The Story of Louis Riel: the Rebel Chief

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Along the banks of the Red River, over those fruitful plains brightened with wild flowers in summer, and swept with fierce storms in the winter-time, is written the life story of Louis Riel. Chance was not blind when she gave as a field to this man's ambition the plains whereon vengeful Chippewas and ferocious Sioux had waged their battles for so many centuries; a country dyed so often with blood that at last Red River came to be its name. But while our task is to present the career of this apostle of insurrection and unrest; stirred as we may be to feelings of horror for the misery, the tumult, the terror and the blood of which he has been the author, we must not neglect to do him, even him, the justice which is his right.

He is not, as so many suppose, a half-breed, moved by the vengeful, irresponsible, savage blood in his veins. Mr. Edward Jack, [Footnote: I cannot make out what Mr. Jack's views are respecting Riel. When I asked him, he simply turned his face toward the sky and made some remark about the weather, I know that he has strong French proclivities, though the blood of a Scottish bailie is in his veins.] of New Brunswick, who is well informed on all Canadian matters, hands me some passages which he has translated from M. Tasse's book on Canadians in the North West; and from these I learn that Riel's father, whose name also was Louis, was born at the island of La Crosse, in the North-West Territories. This parent was the son of Jean Baptiste Riel, who was a French Canadian and a native of Berthier (en haut). His mother, that is the rebel's grandmother, was a Franco-Montagnaise Metis. From this it will be seen that instead of being a "half breed," Louis Riel is only one-eighth Indian, or is, if we might use the phrase employed in describing a mixture of Ethiopian and Caucasian blood, an Octoroon.

Nay, more than this, we have it shown that our rebel can lay claim to no small share of respectability, as that word goes. During the summer of 1822, Riel's father, then in his fifth year, was brought to Canada by his parents, who caused the ceremony of baptism to be performed with much show at Berthier. In 1838 M. Riel pere entered the service of the Hudson Bay Company, and left Lower Canada, where he had been attending school, for the North-West. He was stationed at Rainy Lake, but did not care for his occupation. He returned, therefore, to civilization and entered as a novice in the community of the Oblat Fathers, where he remained for two years. There was a strong yearning for the free, wild life of the boundless prairies in this man, and Red River, with its herds of roaming buffalo, its myriads of duck, and geese and prairie hens, began to beckon him home again. He followed his impulse and departed; joining the Metis hunters in their great biennial campaigns against the herds, over the rolling prairie. Many a buffalo fell upon the plain with Louis Riel's arrow quivering in his flank; many a feast was held around the giant pot at which no hunter received honours so marked as stolid male, and olive-skinned, bright-eyed, supple female, accorded him....