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Heroes And Outlaws

Riel Executed
He Dies Without A Speech
A Sane And Beautiful Death

Regina Leader
November 19, 1885. p.4

Regina, Nov. 16. -- As fair a morning as ever dawned shone in the closing act -- the last event -- in the not uneventful life of Louis Riel. The sun glittered out in pitiless beauty and the prairie slightly silvered with hoar frost shone like a vast plain sown with diamonds. We drove Mr. Sherwood, Chief of Dominion Police, who had arrived on Sunday evening with the warrant. As we neared Government House two armed Mounted Police drew up their horses across our path and demanded our pass which read as follows: To Mr. Gibson. "Admit representatives of the Leader." (signed) SHERIFF CHAPLEAU.

When we neared the bridge there was a force commanded by an inspector. Two traps were at a standstill. One of the troopers shook hands with Mr. Percy Sherwood, on old friend. We had a pleasant word with Mr. F.J. Hunter and Mr. W.C. Hamilton. Our pass was again vised and on we drove. Arrived at the prison we met outside the representatives of the press, Dr. Dodd, Mr. Pugsley, Mr. Marsh, several citizens. The beauty of the morning was the chief theme of conversation. Towards eight o'clock we crushed our way thro' troopers Col. Irvine very courteously doing all in is power for us; ascended the stair case; walked the length of the prison and there, at the door way of the ghastly place of execution, knelt Riel, his profile showing clear against the light, Father Andre, a surplice over his soutane kneeling, his back to us, and Father McWilliams, with a stole thrown over his traveling coat, kneeling, his face to us, and holding a wax candle lighted. In Riel's hand was an ivory crucifix mounted, which he frequently kissed. Father McWilliams and Pere Andre ever and again sprinkled holy water on the condemned man. Riel was pale -- deadly pale -- and his face looked most intellectual.

Father Andre, (in French): Do you pardon all your enemies from the bottom of your heart?

Riel: I do mon pere -- I pardon all my enemies for the love of the good God.

Father Andre: Have you any sentiment of malice, any feeling of malice against anyone?

Riel: No, my father, I forgive all.

Father Andre: Do you offer your life as a sacrifice to God?

Riel: I do, mon pere.

Father Andre: My child -- the flesh is weak and the spirit strong, do you repent of all your sins of thought, word and deed?

Riel: I do my father -- I have committed many sins and I ask God's pardon for them all in the names of Jesus, Marie and Joseph.

Father Andre: You do not wish to speak in public? You make that a sacrifice to God?

Riel: Oui mon pere. I make to my God as a sacrifice the speaking to the public in this my last hour.

Father Andre: God has been good to you my son to give you an opportunity of repenting; are you thankful for this?

Riel: I thank the good God that in his Providence he has enabled me to make my peace with him and all mankind before I go away.

The two clergymen then placed their hands on his head and pronounced the absolution.

Riel then in an affecting and childlike way prayed God to bless is mother, his wife, his brothers and his friends and his enemies. "My father bless me" he said looking up to heaven "according to the views of your Providence which are ample and without measure." Then addressing Pere Andre: "Will you bless me Father?"

Father Andre blessed him, as did Father McWilliams. He then rose from his knees and was pinioned, he meanwhile praying and the clergy praying. When he was ready to pass out to the scaffold Pere Andre said to him in French, "There go to heaven." (Bon! Allez au Ciel.) He then kissed Pere Andre on the lips, and Father McWilliams embraced him giving him the side of each cheek. Riel then said ere he turned to pass through the door which went into that room built of coarse lumber and which, if Pere Andre is right, Riel was really repentant, and Christianity is true, was for him the poor dingy portals of eternal day and unending peace and blessedness.

"I give all my life as a sacrifice to God. Remerciez Madame Forget, et Monsieur Forget. O my God" he cried still speaking in French as he went down the stairs, "you are my support. Mon Soutien C'est Dieu."

He now stood on the drop. The cord is put on his neck. He said "Courage mon Pere."

Pere Andre in subdued tones: "Courage! Courage!"

They shook hands with him as did Dr. Jukes, Riel preserving to the last that politeness which was so characteristic of him and which was remarked during the trial said: "Thank you Doctor."

Then he prayed in French: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph have mercy on me. J'espere encore. I believe still. I believe in God to the last moment."

Father McWilliams: "Pray to the sacred Heart of Jesus."

Riel: "Have mercy on me Sacred Heart of my Jesus! Have mercy on me. Jesu, Marie et Joseph assistez moi dans mes derniers moments, Assistez moi, Jesus, Marie et Joseph!

Father McWilliams held the cross to him which he kissed.

Mr. Deputy Sheriff Gibson: Louis Riel have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be carried out on you?

Riel, glancing where Pere Andre stood about to ascend, the staircase anxious evidently to leave the painful scene, said in French, "Shall I say something?"

Pere Andre: "No."

Riel: (in French) Then I should like to pray a little more.

Deputy Sheriff Gibson: (looking at his watch) "Two minutes."

Father McWilliams: say "Our Father" and addressing Mr. Gibson, "when he comes to deliver us from evil" tell him then.

Mr. Gibson gave the directions to the hangman who now put on Riel's head the white cap.

Riel and Father McWilliams: "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom come, They will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, give us this day our daily bread and deliver us."

The hangman pulled the crank and Riel fell a drop of nine feet.

Dr's. Dodd and Cotton were below. The knot in the fall had slipped round from under the poll. The body quivered and swayed slightly to and fro. Dr. Dodd felt the pulse.

Leader Reporter -- How is his pulse Doctor?

Dr. Dodd -- It beats yet -- slightly.

Leader Reporter, addressing Dr. Cotton -- I hope he is without pain.

Dr. Cotton -- O quite. All sensation is gone.

The body ceased to sway. It hung without a quiver. Dr. Dodd looking at his watch and feeling the pulse of what was Riel: "He is dead. Dead in two minutes." Dr. Cotton put his ear to where that restless heart beat: "Dead." While inside that solemn and mournful tragedy was being enacted, outside the prison were many of the public and the reporter of the Leader, whose duty it was to watch what took place outside, gives the following description.

The barrack square was suggestive of something unusual though all was so calm. At the door of Col. Irvine's house stood Lord Boyle, Col. Irvine and Col. MacLeod. Before the prison talked the citizens, most of them members of the jury. There were many who were disappointed at not being allowed in to the execution. Jokes were made. The troopers stood in groups on the verandah of the prison and their conversation was not edifying. Sometimes a pause -- but no sound came from within. No sign that the tragedy was finished. At last a thud was heard and one of the police said -- "The G-d d--n s-n of a b---h is gone at last."

"Yes" said another as if saying 'amen' to this noble prayer -- "Yes, the s-n of a b---h is gone for certain now." And then followed some civilized laughter.

As the reporter drove away from the barracks he saw the mounted patrols all on the qui vive and everything looked as if some attempt at rescue had been expected.

Near Government House a friend was met who asked the writer how Riel died and the answer was:

"He died like a Christian."

"How about his sanity?"

"Any man who saw him die could not doubt his sanity. A more rational, self-controlled, sequent mind could not be conceived than he displayed."

"Did he die game? Was he pale?"

"He was pale. A man would naturally be pale. He showed the highest reason on the eve of going into eternity to crush down his natural love of display and occupy himself solely with that world to which he henceforth belonged. He died with calm courage, like a man and a Christian, and seemed to me a triumph of rationality as compared with brutes who could blurt out ribaldry over his death or the atheists who thought it a sign of insanity that in the position in which he had been placed he should have given himself to prayer."

Nothing in this life so became him as the leaving of it.


Some ten minutes after the drop had fallen the door at the base of the enclosure that immediately surrounded the scaffold opened revealing a ghastly spectacle the lifeless remains of Louis Riel with the hangman's rope around his neck, and the doctor feeling the pulse which had ceased forever four minutes after the drop was sprung. The body appeared in full view dressed in dark homespun, the white cap drawn down over the face which was turned northward towards the wall of the barracks from which the gallows projected, the large massive head was very much bent forward, with the beard chin resting on his broad full chest showing the back of the strong neck, bare to the skin, and that the once long shaggy locks of Louis Riel had been shorn off. The large hangman's knot showed up very conspicuously and pressed itself against the back of the head just above the base of the brain square in line with the spinal chard. After hanging thus for some thirty minutes, the white cap was turned up showing the face which indicated a painless death. Within three quarters of an hour the body was cut down and placed on a rough table or bench in the walled enclosure that surrounds the gallows; here the rough clothes and pinions were taken off, and then, in full view, surrounded by the doctor, jurymen, civilians and soldiers lay the body dressed in a black suit with white shirt and collar, and once fiery piercing eyes closed forever as if in sleep, the strongly marked features, and massive high brow looking peaceful.


Some present wore a careless thoughtless smile as they removed locks of hair from the dead man's brow; others seemed to realize the terrible character of the situation. Soldiers who had shared the fortunes of war in the late rebellion and whose labours had been greatly increased on account of strict guard over the prisoner while living, expressed themselves as glad that his troubled spirit was at rest, but all seemed to think kindly of the dead who had always acted corteously towards his guards. We turned away from this aweful and never to be forgotten scene, shortly after the body was laid in the plain coffin in which it was about to be buried, in a grave beneath the scaffold.