This is a repost (and updated) post from November 16, 2012.
Where did Sir John A. Macdonald really stand on the question of Louis Riel? After the Red River uprising and the second shooting of Thomas Scott in 1870, Protestant Ontario was bitterly demanding that Riel be arrested and tried for murder. Sir John would say, “Where is Riel? I wish I could get my hands on him.” And yet privately he was sending him money, with the understanding that he would leave the country.
After the Northwest Rebellion in 1885, Riel was tried in Regina. Once again there was an uproar in Quebec, (who thought of Riel as a hero) especially after Riel was declared guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The date of the execution was postponed many times, as pressure on Macdonald continued to mount. Pleas for clemency came from many parts of the world. Conservative members of Parliament from Quebec told Sir John that they would not be responsible for the consequences if Riel were hanged. Sir John was receiving a flood of anonymous letters.
The government was adamant, however. Sir John said, “He shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour.” Riel was hanged on November 16, 1885.
It is possible that Sir John tried to help Riel escape, as he did after the Red River uprising. One story is that the Northwest Mounted Police on guard were to turn their backs for half an hour while Riel was taken from his cell. A relay of horses would carry him across the American border. If this story were true, then it would have taken someone with high authority to arrange it. It may have been that the escape was planned by Gabriel Dumont, a friend of Riel, who found refuge in the United States.
In any case, the escape became impossible when an enemy of Riel heard about it and “spilled the beans.” The hangman was another enemy. When he put the nooses around Riel’s neck, he asked, “Do you remember me, Louis Riel? It is my turn today.”
To read more about today’s post, I suggest visiting Time and Date
for an interesting article about Louis Riel Day. I also suggest Daniel Paul‘s site, and the Province of Manitoba for an interesting timeline. Another suggestion I have is the UMKC School of Law (University of Missouri-Kansas).
For those of us who like old fashioned books, I would suggest Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, and The trial of Louis Riel: Justice and mercy denied : a critical, legal and political analysis. And finally Louis ‘David’ Riel: Prophet of the New World.
- Alleged Louis Riel hanging rope given to Winnipeg museum (cbc.ca)
- Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown (nomiresdebajodelacama.wordpress.com)
- Louis Riel (maileposte.wordpress.com)