The War Trail of Big Bear (aka: Blood Red the Sun)
By William Bleasdell Cameron
Chapter XXVIII The Executions (November, 1885) excerpt
….I got from Major Crozier, commanding the mounted police at Battleford, an order authorizing me to visit and talk with the murderers. I was shown into the cell occupied by the war chief. (Wandering Spirit) He sat on the floor, a heavy ball chained to his ankle. He shook hands with me as I took a seat opposite him.
“Kahpaypamahchakwayo,” I said, “you have been shut up here for four months. You might at any time have made a statement about the (Frog Lake) massacre. You have not done so. Your followers all place the blame for what occurred on you. I do not believe you are quite as bad as they make you out: therefore I have come to see you. To-morrow will be too late. If you wish to speak, to say anything in your own defence, I shall be glad to take it down. It will be printed. Thus no more than a just share of blame will rest on your name after you are gone. Your family, perhaps, will be glad.”
He was silent for a long time.
“I am glad you came to see me, “ he said at length. “Your were through it all; I would rather speak to you than anyone else. You could see the part that each took. You knew them all.
“Four years ago we were camped on the Missouri River in the Long Knives’ land. Big Bear was there, Imasees, Four-Sky Thunder and other chiefs of the band. Riel was there, trading whisky to the Indians. He gave us liquor and said he would make war on this country. He asked us to join him in wiping out all Canadians. The government had treated him badly. He would demand much money from them. If they did not give he would spill blood, plenty Canadian blood.”
“Last fall Riel sent word to us that when the leaves came out the half-breeds would rise and kill all whites. The Long Knives (Americans) would come. They would buy the land, pay the Indians plenty money for it, and afterwards trade with them. All the tribes who wished to benefit must rise, too, and help to rid the country of Canadians.
“At the time of the massacre, Andre Nault, a half-breed, told me he had in his pocket a letter from his cousin Riel, telling him to stay with Big Bear’s band and he would be safe. We would never be tried for what we did. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘the Canadians can’t beat us.’…..
Excerpt from "Reminiscences of the North -West Rebellions" by Major Charles Boulton, Boulton's Mounted Infantry.
....Astley returned to Riel once more, in order to give him the opportunity of surrendering, not knowing what the fate of the day might yet be. Riel by this time was anxious to surrender, and if he could have got safely into the General's hands he would have done so, but it was too late. In discussing the advisability of his surrendering with Astley, Riel was anxious to have his safety assured; "but," he said, "there are three things that will save me: one is politics; another that I have assumed the office of priest, and that will save me; and the papers which are all here will implicate the council more than me." From this latter circumstance it may be assumed that the papers were left behind purposely. Riel's actions at this time were so selfish that he completely lost the sympathy of his own people.
I would here hold before the eyes of those who sympathize with Riel, his course during this eventful day, to show how little he deserves sympathy, and how he was working, not for the good of his people, not for the cause for which they were fighting, but for his own selfglorification, and, above all, for his own safety. For this he sent Astley out in the morning to open up negotiations, though, ostensibly, his motive was the protection of his women and children. But this was far from being his real motive. Astley returned with the humane assurances of the General, and, at the same time, with the promise of personal protection for himself until handed over to the civil authorities. Astley returned with this message, and Riel, anxious to carry on the negotiations in a politic way, and to obtain some terms, wrote four different letters, as Astley informed me, and tore them up, one after the other, not being satisfied with the part he wished to play. He thus allowed four precious hours to elapse after the General had answered him, and only completed his letter on hearing the vigorous fire of his assailants.
General Middleton would have been glad to have saved the lives of his gallant officers and men, who fell in that charge; he would have been glad to have saved the lives of the nineteen half-breeds and Indians who lay prone in death after the battle was over, and for whose death Riel, in refusing the General's offer, was responsible. But instead of thinking of them, Riel was thinking only of himself. In his anxious desire to couch his letters in such language as might ensure his own safety, he wasted the moments which were given him by the General to put an end to the warfare. In wasting these precious hours, what consideration did Riel show for the lives and property of his people, and what advantage or honour did he gain for them in the wicked extremity to which he drove them? In taking advantage of their excitable nature, and their ignorance and superstition, was he not making profit only for himself, and causing them to ignore the counsel and solicitude of their priests? If he had been allowed to escape unharmed, what security had the country from a like danger from other adventurers at some future period, in settlements as isolated in the more western districts; and what security had his people against having their homes and property destroyed, and their lives lost in fruitless opposition to the power of the country? It is to these questions those who condemn the hanging of Riel should give heed before allowing their sympathy to go out to a man who showed so little consideration for his people's welfare. Not for Riel, but for his unfortunate dupes, who are now undergoing the penalty of the crimes for which he is responsible, should there be sympathy and only for them should Executive leniency have been invoked.
When Louis Riel became a citizen of the United States, he would have subscribed and swore in open court a declaration worded identically, or similarly worded as such:
I, Louis Riel, do swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Constitution of the State of ....., and that I do absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure, forever, all allegiance and fidelity to every Foreign Power, Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatever, and particulary to the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland whose subject I was. And further, that I have never borne any hereditary title, or been of any degrees of nobility of the country whereof I have been a subject, and that I have resided within the United States for five years past, and in the State for one year past.