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The Red River Rebellion

The Red River Rebellion--Brutal Murder of Thomas Scott--Organization of a Military Expedition to Quell Riel's Revolt.


Almost at the same moment that we had Fenian troubles at home, and threatened invasions of our Quebec and Ontario frontiers, the standard of revolt had been raised in Manitoba by the turbulent rebel Louis Riel and his band of half-breeds.

Arrangements had been completed between the Dominion Government and the Imperial Government with the Hudson's Bay Company, whereby the rights of the latter to lands in the Northwest Territories were to be transferred to the Dominion, subject to certain reservations. It was made an express agreement that the rights of the Indians and half-breeds in certain territory were to be respected by the Dominion Government. The arrangement was sanctioned by Parliament, and the sum of 300,000 pounds sterling was appropriated for the purchase of the Hudson's Bay Company's titles as specified. In the preceding year Lieut.-Colonel Dennis (of Fort Erie fame) was sent to the Red River country by the Dominion Government to institute a system of public surveys. When he appeared among the half-breeds, and they learned his intention, they strenuously objected, as they believed by the inauguration of a new system of survey their titles to the lands which they held might be jeopardized. Moreover, they thought that they should have been consulted when the purchase and transfer of the territory was made. The French half-breeds were especially fearful that the Dominion Government might dispute their titles to the lands, and gave Colonel Dennis to understand that trouble might result if he attempted to carry out his plans of survey. In the meantime Hon. Wm. Macdougall had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territory, and started west for the purpose of assuming office. He had been warned by Col. Dennis of the unfriendly feeling which prevailed among the half-breeds in respect to himself and the Dominion Government, and on arriving at Pembina (Minnesota), he was more forcibly notified of the disaffection which existed when he was forbidden by them to cross the border into the territory. He was determined to go ahead, however, and advanced about two miles over the line with his party, when he received news from Col. Dennis that rebellion was rife, and that the insurgents, under the leadership of Louis Riel, were determined to prevent his further progress. Riel had posted armed guards at various points along the trails leading from Pembina to Fort Garry for the purpose of resisting the advance of Lieutenant-Governor Macdougall, and as there was not a sufficient force available to overcome the rebels, he was obliged to remain where he was. Then Riel became emboldened, and seized Fort Garry, where he set up a "Provisional Government," and organized a force to hold the territory. During the fall and winter of 1869 and 1870 he held high revels at Fort Garry, and amused himself by arresting and imprisoning all loyal Canadians he could lay hands on. Several prominent citizens were confined in the fort by Riel's order and subjected to insults and indignities, while their worldly possessions were pillaged and destroyed. Among those who especially fell under Riel's displeasure was a loyal Canadian named Thomas Scott. He was a bold and fearless young man, and his sturdy patriotism to his country and his determined manner of expressing his views, angered Riel, who ordered him under arrest. He was taken to Fort Garry and confined in a cell, but made his escape. He was soon recaptured, and Riel at once convened a court-martial and sentenced Scott to be shot at 10 o'clock the next morning. The unfortunate prisoner was not allowed to make any defence. Riel's word was law, and to gratify his angry passions he ordered the execution to take place the following morning. Therefore on the 4th of March, 1870, poor Scott was led outside of the walls of the fort by a party of six rebels under command of Ambrose Lepine and brutally murdered. When the news of this inhuman butchery reached Ontario the people of the Province were filled with feelings of intense indignation, and the public and press demanded the Government to take immediate action in organizing a force to stamp out the rebellion and effect the arrest and punishment of the perpetrators of the crime.

The Government promptly heeded the appeals of the people, and on the 16th of April, 1870, an Order-in-Council was passed by the Cabinet authorising the organization of a military contingent for service in the new Province of Manitoba, the principal object being to quell the Riel Rebellion, arrest the leaders, and establish law and order in that territory. In accordance with this resolution two battalions of riflemen were organized, which were designated as the First (Ontario) Battalion, and the Second (Quebec) Battalion of Rifles. Each battalion consisted of seven companies, with an establishment of three officers and 50 non-commissioned officers and men to each company. The staff of each battalion consisted of one Lieutenant-Colonel, one Major, one Adjutant (with rank of Captain), one Paymaster, one Surgeon, one Quartermaster-sergeant, one Hospital Sergeant, one Sergeant-Major, one Armorer-Sergeant, and one Paymaster's Clerk, making the total strength of each battalion 375 of all ranks. These battalions were composed of volunteers from existing corps of the Active Militia in the seven Military Districts of the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and the terms of enlistment were for one year, or longer if their services were required. The enrolling of the men to form these organizations commenced on the 1st of May, and the ranks were quickly filled. The various companies were concentrated at Toronto, where they were clothed and equipped, and placed under the orders of Colonel Fielden, of Her Majesty's 60th Royal Rifles. All of the field and line officers were duly appointed, gazetted, and joined their respective corps in due time, and in a few weeks the expeditionary force was in excellent condition for active service.

The following is a roster of the officers who were on active service, in command of the volunteer corps named, on the Red River Expedition:--

  First (Ontario) Rifles.

Lieut.-Col. Samuel P. Jarvis, commanding officer; Major Griffiths Wainwright.

Captains--Thomas Scott, Thomas Macklem, William M. Herchmer, William Smith. Alex. R. Macdonald. Daniel H. McMillan and Henry Cook.

Lieutenants--Donald A. Macdonald, David M. Walker, William N. Kennedy, Andrew McBride, William J. McMurty, Samuel B. Harman and James Benson.

Ensigns--A. J. Z. Peebles, Stewart Mulvey, Josiah J. Bell, Samuel Hamilton, John Biggar, William H. Nash and Hugh John Macdonald.

Paymaster--Capt. J. F. B. Morrice.

Adjutant--Capt. Win. J. B. Parsons.

Quartermaster--Edward Armstrong.

Surgeon--Alfred Codd, M.D.


Second (Quebec) Rifles.

Lieut.-Col. Louis Adolphe Casault, commanding officer; Major Acheson G. Irvine.

Captains--Z. C. A. L. de Bellefeuille, Allan Macdonald, Jacques Labranche, Samuel Macdonald, Jean Baptiste Amyot, John Fraser, Wm. J. Barrett.

Lieutenants--J. W. Vaughan, John P. Fletcher, Edward T. H. F. Patterson. Oscar Prevost. Maurice E. B. Duchesnay, Henri Bouthillier, Leonidas de Salaberry.

Ensigns--Ed. S. Bernard, John Allan, George Simard, Gabriel L. Des Georges, Alphonse de M. H. D'Eschambault, William W. Ross, Alphonse Tetu.

Paymaster--Lieut. Thos. Howard.

Adjutant--Capt. F. D. Gagnier.

Quartermaster--F. Villiers.

The following officers were appointed to positions on the Brigade Staff in connection with the expedition:--

Assistant Brigade Major--Major James F. McLeod.

Assistant Control Officer--Capt. A. Peebles.

Orderly Officer on Staff of Commanding Officer--Lieut. Frederick C. Denison.

The total strength of the expeditionary force amounted to about 1,200, which was composed of about 350 officers and men of H. M. 60th Royal Rifles, detachments of Royal Artillery and Engineers, the First and Second Rifles above mentioned, and a contingent of Canadian voyageurs.

The whole expedition was in command of that gallant soldier Colonel Garnet S. Wolseley (who afterwards won honor and fame in foreign campaigns, and became a Field Marshal of the British Army). The troops left Toronto in May on their long trip to Fort Carry, going by steamboat to Prince Arthur's Landing (now Port Arthur), from which point they took the old "Dawson route" to their destination. It was a most difficult undertaking, but the undaunted courage of the officers and men and their determination to overcome all obstacles triumphed, as they forced their way through rivers, lakes, swamps, muskegs and forest until they reached the prairie land of Manitoba. They were about three months on the way, arriving at Port Garry on the 24th of August. During this time it became necessary for the men to cut trails through brake and bramble, construct corduroy roads, build boats, ascend dangerous rapids, portage stores and supplies over almost insurmountable places, meanwhile fighting mosquitoes and black flies, and encountering countless dangers, all of which they cheerfully performed with their characteristic bravery until the whole expedition was successfully landed on Manitoba soil without serious mishap.

Their approach to Fort Garry was made so quietly and quickly that Riel and his followers had barely time to get out of the fort and scatter in all directions before the troops arrived, and therefore they did not have an opportunity of using force to quell the rebellion. Unfortunately Riel and his lieutenants succeeded in making their escape. Fort Garry was at once occupied by the column and the Union Jack hoisted on the flag-staff, amid ringing cheers for the Queen, while the artillery fired a royal salute.

The arrival of Col. Wolseley's troops was hailed with delight by the loyal residents of what is now the flourishing city of Winnipeg, as they had suffered severe persecutions by the rebels during the period that Riel and his lieutenant Ambrose Lepine held sway in their career of rebellion. Lawful authority was quickly established, and all fragments of the revolt being stamped out by Col. Wolseley, the loyal citizens took up the work of temporary organization of the necessary civil institutions for the proper government of the Province, pending the arrival of Hon. Mr. Archibald, who had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the new domain. In this work Mr. Donald A. Smith (now Lord Strathcona) proved a tower of strength, and with the assistance of Dr. John Schultz and other loyal residents of the Province, matters were soon shaped into a state of peace, progress and prosperity.

Lieutenant-Governor Archibald arrived at Fort Garry on Sept. 2nd, and a few days later assumed the duties of his office. When it became absolutely certain that all of the embers of the rebellion had been extinguished, Colonel Wolseley returned to the east with the regular troops, leaving the Canadian volunteers still on duty in Manitoba. They remained at Fort Garry until the following spring, when their services being no longer required they were ordered home for "muster out."

That the Canadian volunteers and voyageurs acquitted themselves creditably on the occasion of the Red River Rebellion is a matter of history, and that their services were highly appreciated by Colonel Wolseley is evidenced by the fact that when he was put in command of the British troops operating in the Egyptian campaign, and desired a method of transporting his troops and stores up the River Nile, he remembered his Red River experience, and promptly asked for a contingent of Canadian voyageurs to handle his system of transport by the great water route, and got them. That they did their duty in the Land of the Pharoahs as thoroughly as they did on previous occasions at home, will always stand to their credit in the annals of the British Army.


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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870

Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870

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