walls of the Fort, over the welfare of the prisoners; and no doubt she managed to keep up some kind of communication with her husband. This we know, at any rate, that, with her assistance, preparations were made for her husband's escape, for towards the latter end of January great excitement was caused by the news that Dr. Schultz had gained his liberty. With the assistance of a gimlet and knife, he contrived to open the windows of his prison, and by cutting his buffalo robe into strips, let himself down to terra firma He then scaled the walls of the Fort, and under the friendly screen of a severe blizzard, finally obtained his freedom. Outside the Fort a cutter was in waiting to convey him a few miles off to the hospitable home of Mr. Macbeth, in the parish of Kildonan, where he was for the time in comparative safety. The chagrin of Riel when it was discovered next morning that his most valued prisoner had effected his escape, amused his late comrades. They cheered to the echo on ascertaining that the news was true, despite the consequences that might befal, and in disregard of the abusive epithets Riel heaped upon them.
Doctor Schultz is an able, and in many ways, a remarkable man. Possessed of a magnificent physique and great force of character, he was popular in the cause he espoused, and was a tower of strength to it. No one could help admiring his firmness of purpose, the boldness of his policy, and the skill and judgment with which he achieved his ends. He came to the country a young man of nineteen, having already obtained his diploma as a doctor of medicine at Victoria College, Cobourg. With great ardour he identified himself with the country, intelligently appreciated its circumstances, and did yeoman service in its behalf. He fought with determination against the whole power of the Hudson's Bay Company, defied them on their own ground, and succeeded in holding his own against their attempts to overthrow him. There is no doubt that it was very largely due to Dr. Schultz's boldness in dealing with the Company that the way was prepared for the acquisition of the country by the Dominion, for, with such a determined spirit to deal with, they were beginning to find it difficult to maintain their authority. He possessed the confidence of the people for many years afterwards as their representative in the Dominion Parliament, and upon being defeated, after a hot political contest, was rewarded for his services by being appointed to the Senate. It must be a matter of regret to all that the tax upon his mind and energies during these troublous times has now told upon his health; for in the last few years he has been an invalid, and unable to take his wonted place in the van of progress in the great North-West.
During this period Mr. Donald A. Smith had not wasted his time. With the assistance of Mr. McTavish and others he succeeded in weaning some of Riel's councillors and men; and when Riel found defections were taking place, he thought it best to wait upon Mr. Smith to inquire of him in person the object of his visit, and to ascertain what powers had been conferred upon him. Mr. Smith, however, had taken the precaution of leaving his papers at Pembina, to be sure of their safety, and before replying to Riel, he asked permission to send his secretary for them. It was arranged that a public meeting should be held and the papers presented to the people, as Mr. Smith would not recognize Riel or his government. Now commenced a new game of Riel's. He thought he would try and get hold of these papers, as he had got Mr. Thibault's and Colonel de Salaberry's, but Mr. Smith was not to be caught. He sent Mr. Hardesty, his secretary, and arranged with him privately that a party would be sent to meet him. Riel kept back Mr. Hardesty without Mr. Smith's knowledge for twenty-four hours, trying to work upon him. He placed a sentry in Mr. Smith's room and one on his door, night and day, while Mr. Hardesty was away. However, a party went to meet the secretary about twenty miles from. Fort Garry to escort him in, and as they were returning they were met by some of Riel's men who attempted to get the papers, but a loyal French half-breed drew his revolver and threatened to shoot the first man who interfered with Hardesty, and so the whole party returned to Fort Garry together, and Hardesty was conducted to the council chamber. Mr. Smith came there to receive the papers, and in handing them to Mr. Smith, O'Donohoe, a member of Riel's provisional government, attempted to snatch them, but Mr. Grant drew his revolver and prevented this. The scene, as described to me, was an exciting one. For Riel and his council were anxious to get the papers, so as to deprive Mr. ,Smith of any authority before the people; and it required a great deal of planning on Mr. Smith's part to get possession of them.
Throughout the whole of these proceedings Mr. Donald A. Smith showed great diplomatic skill under very trying circumstances, opposed as he was by Riel's tyranny and cunning. At this time Riel was ably assisted by Père Lestance, with whom he secretly consulted, and who used his influence with the people to aid and support him. Mr. Smith, having obtained possession of his papers, now called a meeting of the people. This meeting, which was attended by upwards of a thousand people, was held in the open air, notwithstanding the fact that the thermometer ranged many degrees below zero. Its deliberations extended over two days. Riel managed to get himself appointed interpreter for the French half-breeds in placing before the people Mr. Smith's statements. This gave him considerable power over the proceedings of the meeting. Judge Black was appointed chairman. The reading of Mr. Smith's commission, the Queen's letter, and every other document was contested with much obstinacy by Riel, but ultimately without effect. According to Mr. Smith's report of the proceedings, the result was the appointment of forty delegates, twenty from either side, to meet on the 25th January, 1870, "with the object of considering the subject of Mr. Smith's commission and to decide what course would be best to pursue for the welfare of the country." The English, as a body, and a large number of the French declared their entire satisfaction with the explanations given and their desire for union with Canada. During this period Mr. Smith had been able to retain in the Fort about forty loyal French half-breeds, who assisted him in his efforts at conciliation. Riel, finding that the ground was thus slipping from under his feet, on the 22nd of January had a conference with these loyal supporters, and, with tears in his eyes, told them how earnestly he desired an arrangement with Canada. He further assured them he would lay down his authority immediately on the meeting of the Convention. Believing him sincere in this assurance, they agreed to leave the Fort, thinking that ten of their number would be sufficient to remain for its protection. They had hardly gone, however, when Riel resorted to more oppressive measures; and the Hudson's Bay Company's stores, which had hitherto been only partially in his hands, were now wholly taken possession of by Riel. It would be tedious to relate the tyrannous influences that Riel sought to wield about this time. On the 25th of January the Convention met, and Judge Black was appointed chairman. It sat for nearly fifteen days, and many were the earnest discussions for the welfare of the country. Mr. Smith placed all his documents before the meeting and a "bill of rights" was prepared for submission to the Canadian Government. Riel was anxious to have a Province created and the question was discussed in Convention, but, on the 4th of February, a proposition to form a province was negatived by the meeting; and, on the following day, another motion, directed against the Hudson's Bay Company, was vetoed. Riel's language and conduct now became violent in the extreme. He put a guard upon Governor McTavish, who was then lying dangerously ill, and he took Dr. Cowan prisoner and placed him in confinement with the rest of his captives. Mr. Smith was also put under a strict guard.
The "bill of rights" was prepared and handed to Mr. Smith, who invited the Convention to appoint delegates to confer. with the Dominion Government, and he assured them that their delegates would have a cordial reception and obtain recognition of their claims. The delegates named were Judge Black, Rev. Mr. Ritchot, and Mr. Alfred H. Scott. The Convention terminated on the 10th February, but, before closing, Riel succeeded in forming a provisional government with himself as president. In this government several delegates who were asked to join it declined to take part. As a condition, in forming his administration, Riel promised that the prisoners should be released, and on the following day he released six or eight of them. Riel had now accomplished the object of his desires; having formed an independent government by the vote of the Convention, to which he was himself elected president. If he had been sincere and pacific in his intentions he would have conducted the affairs of the country on a conciliatory basis, and have released all the prisoners. But he would not let go his personal hold, and continued to rule as an autocrat. If he had at once opened the prison doors and let all his unfortunate victims out, and allowed the people, without intimidation, to elect their delegates to the new Convention an honourable career might have been open to him. But this was not his course; and there was a want of moral stamina and diseased vanity in the man that has proved his ruin.
While these proceedings were going on at Fort Garry, I was in Portage la Prairie, with many others, who had there taken refuge at the commencement of the troubles. Our sources of information were meagre, as all mail communication was stopped, and we knew nothing about the action of the conventions, nor did we know what was going on at the Fort. Some of the people had friends among the prisoners and were anxious about their safety. Rumours came from time to time that they were suffering from close confinement and were ill-treated. Attempts had been made on one or two occasions to organize a party to secure their release, which I discouraged, knowing that commissioners had been appointed by the Canadian Government on a mission of peace. My orders from Colonel Dennis, moreover, were to do my utmost to keep things quiet.
When Scott escaped from his prison he came to Portage la Prairie for safety and was warmly welcomed by the people. He gave graphic accounts of his imprisonment and escape, and once more the question was raised to organize a party to effect the release of the other prisoners. As it was known that I had previously discouraged such attempts, the meetings for the purpose of organization were held secretly and information kept from me. But when I discovered that they were determined to go, I felt it my duty to accompany them, and endeavour to keep them to the legitimate object for which they had organized. This I did, fearing that a rash act might bring trouble upon the country, the consequences of which would be serious, for I had now realized the dangerous position things had assumed in the early part of the troubles. Enthusiastic meetings were held and preparations were made for a start. The plan decided upon was to leave Portage la Prairie so as to arrive at Fort Garry before daybreak and surprise the Fort, which at that hour would probably be little guarded. We were then to release the prisoners and return. Everything being in readiness, on the 12th of February we took our departure, lightly armed, many of the men having only oak clubs. We mustered at one o'clock sixty strong, and marched off from Portage la Prairie on foot. Mr. Gaddy, an English half-breed, was one of the leaders. I was elected commander, and Mr. Farmer, now of Headingly, a captain, and other officers were appointed.
When one realizes the severity of the North-West climate, the thermometer ranging down to thirty or forty degrees below zero, and the month of February being the most inclement of the year, and that we had undertaken this trying march of sixty miles without transport and without provisions, the boldness of the undertaking will be seen to be great. But the earnestness which actuated the men in their desire to release their friends from a durance so vile, made them all cheerful under the circumstances The men marched merrily along the frozen snow for about nine hours without rest until they reached Headingly, a settlement eighteen miles from Fort Garry. On the way, two prisoners were taken. I took the precaution to have them detained until we had passed on our way, that no information might reach Fort Garry in advance of our movements. The men's blood was up, and some felt that the prisoners we had taken had been too leniently dealt with, and should have been brought with the party; but I did not wish anything done that would arouse a feeling prejudicial to our movement, or that would imperil the safety of peaceable settlers, should reprisals be taken. We picked up detachments at Poplar Point and High Bluff, on our way, and reached Headingly about midnight.
At Headingly, we sought shelter in the houses of settlers for the purpose of resting and preparing for the attack, which we proposed to make on the Fort at dawn. In the short space of an hour a storm arose, which soon turned into a North-West blizzard, during which it is perilous, if not fatal, for travellers to proceed on their way. This necessitated a change of plans. At Headingly all the settlers and half-breeds fully approved of the enterprise, and some joined the party. The blizzard blew for forty-eight hours without intermission, and we had to trust to the hospitality of our friends, whose kindness was unbounded.
On the morning following our arrival at Headingly, we assembled in Mr. Taylor's house to hold a meeting. I felt that I had lost the confidence of many of the men, who thought that I was not in earnest, and who knew that I was not in thorough accord with the expedition. At the meeting, feeling that without their confidence I could not proceed, I resigned theposition to which they had elected me on leaving Portage la Prairie, explaining my reasons, and proposing that they should re-elect their officers. I was re-nominated, and some one at the meeting got up and asked, before having the motion put, "If Major Boulton meant fight." I answered that if by fighting they meant leading the men on to any rash act or undertaking, irrespective of the consequences, I did not mean fighting; but if I was re-elected I would do my utmost to accomplish the object for which we had left the Portage, if I could see my way to accomplish this without undue risk to the force under my command. This satisfied the party, and I was duly re-elected their commander. I give these details thus minutely as I have always been credited with having raised the force at the Portage. I did not take that position; I felt a responsibility others did not feel, having been left behind with certain instructions; and my anxiety was to carry them out. As I could not alter their determination to attempt to release their friends, I went with them to help to guide them, for, realizing the serious position the settlement was placed in, my anxiety was to avoid any actual outbreak of hostilities. The blizzard interfered with our first plans, and I set about making preparations to accomplish our purpose by a different method.
The knowledge of our adventure was not known to the other settlements friendly to our cause; but rumours, no doubt, had by this time reached Riel's ears, and as soon as the storm abated sufficiently to permit of our travelling, two emissaries were sent to acquaint the friendly settlements of the object we had in view. Mr. Gaddy, with a companion, went to Dease, who was the leader of the loyal party in the French settlement; and Mr. Taylor, afterwards the Hon. John Taylor, went with a companion to the English settlements to the north of Fort Garry, to tell them that a party had come down for the purpose of effecting the release of the prisoners, and that on the following day we proposed to march to Kildonan Church, and there await the arrival of reinforcements from their parishes.
We started from Headingly at eight o'clock on a fine moonlight night to march to the rendezvous, and had to pass close under the walls of the Fort in order to reach it. As we passed the Fort, the sentries saw us and fired a signal of alarm, which we took no notice of, but went on our way without interference. As we passed through the village of Winnipeg, we heard of a house which Riel used continually to visit. Thinking we might make a timely capture, we surrounded the house, and Scott and I entered to search for Riel; but the host assured us he was not there; so we passed on without disturbing the family. Some of the settlers, seeing us arrive at Kildonan, were alarmed at the sudden turn affairs had taken. The action of the Convention, they expected, was about to bring a peaceful solution of the difficulties, which they had hoped would be realized; but the appearance of another armed force on the scene cast all their hopes to the wind. Before leaving Portage la Prairie we had, of course, no knowledge of the arrangements that had been made between the commissioners and Riel and the population, a few days before. Riel, we argued, brought this attack on by illegally, unjustly and cruelly keeping forty peaceable citizens in his prison, day after day, and month after month. So we moved on and reached Kildonan Church, where we took up our position as previously arranged, and made the people acquainted with the object we had in view. The news soon spread, and many people flocked to our assistance. The emissaries we had sent down to the lower settlements had returned and reported that a large force was coming up with Dr. Schultz.
It was a fine sight, about three o'clock in the afternoon, to see three or four hundred settlers marching up to our neighbourhood, headed by a small cannon, drawn by four oxen, the whole under the leadership of Dr. Schultz, whose powerful figure stood out boldly as he led them up. They came approving of the course that had been taken, and determined to assist. They were enraged at the insincerity of Riel, who had promised, upon the formation of the new provisional government, to have the prisoners released. He had broken his promise, and they felt that nothing but force would compel him to keep it. The utmost enthusiasm now prevailed, though there were many who felt great anxiety under the new turn of affairs, fearing that a conflict was inevitable, which so far had been happily averted. I shared in this anxiety, but the thought that immediately pressed upon me was how to feed the large gathering. A subscription list was passed round to raise sufficient to purchase some supplies; but beyond a sovereign from Dr. Schultz, who emptied his pockets, and half, a sovereign from one or two others, there was no money among the party, so we had to fall back upon the hospitality of the people in the immediate neighbourhood for our evening and morning meals. The Rev. Mr. Black placed his house, stores, and everything that he had at our disposal; and we camped in the church for the night.
Towards dusk, a prisoner, whose name was Parisien, was brought in as a suspected spy. He was taken in charge by the guard, and no more secure place offering, he was imprisoned underneath the pulpit. On the following morning, he asked permission to go out. Leave being granted, he was accompanied by the sergeant of the guard and two men. Around the church were numbers of people, and others constantly arriving; their sleighs and cutters were standing about, and in one of these was a gun lying on the seat. This caught the eye of Parisien, who was as quick as lightning to conceive the idea of escape. He made a bolt from the guard, seized the gun from the cutter, and ran for the banks of the river, only a few yards distant. As he got down the bank there happened to be riding towards the church on the frozen river the son of Mr. (now Senator) Sutherland. He was coming from his father's house to join the force, and without any knowledge of what had occurred, this poor young fellow, about one-and-twenty years of age, was suddenly fired at twice by the prisoner, both shots taking effect.
The ruffianly act was seen by the people on the bank, who had witnessed the attempt to escape, and they immediately began firing on Parisien, who continued his flight. The object he had in view, in shooting young Sutherland, was evidently to seize his horse to assist him to escape, or to prevent Sutherland riding after him. From where I was, inside the church, I heard the firing, and rushed out to ascertain what was going on. When I was informed of the shooting, I ran down the bank and found poor Sutherland lying on the snow still alive. I had him carried into the house of the Rev. Mr. Black, where Dr. Schultz and another doctor present attended him. The poor young fellow lingered through the day and then died. As soon as I had seen him placed in Mr. Black's house, I went off down the river to ascertain what had taken place in regard to Parisien. I saw about half a mile distant a large crowd. I ran to them and found that they had caught the prisoner and were handling him severely. They were infuriated at the death of Sutherland, and intended showing their captive no mercy. His feet were tied together with a sash, and he was being dragged along the ice by another sash, which was tied around his neck. Before long he would, no doubt, have suffered the consequences of his act. But I interfered, and had him taken in charge and brought back to the church, determined to allow no hasty act or feeling to prejudice our proceedings, as his case was one for a judicial trial. When the force broke up on the following day Parisien was sent down in charge of a guard to the lower fort; on his way down he again tried to escape, but was fired upon by the guard, who recaptured him, and about a month after he died of his wounds.