Riel, Dumont, and the 1885 Rebellion
by Brian M. Brown
edited by Kimberley Kuzak
Table of Contents
Riel Works To Create a New Province
Finding a Leader
The Events That Led to War
The Battle of Duck Lake
Dealing with the Dead
The Metis Lifestyle Compared to That of the White People
The Troops Journey to the North-West
The Battle of Fish Creek
The Battle of Batoche
Opinions of the British and Foreign Press
Bibliography and Notes
copyright©1993 Brian M. Brown
minor revisions 1997, 2000, and Oct. 8/01. web published: November 1997
transferred to Telnet Canada Enterprises Limited,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada on August 1998:
http://www.tcel.com/~brownb and then to
http://www.alittlehistory.com on Jan. 10/01.
This factual story shows that sometimes life can be stranger than fiction. More importantly, this story gives us insight into the human condition.
This tells about Riels dramatic life, a life that reminds us of a great Shakespearean tragedy. As well, we see Riels spiritual and religious nature, and this provides us with excellent food for thought because it reminds us of the intangible side of life.
Some people who have read about Dumont will see him as a great, courageous leader. While his heroism is present in this true story, the facts have been edited so the focus is more on Dumont the human being. In this way, I avoided giving the false impression that war is an exciting adventure.
When the characters make statements, you are reading the actual words that were spoken. At that time, they were recalled and written down by the people involved. The quotations, therefore, realistically reflect the nature of the people speaking. Also, additional information of interest is offered in the detailed notes which are in the file: Bibliography and Notes.
About 150 years ago, buffalo were still roaming freely across the Western Canadian prairie, an area which was known at the time as the North-West. The Metis loved to travel across the prairie and hunt buffalo. The buffalo provided the Metis with most of what they needed in order to maintain their way of life.
The Metis are a unique people who had their beginnings about 200 years ago. Some of the White fur traders married Indian women, and they had children who grew up learning the ways of both the White man and the Indian. Over time, their descendants developed their own culture and became known as Metis.
This factual story is about the Metis and two of their leaders: Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Riel and Dumont were two different kinds of men. They were an odd pair with contrasting backgrounds.
Gabriel Dumont was raised in a family that traveled across the plains and hunted buffalo. As Dumont got older, he became the best at shooting, racing horses, hunting buffalo, and providing leadership. At the age of 25, he was elected to lead the buffalo hunt.1
Later on, when the Metis formed a government, Dumont became their president. It was when Dumont was president that Louis Riel joined him, and together they led the Metis in battles against the Canadian Government.
Louis Riel was not like Dumont. Riel was raised in the Red River settlement in a Catholic family that was deeply religious. 2 As Riel grew up, he was sent to religious schools. He did well, so at the age of 14, he was selected to go to Montreal to become a priest.
However, after years of study he fell in love. Riel left his studies and found work in a law office, but his girl-friend's parents refused to give permission for them to marry. Riel returned to his home in the Red River settlement in the North-West.3
Riel Works to Create a New Province:
At home there had been many changes.1 The Indian, White man, and Metis had all been hunting the highly valued buffalo. Most of the buffalo herds had disappeared, so the Metis were forced to find other ways to make a living. Many of them turned to farming.2
In 1869, the government of the North-West was being handed over from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Canadian government in Eastern Canada. The French Metis were not happy with this because the Canadian government was far away and tended to make decisions to suit their own needs. Louis Riel, at 25 years of age, became the main leader of the Metis.
After experiencing a few bad decisions, 120 French Metis went to the main fort in the settlement where the Governor lived. The fort was almost empty, so they were able to enter and take control without any violence.
However, many of the White settlers who had come west from Canada disagreed with the actions of the Metis. Forty-eight Canadian settlers gathered in a warehouse and prepared to fight a battle. However, two hundred armed Metis arrived, surrounded the warehouse, and pointed two cannons at it. They demanded that the Canadians surrender within fifteen minutes. The Canadian settlers understood their predicament, so they gave up and marched off to jail. Nobody was hurt.3
Louis Riel began to organize a new government. He drew up a "List of Rights" 4 and sent it to the Canadian government.
Soon, however, Riel was faced with a momentous decision. One White settler named Thomas Scott, a stubborn and racist trouble-maker, had been put in jail for taking up arms against the Metis twice. While in jail, Scott had attacked the Metis guards and repeatedly insulted them. When he was put on trial, the Metis court sentenced him to be shot.5
Riel could have prevented the execution, but he needed to maintain order in the settlement, and he wanted to change the attitude of the Canadian government. Riel said, "We must make Canada respect us." 6
Thomas Scott was shot by a Metis firing squad. This became the biggest mistake that Riel made in his entire life.
The English in Ontario were upset over the shooting of Scott. Politicians organized public meetings to protest the shooting of Scott, and thousands of people showed up.7 English-Canadian newspapers published verbal attacks against the Catholic Church and French Canada, and the reaction of the French Canadian newspapers was just as bad. The spirit of cooperation between the French and English in Canada was wiped away.8
The Canadian government responded. They accepted the Metis "List of Rights" and also turned the Red River settlement into a new province which they named Manitoba.9 Riel and the Metis had been amazingly successful. However, the Canadian government also sent 1200 soldiers to the newly created province.
Before the soldiers arrived, Riel found out that many of the soldiers were angry and out to get revenge for the shooting of Scott. Riel feared for his life, so he fled to safety in the United States.10
There were many fights between the soldiers and the Metis in the settlement. At this time the new Governor wrote the Prime Minister saying, " "There is a small but noisy section of our people [who] really talk and seem to feel as if the French half-breeds should be wiped off the face of the globe."11 Four Metis were killed. Nobody was arrested. The Metis were not in a position to do anything about this.12
As time passed more White settlers arrived, and the main way of life of the new province became that of the English-speaking White people. However, the French-speaking Metis had their own way of life. They were again seriously mistreated. Some Metis had difficulty gaining legal title to their land, and some lost their farms.13
Many of them responded by moving further west and settling near the village of Batoche in what is present day North Central Saskatchewan.
Finding a Leader:
Years later, in 1884 a railway was being built across the country. The Metis in the Batoche area expected that the new railway would bring a flood of White settlers. They again feared that the way of life in their locality would become the way of life of the English-speaking White man.
At this time, most people in the North-West were unhappy with the Canadian government. A group of French and English Metis and some White settlers held a meeting near Batoche. They all agreed that they needed a leader who could get results.
Gabriel Dumont was at the meeting. He was still a strong leader at 47 years of age, but he could not read or write, so he had not been very successful at getting the Canadian government to respond to complaints.1 Now Dumont believed that someone else would be more effective as their leader.
They needed a leader who was truly outstanding. They needed someone who could read and write, speak both French and English, who could get the Canadian government to respond to their demands, and who was liked by all the peoples in the North-West. They needed a very, very talented leader. Naturally, they chose a school teacher.
They sent Gabriel Dumont and three other men to the United States to get a Metis school teacher, Louis Riel.
Since Riel had fled to the United States from the newly created province of Manitoba, he had had a difficult 15 years. Riel had been elected three times to be a member of the Canadian government in Eastern Canada. Unfortunately, it was not safe for him to take his seat because some people remained angry at Riel and the Ontario government offered a $5,000 reward for his capture. Then, a few years later, the Canadian government banished Riel from Canada for five years.2
After this, Riel was placed in a hospital for the mentally ill for two years. When he was released, he went to the western United States to live. This is where Riel met and married a young Metis woman and was hired to teach school.3 He was teaching school when Dumont found him in 1884.
Dumont discussed things with Riel.4 Dumont told him that the Metis feared losing their farms. They were farming on long and narrow river lots perpendicular to the river, and for some unknown reason, the White surveyors had ignored this. They had surveyed the Metis land into their usual one-mile squares.5 Past experience had taught the Metis that there was a real chance they could lose their farms. The government did not want to do another survey because a river-lot survey cost about nine times as much as an ordinary one.6
Riel agreed to help out. He finished teaching school and was soon off on the trail to Canada. Riel made the trip with his wife, a one-year-old daughter, and a two-year-old son.7
When they finally arrived in the Batoche area, they were greeted by sixty Metis horsemen. The horsemen shouted their welcomes and sang songs about battles in the past that they had fought and won.8 Fifty wagons joined them as they paraded back to Dumonts house where Riel and his family were invited to stay.9
But Riel did not want violence. He went to a number of English and French Metis communities and made speeches in which he asked for peace. He got their support.10
Riel was not sure if the English-speaking White settlers would want to hear him speak. Then, the leading priest in that part of the country, Father Andre, wrote to him. Father Andre lived in Prince Albert, a town of mainly White people. Father Andre's letter said: "So you must come; you are the most popular man in the country and everyone awaits you with impatience. I have only to say to you: come, come quickly."11
Riel went and spoke to a crowd of about five hundred people. After this, Father Andre reported: "There was a mass meeting, such as Prince Albert had never seen; people came from everywhere, and they went back struck with the quiet and gentle way he spoke to them."12
The Events That Led To War:
Next, Riel prepared a carefully worded petition that complained about the treatment of everyone, including the Indians and the White people.1 He then sent it to the Canadian government.
Riel soon started to lose support. He got into arguments with the local priests over his religious beliefs.2 A few times, while Riel argued with the priests of the local Catholic churches, he flew into a bitter rage. Riel yelled at the priests that he was getting his directions from God. He also stated that some time in the future, he would make changes in the church. Many people were disturbed by this.3
During this period, Riel was having difficulties with his stomach. He gave himself advice by recording in his personal diary, "You eat a third too much. Do not eat heavily before you go to bed. Never go out without a hat, whether it's hot or cold." Riel also told himself to eat a more balanced diet. Soon after this, Riel wrote that he was feeling much better.4
When the government replied to the petition, the reply only said that they were going to only begin to look at the Metis claims.5 The reply did not talk of immediate action. The Metis were upset. They had received replies like this before, and very little had been done.6 Riel was angry.
The Metis talked of war and began gathering supplies in case one started.
About a month later, the Metis were told that 500 police were coming to arrest Riel. The Metis believed the story and decided that now was the time to act.
Riel led a group of Metis who cut some telegraph lines. They took control of two local stores and removed supplies, bullets, and guns. As they did this, they took a number of prisoners.7
Next, they went to the church at Batoche to hold a meeting. When the priest tried to stop them, he was brushed aside. Riel declared, "Rome is fallen" and then told the Metis that instead of having the pope in Rome as head of the church, they would have a new pope, a Bishop in Montreal. 8 Riel hoped that eventually this would lead to the creation of a new church in North America which would unite both Catholics and Protestants.9
On the next day, the Metis met again. In an emotionally charged meeting they formed their army and elected their own government.10
Riel's emotions still swung from one extreme to another. There is some truth in Riels comments to himself in his private diary. He wrote, "Good sense shone in me; it shone, it sparkled in my face." .11 However, at other times Riel would completely lose control. One time, he became enraged and shouted at an English Metis, "You don't know what we are after - it is blood, blood, we want blood; it is a war of extermination." Soon afterwards, Riel calmed down and apologized for what he had said.12
Riel wrote a letter to the North-West Mounted Police in Fort Carleton. He was hoping that he could still avoid a war. He hoped to succeed without any serious fighting, in the same way he had succeeded fifteen years before when the Canadian government had agreed to create the new province of Manitoba.
In his letter, Riel threatened to begin "a war of extermination," and explained that a war could be avoided if the police would simply give up their fort and surrender.13
At the same time, the police wrote a letter which stated that if the Metis would simply allow their leaders to be arrested, then the rest of the Metis could go free. Both Riel and the police used messengers to deliver the letters. As emotions were running high, neither side was ready to give in. They did not get together to discuss their differences.14
The White settlers and the English Metis refused to join in. The French Metis and some Indians from the nearby reserves would have to act alone.15
It was March 25 at a time when snow was still on the ground that the Metis took over the store at Duck Lake. On the next day, a group of police were harassed by Gabriel Dumont and some Metis near Duck Lake.16 The police returned to Fort Carleton to get more men.
The Battle of Duck Lake:
When the police returned, there were fifty-six police officers and forty-three volunteers. They faced a similar number of Metis and Indians. As both sides sent two men forward to talk, more Metis and Indians were arriving. There was a struggle over a gun, and a shot was fired. The battle had begun.1
About four years later, Dumont dictated his account of the events of 1885 to an official recorder. At that time, Dumont gave the following description of the Battle of Duck Lake:
As soon as the shooting started, we fired as much as we could. A shot came and gashed the top of my head. I fell down on the ground. . . . While we were fighting, Riel was on horseback, exposed to the gunfire, and with no weapon but the crucifix which he held in his hand. . . . The enemy was then beginning to retire, and my brother, who had taken command after my fall, shouted to our men to follow. Riel then asked, in the name of God, not to kill any more, saying that there had already been too much bloodshed.2
Dealing with the Dead:
Now they had to deal with the dead bodies. The number killed on the police side was twelve, and on the Metis side there were five.
Dumont talked about the bodies:
The next day, we spent the whole day in prayer for our dead whose bodies we laid out in a house. They were buried the next day. . . . I told Riel that it was a shame to leave exposed to the dogs the bodies of our dead enemies who, perhaps bore no more ill will against us than we against them. I suggested that we send a prisoner to [Fort] Carleton to tell the English to come and get their dead.3
Riel agreed to this. But when the prisoner went to the police and talked to them, the police did not believe his story. They thought he was a spy and put him in jail. It took them three days to decide that, rather than being a spy, he was a man with an important message.
Meanwhile, the Metis had two of their prisoners move the bodies into a house for safekeeping.
Finally, the English sent three men with their wagons to get the dead bodies. They got the bodies out of the house, placed them in their wagons, and took them home.4
One week later, the size of the conflict doubled. The Canadian government had been cutting back on the food that they had been giving to the Indians. In one hungry, poorly-treated tribe, a number of braves became angry. They went to the settlement of Frog Lake where they shot nine White people, including two priests.5
Now there was fear that all of the Indians and Metis in the West would begin a war against the White people. A total of 3300 White soldiers left Eastern Canada in the hopes of bringing peace back to the West. Meanwhile, 2000 troops in Western Canada prepared to join in.6
The Metis Lifestyle
Compared to That of the White People:
The battles between the Metis and the White soldiers were going to be between two very different types of people.
The Metis enjoyed the outdoors and were used to bad weather and other hardships of living outside in the wilderness.1 Most of them lived on small farms where they raised livestock, grew grain, and looked after gardens.
Some of what they used was homemade, but other items such as guns and bullets were bought in stores.2
Unlike the Metis, the soldiers had very little experience dealing with the problems and struggles of wilderness living. Many of them had spent their lives living in towns and cities where they had been working in offices and factories. 3 They bought their food and supplies in stores and lived in fairly comfortable homes.
When we compare the Metis men with the White soldiers, we can see a number of important differences. The Metis had done lots of hunting, and this helped them become excellent sharpshooters. Also, many of the older Metis had gained experience and skills while fighting against the Indians.4
As for the White soldiers, they were vulnerable because of a lack of fighting experience, and because they were only volunteers with very little training. The volunteers from the cities had received only twelve days of training each year. The rural volunteers had received their training at summer camps which were only held every second year. Some of them had not received any shooting practice. 5
Neither side was equipped the way today's modern army can be equipped. Obviously, a modern army can be far more destructive; however, the weapons used by the Metis and White soldiers still resulted in a lot of human suffering.
Most of the Metis used shot guns which had a short range, and a few owned old buffalo rifles. A few others, including Dumont, had bought long range repeating rifles.6 They were joined by some Indians who used guns and some who still used the bow and arrow.
For traveling, the Metis made use of the Red River cart, the wagon, and the canoe.
In comparison, the machines of the White people were impressive. They could travel by train, carriage, wagon, stagecoach, or steamship. To help them fight wars, the White people had created long range rifles, repeating rifles, field guns that used a large and powerful shell, and the Gatling gun which could fire ten bullets per second.7 In addition, they knew how to convert a steamer into a gunboat.
The leader of the Canadian army, Major-General Middleton, was a fifty-nine-year-old British commander who had graduated from a military college and spent most of his life in the British army.8
The Troops' Journey to the North-West:
Large crowds gathered and cheered the volunteer soldiers as they left their home towns in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada, and headed for the trouble spots in the North-West.1
Many soldiers thought they were about to go on an exciting adventure. They were going to fight a war for their country, for the British Empire, and for progress. 2 They did not know how much suffering they would experience. The soldiers from Eastern Canada were about to face the hardships of an exhausting journey, and they would soon understand that war is destructive and brutally painful.
Their journey to the North-West was difficult because the railway had not yet been completed. In Northern Ontario, there were four large gaps in the track which the troops had to cross.3
They crossed one gap by riding on sleighs. Two of the gaps required long, tough marches in the cold. In another gap, the soldiers made their way across twenty-four kilometers of barren ice. They struggled for six hours in the freezing cold and bright sun.
For days, the soldiers were hungry, sleepless, wet, and cold. Sometimes it was raining, sometimes it snowed, and sometimes the temperature got as low as -30 degrees Celsius.4
On one stretch of track, they rode on flat cars that only had low sides to shield the soldiers from the wind, but the top was open. During one ten hour ride, many of the troops experienced severe frostbite, and some became so cold that at the end of the ride they could not move. They had to be lifted off the train.5
At one stop, the soldiers were provided with a huge tent to sleep in. Since it was freezing, many chose to sleep in the open where they could build fires to keep warm. One soldier wrote:
Most lay with their feet toward the fire. I slept very little. Some slept soundly only to be awakened when their feet inside of their boots became so hot the soles of their boots started to smoke. They would jump up more asleep than awake, tear open their laces and get the boots off.6
Another soldier wrote about riding up and down the hills and through the bush in sleighs at four o'clock in the morning. He recorded that: "The men were so tired out that they fell asleep and would then fall off of their seats into about six or seven feet [about two meters] of snow.7"
During this time, Dumont was making plans with Riel. Dumont later related:
I proposed we go ahead of the troops, harass them by night to make them lose heart. But Riel did not agree. I would have done so without scruple, and I would even willingly have blown up the railway . I yielded to Riels judgment. I had confidence in his prayers, and that God would listen to him.8
Altogether, it took about four weeks for the troops to travel half way across the country and marching from the railway tracks to the Batoche area. 9 The better trained troops were the ones who were put into action.
The Battle of Fish Creek:
The Metis chose to face Middleton's troops at a place where the trail crossed Fish Creek. They hid themselves and their horses in the bushes of the Fish Creek coulee.
When the soldiers attacked, the soldiers fought from the open at the top of the coulee where they were easy targets. Many of them were killed.1 In the fighting, the Metis were forced to gradually withdraw to the bottom of the coulee. From there they were hidden and protected by thick willow bushes.2
At about ten o'clock that morning, a light rain began to fall, and the chilly, April rain continued for the rest of the day.3
The Metis and Indians were not trained like soldiers, so when they thought it was a good idea to leave, they left.4 There were only forty-seven Metis left in the coulee to face over four hundred soldiers. These Metis feared an attack, so they remained hidden in the bushes and spent a lot of their time praying.5
During the battle, Riel was at Batoche where he prayed with his arms stretched out to form the shape of a cross. When his arms grew tired, two Metis helped to hold them up.6
The Metis people were very religious and believed that it was important that Riel pray. Most Metis would agree with the one who is recorded as saying, "I believe that prayer did more than bullets." 7 Later, Dumont said, "I attribute our success to Riel's prayers."8
Meanwhile, part of Middleton's army which was on the opposite bank of the South Saskatchewan River, crossed the river on a barge. Now Middleton had fresh troops, but he saw that too many of his men had been killed and wounded. He refused to allow another attack.9
Late in the afternoon, as the rain turned to sleet, Middleton's cold, wet soldiers were glad to withdraw. Altogether, ten soldiers died and forty-five were wounded; on Dumont's side, five died and one was wounded. Also, fifty-five Metis and Indian horses had been killed.10
At dusk a cold wind started to blow. Soon it became bitterly cold, and the sleet turned to snow. The worn out troops lay in the cold listening to the groans of the wounded and dying.
The soldiers who had crossed the river suffered the most because they had come without their overcoats and blankets. One officer wrote, "None of us are ever likely to forget the dark night of the 24th. We thought we had come out for a picnic. War's hardships are doubly cruel to the civilian soldier."11
On the next day, Middleton felt shaken and exhausted. His poorly trained soldiers had performed poorly. On that day, the camp was quiet, there was very little movement, and very little was done. Throughout the camp there was a sense of gloom. Middleton felt sorry for the young soldiers who had finally experienced the realities of war.12
At this time, Riel was still hoping he could negotiate a peace settlement. He wrote in his personal diary: "Oh how hard it is to wage war! O my God! Guide me, help me in war, that I may have the good fortune to conclude a peace, an honorable peace before God and Men."13
However, Riel waited, and he never did get a chance to negotiate.
Middleton camped for two weeks before he felt that his army was ready to march towards another battle.
During this time, the Metis' provisional government held regular meetings. Their government decided that Riel's position was that of a prophet.14 Each morning, Riel brought new religious ideas to be discussed and voted on. They agreed to change the Lords Day from Sunday to Saturday, and they changed the names of the days of the week to religious names.15 Also, many of them accepted Riels belief that God would use a miracle to help the Metis win the next battle.16
Meanwhile, Dumont made plans to defend the village of Batoche. A series of rifle pits were dug around the village. Dumont sent messengers to ask all the Indians in the North-West to join the Metis. But, most of the Indians chose to stay home. They fought their own battles. Dumont had only two-hundred and seventy-five men to face eight-hundred and fifty soldiers.17
The Battle of Batoche:
Middleton decided to attack Batoche from two sides at the same time. He planned to have a boat sent down the river to Batoche where it would attack from the west. Meanwhile, Middleton would lead his soldiers in an attack from the East.1
A steamer was prepared for battle by changing it into a gunboat. To provide protection from the Metis gunfire, they used boards from Dumont's house and barn, part of Dumont's pool table, and some feed sacks. Dumont's house was then looted and burned.2
Thirty-five soldiers took up positions on the gunboat, and it started down the river towards Batoche.3
As the gunboat neared Batoche, many of the Metis and Indians left their rifle pits and ran to the riverbank. There was an exchange of fire.
As the boat passed Batoche, the Metis lowered a ferry cable and the smokestacks, spars, and steam whistle were knocked over. The gunboat drifted out of control, on down the river. It did not return. 4
Middleton and his soldiers marched towards Batoche. They arrived an hour late, so the gunboat had already passed, and the Metis and Indians were back in their rifle pits.
Middleton had a field gun fire at the village of Batoche. The women and children fled in terror.5
Middleton began to attack with his soldiers, but the Metis men were fairly safe in their rifle pits which had been carefully hidden in the bushes. Once again, Middleton's soldiers fought from higher ground where they were easy targets. At the end of the first day of fighting, Middleton believed he was losing.6
The next morning, Middleton decided to delay a major attack. His men needed a rest, and he hoped that the Metis defense would weaken with time. For the next two days, Middleton made use of his field guns and the Gatling gun, but he avoided a major attack. 7 The Metis continued to use up their ammunition.8
By the morning of the fourth day, some of the Metis had realized that the battle was hopeless, so they left. Many of the Metis that remained were old men. They were running out of bullets, so some were firing stones from their shotguns.9
After another morning of light fighting, Middleton became upset with some of the soldiers for not engaging the Metis. He stomped away in anger and then rode back to camp for lunch.10
The soldiers did want to fight and get the battle over with. They were tired of waiting, so they began their own attack. The Metis began to withdraw.
As the armies fought in the distance, a group of Metis in the town asked Riel to work a miracle. One of the Metis later described what happened. He said:
Riel sank to his knees and lifted his arms in the form of a cross. He spoke: 'All together, let us say three times, very loudly, "My God, have pity on us!"' Others fell to their knees and repeated the words. Riel continued: 'My God, stop those people, crush them.' He called two men to hold his arms up, as in the previous battle.11
Meanwhile, Middleton was out to lunch. When Middleton and some of the soldiers in the camp heard the gunfire, they rushed to the battle scene. The attack had been poorly organized. Many of the Metis were able to escape to the safety of the bushes.12 Riel and Dumont also fled into the bushes.13
Dumont later described his experiences in the bushes:
I went back to find my wife, and then I began looking about for scattered families whose tracks I followed. Not far from there, I found a group of women and children as well as a few men. My brother Elie had cut some hay to cover them. It was distressing to see these poor creatures laying in the hay like animals. Seeing the bare feet of the children, I made them a kind of shoe out of rawhide. The women appeared very brave.
I led my wife to another patch of woods, and set out to capture some horses. On the way, my attention was attracted by a white object which I twice called upon to answer; and it was when I threatened to shoot that I heard a voice say, 'It is us.' I approached and recognized Madame Vandal whose husband had been killed, and whose daughter she had carried this far on her back, because she was paralyzed, but the poor child was exhausted, and they had stopped there.
I went a little further, and I saw a Sioux horse and a Canadian stallion. I put my wife on the mare, and I led it to a clump of trees where we camped.
The next day, I went back to the river. I saw the houses at Batoche, with white flags flying from their roofs. I saw that everyone was surrendering.14
When Dumont later dictated his account of the events, he stated that, "The balance sheet of these four days of desperate fighting was for us, 3 wounded and 12 dead." Dumont's totals were radically different from the totals that Middleton claimed. Middleton wrote that one-hundred and seventy-three Metis were wounded, and fifty-one were killed. It appears that both Dumont and Middleton were not very good at counting.1
Dumont concluded his account with the following:
There were a couple of hundred horsemen looking for me in front while I was behind them. I hid myself in the woods during the night, and I watched them on the hill during the day.
On the third day, I acquainted my father with my plan to spend the summer harrying the police. He said to me, 'If you follow your idea of staying to kill people, you will be looked upon as a silly fool,' and he advised me to go across the border. I told him that I had always taken his advice, and that I wanted very much to follow it again, I told him I would leave if I didn't find Riel.
Ouellet led me to believe that [Riel] had already surrendered. When I saw I was the only one left, I made up my mind to take refuge in the territory of the United States.2
Dumont also talked about the wound he received during the Battle of Duck Lake:
I suffered through the whole war, from Fish Creek to Batoche. When I arrived in the States, the wound started to bleed again. I tried to fix it myself. There was a cut two inches long and three-quarters of an inch deep, right on the top of my head. The doctors told me the main artery had been cut. I had many accidents right after the war. When I coughed hard it was like being hit over the head with a hammer, and many times I lost consciousness and fell. 3
About a year after reaching the safety of the United States, Dumont joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. After that, thousands of people paid to see Dumont demonstrate his riding and shooting talents.4
In 1886, the Canadian government declared a general amnesty. Eight years after the fighting, Dumont returned home where he spent his remaining years hunting and farming.5
A few days after the Battle of Batoche, Riel gave himself up. He was put on trial for high treason and faced a possible sentence of death.
Towards the end of the trial, Riel was allowed to address the jury. He made a long and rambling speech.6
After Riel finished, the lawyer for the crown addressed the jury and stated: "Armed rebellion means the sacrifice of innocent lives, it means the loss of fathers, brothers, sisters, parents, the destruction of many homes."7
Next, the judge made his statement and asked, "Can such things be permitted?"8
Now, the judge allowed Riel to speak. Riel stated:
One-seventh of the land was granted to the people, to the half-breeds of Manitoba. Bring to the half-breeds of the North-West the guarantee that a seventh of the lands will also be given to them. I said, 'What belongs to us ought to be ours.'
Riel then added: "It is difficult for a small population, as the half-breed population, to have their voices heard."9
The Judge sentenced Riel to be hung by the neck until dead.
The Prime Minister refused to show mercy.
On November 16, 1885, the sentence was carried out.
Middleton became a national hero and was knighted by the Queen. Later it was discovered that he had taken furs from an English Metis. The resulting scandal ruined his reputation, so he returned to England. 13
Eighteen Metis were sentenced to jail terms.12 A year later, the Canadian Government declared an amnesty.
The people of Quebec were angered by the hanging of Riel. On the day after the hanging, six-thousand people marched through the streets of Montreal. A few weeks later, fifty-thousand upset people gathered to hear speakers criticize the conservative government for the hanging of Riel. 10 Gradually, the powerful Quebec conservative party lost its strength. The Liberal party got into power. For the most part, the Liberals ran the Canadian government for decades to come.11
Meanwhile, during the trial of Riel, the government had been working to provide the Metis with the land grants. They were able to provide the Saskatchewan Metis with all of their requested land grants by the end of 1887. Also, the government had the Metis river lots resurveyed. This was completed in 1889 and 1890.14
Unfortunately, the Metis were not able to make good use of some of the land they were awarded, and they did not understand the long term value of it. White speculators took advantage of the Metis, bought their land grants, and made huge profits.15
The rebellion created a major change in Canadian public opinion. After the rebellion, the public supported the government as it used public funds to resurvey the Metis land, to pay the five-million dollars that it cost to fight the war, and to loan more money to the railway so it could be completed.16
Opinions of the British and Foreign Press:
After Riel was hung, newspapers in Britain, Europe, and the United States expressed a wide variety of strong opinions. On December 4, 1885, the Globe newspaper in Toronto published the following opinions under the title, "Opinions of the British and Foreign Press."1
One Paris newspaper claimed that "a mere hint from England would have saved Riel's life." Another paper accused England of being "heartless for not interfering with the hanging and stated that "England has given another proof of her contempt for France." It described England's lack of action as a "slap in the face."
One newspaper reported that the hanging of Riel was "a wholesome reminder that treason is still a crime," while another paper stated that "carrying out of the extreme sentence of the law was both unwise and unnecessary."
A British newspaper published a report from Italy which said that the hanging would "create a very unfavorable impression in Italy."
The United States:
Many newspapers published strong opinions about Riel.
- The Chicago Current called the hanging of Riel "a colossal Government blunder."
- the New York Independent stated that "His execution must be regarded as unwise if not unjust. The Government has always scorned their petitions and their bills of rights; and two rebellions have been the result."
- The Rochester Post-Express said that "when these aggrieved Halfbreeds returned Riel to the Parliament at Ottawa, the latter was forced to leave his seat to gain a hearing by violence and murder. The people of America cannot help but to sympathize with Riel."
- Meanwhile, the Albany Argus observed that "there has been too much sympathy in some of the newspapers on this side of the border over the fate of this man."
- The Boston Record stated that "The world will not suffer by the loss of the fanatical leader of the Halfbreeds."
- The Philadelphia Inquirer came up with the best statement, an accurate prediction: "The ghost of Louis Riel will haunt Canadian statesmen for many a day."
1. Barnholden, Michael . Gabriel Dumont Speaks. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1994.
2. Beal, Bob, and Rod Macleod. Prairie Fire. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1984.
3. Charlebois, Peter. The Life Of Louis Riel. Toronto: NC Press, 1975.
4. Flanagan, Thomas, ed. The Diaries of Louis Riel. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1976.
5. Flanagan, Thomas. Louis David Riel. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.
6. Flanagan, Thomas and Claude Rocan. Rebellion In The North-West. Toronto: Grolier Limited, 1984.
7. Flanagan, Thomas. Riel And The 1885 Rebellion Reconsidered. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1983.
8. Mika, Nich and Helma, eds. The Riel Rebellion 1885. Belleville: Mika Silk Screening Limited, 1972.
9. Morton, Desmond. The Last War Drum. Toronto: A.M. Hakkert Ltd., 1972
10. Morton, Desmond, ed. The Queen V Louis Riel. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
11. Morton, Desmond. Rebellions In Canada. Toronto: Grolier Limited, 1979.
12. Neering, Rosemary. Louis Riel. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1977.
13. Stanley, G. F. G. The Birth Of Western Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961.
14. Stanley, G. F. G. "Gabriel Dumonts Account Of The North West Rebellion, 1885." The Canadian Historical Review. (1949). Vol. 30, pp. 249-269.p
15. Stanley, G. F. G. Louis Riel. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1963.
16. Wiebe, Ruby, and Bob Beal, compiled and edited by. War In The West. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1985.
17. Woodcock, George. Gabriel Dumont. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1978.
Detailed notes are now listed in a file for Bibliography and Notes.
If you run across any facts which are not
consistent with what is in this account, please
contact me so we can compare our sources.