Louis Riel And His Fight To The Finish

by

Lee Jerome

 

"Sometimes there are exceedingly brief periods whichdetermine a long future. A moment of time holds in solution ingredientswhich might combine in any of several ways, and then another moment precipitatesout of the possible the at least determined thing. The limb of a tree growsto a foreordained shape in response to forces determined by nature's equilibriums,but the affairs of nations are shaped by the actions of men and sometimes,looking back, we can understand which actions were decisive."

The Red River Valley is no exception. It also had exceedinglybrief periods which shaped its long future. The Red River Valley lies inthe heart of the North American continent. Instinct drew the Indians hereas it was to draw the white man and many others in its long future. Thiswas a vast, well-watered and almost treeless basin which had many neighboringplains of rich resources. This was the country of the Old West, the lastfrontier, and the country of contrast and conflict. For decades to come,there was to be born in the Red River Valley the drama of incessant strugglebetween men of irreconcilable races, faiths, and political principles, andbetween those men and nature.

The history of this vast area opens with the issuance ofa charter, in 1670, by King Charles II of England to the Governor and acompany of adventurers of England in Hudson's Bay. The charter made theHudson's Bay Company the lords and proprietors of this land which was calledRuperts Land in honor of the Governor, Prince Rupert. Not known at thetime, the domain of this land contained a third of a million square miles. The area contained all the land that was drained by the rivers enteringinto the Hudson's Bay. Some of this land was north of the forty-ninth paralleland some was located south of it which is now the northern part of the statesof Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

The first settlers in this area, the Metis, built a villagecalled Pembina. This village was quickly recognized by everyone. It becamethe prairie headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company. Also, this littlelog cabin village became the capital of the Metis, the Red River half-breedsof the Northwest. The Metis are half French and half Indian. Many of theearly white men that came to this part of the country were French. Becausethere were no white women, or very few if any, the French men began intermarryingwith the Indian women. This happened more and more as the years went byuntil a large group of half-breeds came into existence. They called themselvesthe Metis.

The Metis had much to do with much of the history of theRed River Valley, mainly due to their leader Louis David Riel. The Metiswere being treated unfair as was the case of all the other races of Indians. The Hudson's Bay Company was on control of Ruperts Land and wasn't givingthe Metis the equality that was given to the other people. The LieutenantGovernor of Ruperts Land at the time was William McDougall. The governingof McDougall was being disliked more and more by the Metis and they beganorganizing in large groups to elect leaders to try and do something aboutit. The Metis had had much experience in organization, for they had organizedmany buffalo hunts and for emergencies such as Indian attacks. Their waysof electing leaders were very democratic. The Metis wanted and needed aleader with much talent, prestige, education, and eloquence. After studyingthe characteristics of many men they finally came up with the man they wantedas their leader; Louis David Riel.

Louis Riel was born in St. Boniface of Canada in 1844. He grew up wanting to become a priest. He went to Montreal to study thepriesthood, but after ten years of study he received word from his widowedmother that she needed him, so he returned to the northwest and abandonedhis career in the church.

Riel was now twenty-five and was elected leader of theMetis. He set out to maintain order in the community and to establish abroad based democratic government. Through his leadership, he led the Metisin running McDougall out of Ruperts Land. Riel took over as leader of RupertsLand as well as leader of the Metis. He was now dedicating his life ingaining freedom for the Metis people, the people he loved most.

Riel set up his headquarters in Fort Garry near Winnipeg. Riel had accomplished a great deal in just two months. His establishmentof a bill of rights gave the moral justification for the Metis movement,and the declaration gave it a sound legal base. His government wasn't onlylegal and secure, it also worked.

Even though his government worked, there were still thosewho disapproved of him and the Metis movement. On the excuse that the governmentstores in his possession needed protection from the Metis, Dr. John Schultzgathered forty-five men together and supplied them with four hundred roundsof ammunition and stationed them at his house which he later turned intoa fort. He was ready to try and fight off Riel and the Metis movement. Because they were fighting against the government and constituted a threatto peace, Riel captured them and put them in prison.

At almost the same time another man, Donald Smith, wastrying to get the approval of the people to annex Ruperts Land to the Dominionof Canada. Riel put up a long hard struggle for the independence of theMetis, but lost. Although he lost the battle he did win the right for RupertsLand to be admitted as a province and have its own delegates in Ottawa,the headquarters of the Dominion of Canada.

Riel was still having trouble. Some of his prisoners hadescaped and gathered together to set up plots to try and kill him. ThomasScott, who was previously captured with Schultz and escaped was recaptured. Reports were given to Riel about Scott's obstreperous behavior in his jailcell. He was reported to have been causing the other jail inmates to startrebelling. Scott was given warnings but didn't heed them. After it beganto get out of hand, he was courtmartialed. He was condemned on a four tothree verdict and was shot at the hand of a firing squad of six.

In the ten months he had ruled Ruperts Land, Riel had takenprisoners, but had never killed. This was not his way of government. Theincident caused much commotion throughout the government of Canada. Plotswere immediately established to kill Riel for this act.

The men which were previously imprisoned by Riel and escapedwere deeply shocked at the death of Scott. They immediately put up a fivethousand dollar reward for the killers of Scott. They also set out to killRiel. Troops were organized but were unsuccessful in catching Riel, forhe fled to Pembina until it was safe for him to go back to the provinceof Manitoba.

Riel lived in exile for many months, but because he wasnominated as a candidate to represent the province of Manitoba in Ottawa,and he didn't want to let his people down, he went back to Manitoba. Hewas defeated in the election, but the winner of the election died soon after. Another election was held and Riel won by a landslide. He was sworn inas representative. But because he didn't appear for court trial on a Manitobaindictment, in February of 1875, he was sentenced to five years banishmentof the Dominion of Canada.

During this five years of exile, Louis Riel became a marriedand dedicated family man. He moved to a small village in Montana wherehe took up teaching the small children religion. It looked as if it wasthe last of his public work. But on June 4, 1884, two Metis representativescame for him to ask him to take charge of the Metis campaign for redressof their grievances against Canada. Riel agreed to because he loved hispeople. Louis Riel was now an American citizen and told his people he wantedto return to his home in Montana after he assisted them as much as he could.

The Metis were again being denied by the government theenjoyment of the rights of the people. Riel now decided to take a dangerousgamble. He was going to try and establish a provisional government underthe protection of a Metis cavalry. It had worked before and he was goingto try it again.

Riel began gathering the Metis together and preaching tothem to fight for their rights. They became armed and started taking thelaw into their own hands. The government of Canada started building up itsforces to fight off the Metis. Riel, leading the Metis, fought a long hardbattle. The government of Canada accused him of starting a rebellion againstthe Canadian government and set out to capture him and his forces.

At last Riel was captured and put into jail. The rebellionwas over. Louis Riel had failed to gain the freedoms for his people. It was the last organized attempt by the Metis to preserve their strangeempire against the encroachment of white civilization.

On July 6, 1885, the charging of high treason was laidagainst Louis Riel. The trial was set for July 20. On August 1, 1885, thetrial was over, the court recessed and the jury retired to agree on a verdict. A few hours later the jury returned with the verdict. He was found guiltyand sentenced to prison until September 18. On that day he was sentencedto be hanged by the neck until death.

Louis David Riel gave his life seeking peace and a democraticform of government for the people he loved most, the Metis. It is everso true that the affairs of a nation are changed by the actions ofmen. And the actions of this man truly changed the affairs of this nation.
so true that the affairs of a nation are changed by the actions ofmen. And the actions of this man truly changed the affairs of this nation.