The prosecution endeavoured to establish their case against Poundmaker by proving four main points: -- 1st, That he had signed a certain letter to Riel which incriminated him; 2nd, That he was at Battleford when it was plundered; 3rd, That he was present at the fight at Cut Knife Hill; and 4th, That he participated in the capture of the teamsters. The evidence produced in support of the case for the Crown, as far as can be gathered from the somewhat lengthy report in the Toronto Mail of the 24th and 25th August, seems to be very weak and inconclusive. The sole evidence of Poundmaker’s responsibility as to the letter is that of Jefferson, the instructor, who wrote it. This man was an accomplice, and his evidence does not appear to have been corroborated. He would not swear that Poundmaker had dictated any portion of the letter, or that he had absolutely authorized him to sign his name to it. It would surely be very unjust to convict a man on the strength of a letter written by another in a language the prisoner did not understand, especially where there was a doubt as to whether the prisoner authorized his name to be attached to it.
The evidence for the Crown as to Poundmaker's conduct at Battleford shows that he came down, with other Indians of his band, to get food, but apparently with no intention of plundering. He shook hands with the white men he met, and acted in the most friendly manner, asking, with evident surprise, why the town was deserted, and why the police were for fortifying themselves with the intention of firing on his men. He does not appear to have been even armed. He took no part in the plundering of the deserted houses and shops, but told the Indians "to stop breaking things." There is no evidence that Poundmaker was responsible for the plundering of Battleford. As to Poundmaker being seen at the battle of Cut Knife Hill, the evidence is that he was seen at the distance of fifteen hundred yards through field-glasses. If this be so, either the officer who saw him or Poundmaker himself must have been pretty well in rear of the fighting line. But Poundmaker admitted he was present, and claimed that he urged his people to cease the pursuit; and Father Cochin, who was present, corroborates this statement. Judge Richardson in his charge seems to attach some importance to the fact of Poundmaker's being present at Cut Knife. He must have forgotten that the Indians were all instructed to go to their reserves and stay there and they would be safe. Poundmaker was upon his reserve; the witnesses for the Crown say this explicitly; and his band was attacked there. There are conflicting statements as to who fired the first shot, but our troops marched upon them with infantry, cavalry, artillery and gatling guns in all the form of war, and the fight almost began by the shelling of the Indian camp. If Poundmaker was obeying the instructions of the Government in being upon his reserve, how can his presence there be a proof of treason-felony, unless he is proved to have participated in the fight? and of this there is no proof. But can a man, roused from his sleep by the bursting of shells, be blamed if he should try to defend himself? Father Cochin, a loyal man who was present, says that Poundmaker begged his people not to pursue our troops on their retreat, and prevailed upon them to stop. The circumstances all corroborate this statement. The only evidence as to the capture of the teams is that of James Shearer, who swore that he did not see Poundmaker when he was captured, but saw him afterwards in the camp; and there is strong evidence as to Poundmaker's kindness to the prisoners. In fact the whole testimony shows that a Half-breed and the Stoney Indians had incited the attack on the teamsters, that any hostile feeling was on the part of others, but that Poundmaker himself was uniformly using his influence in favour of peace and to prevent bloodshed. Considering the whole case, it is very doubtful whether there has not been a great injustice done to a man who was our friend throughout, and it is a question whether some effort should not be made to obtain a pardon for him.
Let another test be put to Poundmaker's conduct: Was it consistent with innocence? Assume for a moment that Poundmaker was a loyal, true friend of the Government, and yet had not absolutely control over his people: what was there inconsistent with innocence in his going to Battleford for food, in his refraining from plundering, in his begging his people not to break things, in his friendliness to the whites he met, in his assurance that he meant no harm, and in the fact that he was unarmed? What could an innocent man, ordered to go on his reserve, do more than Poundmaker did when he was attacked upon his reserve: which was to use his influence for peace and to save life the instant the necessity for self-defence ceased? When the move was made from Cut Knife Hill to join Riel a Half-breed took command, and Poundmaker, who wanted to go to Devil's Lake, was prevented, and obliged to keep with his band. He had nothing to do with the capture of the teamsters, but when they were brought in he took their part and treated them kindly. His was the influence that led to their being released, and his also was the voice that prevailed for peace and brought about the surrender of the band.
Canada has a great future before her, but she cannot afford to be unjust to a poor Indian because he has no friends and cannot appeal to public sympathy, save in the few dignified and manly sentences in his speech to Judge Richardson: "Everything I could do was done to stop bloodshed. Had I wanted war I should not be here now; I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me; I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace." Every one of those sentences has the ring of truth, and yet this man is condemned as a felon to imprisonment for three years, and because he is an Indian not a voice is raised to say one word for him. LEX.
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