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Canadian Illustrated News:
Images in the news: 1869-1883

The Red River Rebellion, 1870

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January 15, 1870
Vol. I, No. 11

[ page ] 161, [ col. 1 ]

The Red River Difficulty
Louis Riel

The Red River difficulty continues to be a subject of engrossing interest. The Hon. Mr. McDougall and family, with the other gentlemen, who went out to take part in the government of the Territory have all, except Mr. Provencher, returned to Canada. Grand-Vicar Thibauld has reached the scene of trouble, and great hopes are entertained that he will succeed in quieting the half-breeds whose resistance to Canadian authority is said to have been dictated by one or two French priests in the Settlement. Governor Smith, of the Hudson's Bay Company, has also reached Red River to assist Governor McTavish, or rather to assume the duties of that gentleman, who is at present incapacitated by ill health. The insurgents, after trying their prisoners by court-martial, sentenced forty-five of them to banishment from the Territory. They were all Canadians who had but recently gone to the Territory, and had of course taken an active part with Dr. Schultz in his attempt to get up a counter revolution. They comprise the whole of the "Canadian" party so-called; that is, those who during the past season went into the Settlement either in expectation of official appointments, or for the purpose of taking up lands or entering into business. They were escorted to the frontier, where (at Pembina) the Hon. Mr. McDougall had thoughtfully made provision for them, in anticipation of their fate, by which they will be en-

[ page ] 161 [ col. 2 ]

abled to reach Canada. Dr. Schultz himself is still held a prisoner, as are Mr. Charles Mair, late paymaster on the Government Road Works; Mr. Snow, the Road Superintendent; and Wm. Hallet, a half-breed, who is said to have acted as a spy for Mr. McDougall. Whether these parties are merely retained as hostages, or in reserve for severer punishment, is not yet known, but it is not likely that the insurgents will compromise themselves by inflicting a worse punishment than imprisonment. The Hon. Mr. McDougall, who, in the language of the day, bas been "interviewed" by news-writers, expresses the convictions that matters may be peaceably arranged by spring.

We present our readers with the portrait of one of the leading spirits of the movement, Louis Riel, who, though nominally secretary, is reputed to be virtually the head and director of the insurgent council. Whether Riel has been advised by others, or has acted upon his own judgment, his conduct has displayed no little tact and discretion. Violence has so far been avoided as much as possible. Though the gentle persuasive of loaded muskets was held out to Mr. McDougall and his party to compel them to recross the frontier; and though Dr. Schultz's house was just "very near" being fired upon, as yet the insurrection has been free from bloodshed, and it may be supposed that Riel has had no small share in preserving this moderate course. There has been a resort to tactics which, if neither honest nor honourable, were at

[ page ] 162 [col. 1 ]

least shrewd. When the counter movement was being organized, the insurgents called a meeting of delegates, at which all parts of the Settlement were represented; and at this meeting it is said it was arranged that Riel should hold an interview with Mr. McDougall, to endeavour to come to an agreement with him. As certain demands concerning the lands, local government, schools, &c., were approved alike by all classes in the Settlement, it was expected that Riel's interview with the Governor would put an end to the difficulty, and so the counter movement, except by the few nearly arrived Canadians under the leadership of Shultz and the inspiration of Dennis, fell to the ground, while Riel neither went himself, nor sent a representative to treat with the Governor. This seems like "Punic faith" on the part of Riel and his associates. Undoubtedly the English and Scotch settlers were for a time thrown off their guard by this small stroke of finesse; and the "masterly inactivity" thus displayed, gained sufficient time to place matters in such a position that they cannot well be changed until next summer, unless with the consent of the insurgents.

Riel was the "Chief Organiser" of the Red River insurrection, and as such he is deservedly an historical character. He, as the acting leader of the insurgents, on the 22nd of November last, took formal possession of the Land Register of the colony, with all the papers and accounts belonging to the Council of Assiniboia. Governor McTavish refusing to hand over these documents to Mr. Riel, was confronted with six armed men, and being powerless to resist such a display of force, had no option but to yield. Riel had previously fitted up an office for himself in another part of the building; and as Governor McTavish and his accountant refused to hand over the papers to him, he brought a couple of armed men to his assistance, and forcibly removed the Register and a number of the Company's books containing their accounts with the local government and with the Settlers. The Register which is now in the hands of the insurgents is a bulky volume, and forms the basis of all titles to surveyed lands in the Settlement. The rising thus appears to have overthrown by violence the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company before the date fixed for the legal transfer of its authority to Canada. In so far as Canada is concerned, its operations within the Territory, from first to last, have been extra-legal. It has expended money in road-building, and to preserve the Settlers from starvation, without the acquisition of any rights within it. But this was a mistake which would readily have been pardoned. But the employment of surveying parties within the settlement, and other preparations for the assumption of authority, appear to have given general offence. A letter from Fort Garry says:

It is a matter for the most serious consideration, in the event of the Canadian government determining to put down the present rebellion with a strong hand, that the commencement of military operations at Red River will be but the beginning of disturbances throughout the entire Indian country. The settlement is connected by so many ties with the whole of Rupert's Land that the lighting up of the flame of civil war within it will be the breaking out of a conflagration which, like the Prairie fires, will devastate the territory, gathering strength with its onward progress, and growing more irresistible as the circuit of its ravages expands. The distinction between combatant and non-combatant will become unknown, as has occurred even in the present disturbance; unwilling recruits will be impressed, and compelled to shoulder a musket in the common cause. The result may be the extermination of human life on a large scale.

It is to be hoped no such dire calamity will befall the settlement.

Louis Riel, is a young man of considerable ability. He is a native of Rupert's Land and was educated in this City. It is said that at one time he designed to enter the Church; but if so, the idea was abandoned. He has served as a merchant's clerk at St. Paul, Minn., and for some time past has been farming near Winnipeg. He is a fluent speaker both in French and English, and as we have said gets general credit for being the leading spirit among the insurgents.