The Three Deaths of the Resistance

Three deaths directly related to conflicts of the Resistance took place in 1870. Two were largely ignored by Canadian nationalists in press reports and historical accounts.

  • The first person to die was John Hugh/ Hugh John Sutherland. He expired on 16 February 1870 after surgery conducted by Canadian Party leader, ‘Dr.’ John Christian Schultz (a medical fraud), to treat a gunshot wound.
  • The shooter of Sutherland, Norbert Parisien, was expected to die shortly afterwards, of an aggravated assault inflicted by members of the Canadian Party. Although some accounts state that Parisien’s death occurred within weeks of the death of Sutherland and subsequent mauling of Parisien, apparently the latter survived, as a bedridden invalid, to 6 April 1870.
  • Thomas Scott, a private in the Canadian Volunteer Militia at Red River, who had been arrested a total three times at the Settlement and who was an escaped fugitive at the time of his last arrest, was sentenced to death by a military tribunal and executed by firing squad on 4 March 1870. It was not until four years after the event that Scott was publicly implicated in the death of Parisien.

Only Thomas Scott received consideration — as a martyr to the Canadian cause — in nationalist historiography. As early as 6 May 1870 this bias was evident and resented in Red River. In an article entitled “The Storm in Upper Canada,” New Nation (6 May 1870), the complaint was voiced:

“The threats and destruction vomited forth towards us by those agencies [the Toronto Globe and friends], we throw back with scorn and contempt. … Three lives have been lost, we deplore to say, through the mad frolics of those fire-brands [Canadians in the Settlement] and the wise patience of statesmanship [between Canada and Red River] recklessly betrayed. Yet those very men who have been lionized and lauded by the Globe and its partisans, are the primary murderers of Sutherland, Parisean [sic] and Scott,— all British subjects; the two former our own countrymen, the latter a Scotchman [sic], and not a Canadian, as sensationally blazed forth for party interests.”

[“The Storm in Upper Canada,” New Nation (6 May 1870),]


A Secondary Source Description of the Deaths, 2010

For a historical overview prepared for Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Project, Norma Hall wrote:

The height of armed conflict had been reached on 16 February. A march from the Portage, organized by key members of the Canadian Party and including other disaffected settlers, undertaken purportedly for the purpose of freeing prisoners held in Fort Garry and reputedly of overthrowing the Provisional Government, went badly awry and culminated in three deaths. Although a number of descriptions of the event and aftermath exist, these accounts contain conflicting details or are silent on crucial points. There is general agreement that Hugh Sutherland, from an English-speaking parish in the settlement (and not of the Portage party but simply in the wrong place at the wrong time), was fatally shot on 16 February, though his death was not immediate. Most accounts portray Norbert Parisien, a member of the French-speaking community, as having ‘almost accidentally’ killed Sutherland while panic-stricken and in flight from the Portage party. While there is agreement that Parisien was quickly captured and gravely injured by members of the Portage group, to date no historical documents have surfaced that unequivocally confirm the nature of his trauma, the length of time it took him to die, or even who he was. By some accounts, Thomas Scott was present during the affray involving Sutherland and Parisien. All accounts agree that Scott was among the Portage party members arrested and jailed on 17 February. Scott was tried by a military tribunal of the Provisional Government and he was executed by firing squad on 4 March 1870. There are no surviving minutes of that tribunal, however, to answer the question of why Scott was condemned to die. Nor are there papers of the Provisional Government to consult for explanation.

[Source: Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Consiel du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010).]


Primary Sources Chronicling the Deaths


In two separate articles, the New Nation of 18 February 1870 contained the first written references to Sutherland’s death:

“We regret to chronicle the death of John Hugh Sutherland, second son of Mr. John Sutherland, Point Douglas. The dastardly mode in which his life was taken, and particulars of the event, we give in other columns. He was shot on the 16th instant, and died at nine o’clock the same evening. In the morning he left his father’s abode, full of health, hope and promise –a young man of most estimable character,– just having attained manhood. The day following he was borne to his final resting place by a long train of mourners. Requiescat in pace.”

[“John Hugh Sutherland,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 3; reprinted in the  New Nation (25 February 1870).]

“The war of proclamations inaugurated by [John Stoughton] Dennis & Co., has been followed up by a series of campaigns,– the principal feature of which is that nobody was hurt. In but one instance, that of the lamented young Sutherland, has death resulted from this revolution: although times without number, enraged men, in small and large parties, have cocked pistols and guns at each other’s heads, and, indeed, in some instances, furiously rammed their revolvers down each other’s throats.”

[Revolution,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 2.]

The New Nation of 25 February 1870 expanded on the incident, reporting:

“[On Monday] a very sad and fatal occurrence took place. A Frenchman named Parisien who had been made a prisoner [by Canadians] escaped. He had been placed under arrest some short time before, as a spy. Seizing a favorable opportunity, he darted from his guard, seized a double-barrelled gun and made off by the river. While running away, a son of Mr. John Sutherland came along towards Parisien on horseback, on his way to see how matters were at Kildonan. Actuated by a motive we cannot understand — unless it were to get the horse — Parisien fired at the young man — the shot took effect in his fingers, and he fell off his horse. Getting up in an instant he ran off, but again Parisien fired, and young Sutherland fell pierced through the body by a bullet, His murderer was hotly pursued — overtaken — and would have been killed instantly but for the intervention of Capt. [Charles Arkoll] Boulton and some others. As it was, Parisien got a pretty good mauling.”

[“The Revolution,” New Nation (25 February 1870), 2.]

On 4 March 1870 the New Nation reported Thomas Scott’s death:

“The first military execution ever witnessed in Rupert’s Land, we believe, took place at Fort Garry on the 4th inst. The person shot was Private T. Scott, who came here from Canada last summer; and his execution took place upon an order of a court-martial held at Fort Garry on the 3rd inst. Mr. Scott, it will be the recollection of many, was among the Canadians captured in Dr. [John Christian] Schultz‘s store on the 7th December last. He lay in confinement at the Fort with the other prisoners, some weeks, and then, accompanied by several others made good his escaped from the Fort, one fearfully cold night.

Immediately before the close of the last Convention, Mr. Scott — who had fled to Portage — came down with the others from that locality to liberate the prisoners. Subsequently, as is well known, this Portage movement assumed a more serious aspect, and the capturing of the Fort and overturning of the Government was aimed at. But this was abandoned; and Mr. Scott was again captured with the Portage brigade on the morning of the 17th ult.

From this time forth, Mr. Scott, was very violent and abusive in his language and actions, annoying and insulting to the guards, and even threatening the President. He (Scott) vowed openly that is ever he got out, he would shoot the President; and further stated that he was at the head of the party of Portage people, who on their way to Kildonan, called at Coutu’s house and searched it for the President, with the intention of shooting him.

At length he was court-martialed by the tribunal of Adjutant-General [Ambroise-Dydime] Lepine, and condemned to death. His judges were grieved to pass this sentence, but they considered that the unfortunate man had brought his doom on himself and could not be suffered to escape. Only one member of the Court voted against the decision. The prisoner was duly informed of the sad result, on the evening of the 3rd inst. He was taken back, confined in a separate room, his chains taken off, pen, ink and paper given him, a comfortable bed made, and every other attention paid. His death, he was assured, was irrevocable, and he was told that he could have the services of any clergyman he desired in the meantime. He sent for Rev. George Young, who at once attended and did what he could for the unfortunate man. Next morning, on hearing of the sentence, the clergy of St. Boniface assembled, and some of them came to Fort Garry to plead, with Mr. [Canadian] Commissioner [Donald A.] Smith, that the prisoner should be pardoned. The President [Louis Riel], as he had approved the sentence, said he could never revoke the decree of the Adjutant’s tribunal, but the President ordered that all the soldiers should be assembled before the execution and that prayers should be offered up for the condemned.

The prisoner was sentenced to be shot at ten o’clock, but before that hour Rev. Mr. Young, who had been with the prisoner, waited on the President and Adjutant-General and urged again that the unhappy man’s life should be spared,– stating that he was not prepared to die. The Adjutant said that the sentence could not be revoked, but that in deference to the statements of Rev. Mr. Young, the execution would be postponed till noon.

During all this time, nothing would convince the prisoner that his sentence would be carried out. And only when the guard came to lead him out to be shot did he realise his sad fate. Then he said– ‘As I am about to die, I wish to see my friends, the other 47 prisoners.’ This request was conceded, and he saw them and bade each a long last good-bye.

Rev. Mr. Young continued to attend him up to the last, and endeavored to lead his mind to the full contemplation of the awful end before him.

At noon, or a little after, Scott was led outside the Fort, blindfolded, and with his hands tied behind his back, a firing party was detailed, and ——– but we will not detail the sad scene. Having knelt a few moments in prayer with Rev. Mr. Young, the prisoner said: ‘I am ready,’ and in a few moments he fell.

The whole affair is a matter of profound regret. The President and Court-martial regretted extremely that they should feel themselves driven to this course; and all will join with us in regretting the dire necessity of this case, and in hoping that Red River may never witness such another sad scene.

The unfortunate deceased was buried about the middle of the east Courtyard, Fort Garry.”

[“Military Execution,” New Nation (4 March 1870), 3.]

On 9 March 1870, the Toronto Globe included a garbled, second hand report:

“St. Paul, Minn., March 8

A letter dated Pembina, 24th February, received, says there is but little news since last mail.

The New Nation was issued as usual February 18th, but the edition was suppressed and not distributed, as it contained news which the Provincial Government wished to withhold from the public for the present.

H. Gaudy [sic: William Gaddee/ Gaddy], who was reported executed, was ordered to be executed, to prevent mob violence. He was taken into a private place by three captains, and they afterwards reported to the soldiers and the people that he was executed; but, says the writer, the matter is clothed in so much mystery that his death is doubted.

 When Major [Charles Arkoll] Boulton and his party went from Portage La Prairie to the Lower Settlement to unite with Dr. [John Christian] Schultz, Wm Gaudy was sent by Dr. Schultz to Mr. [William] Dease’s Settlement to induce them to join Dr. Schultz; and while at Mr. Deases’s house a man named La Voucheler was arrested.

La Voucheler promised to take the oath of allegiance to [President Louis] Riel, and was liberated and placed on guard duty by Riel. He, however, escaped from his comrades with his musket.

After escaping, La Voucheler met a young man named Southerbank, whom he shot and killed. He was pursued by soldiers and after a fight, brought back to Fort Garry as prisoner, badly wounded.

When Riel’s men came to capture Dr. Schultz at Stone Fort he was not to be found. No person was in the fort except the ordinary employees and officers of the Hudson Bay Company. The Doctor was supposed to be with Indian allies near the mouth of Red River.

The Scotch and part of the English half-breeds refused to join Dr. Schultz, and Major Boulton only furnished them rations because he was forced to do so.

[Canadian] Commissioners [Donald A.] Smith, [Colonel Charles] DeSalaberry, [Father J.-B. ] Thibault, and the delegate [Hon. Alfred H.] Scott, [Rev. N.J.] Richot, and [Judge John] Black, were expected at Pembina on the evening of the 24th, on their way to Canada

 The letter concludes by saying, by order of the State Department at Washington, evidence has been collected at Pembina to show that Mr. [William] McDougall violated his neutrality. The testimony goes forward by mail.

 Nothing further is said about Boulton.”

[“News from Red River. The Reported Execution of Gaudy. Murder by a Half-Breed. Dr. Schultz’s Expedition.” the Globe vol. 27, no. 58 (9 March 1870). See also “Prisoners,” this site for a discussion of Gaddy.]

Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché wrote from Red River to Joseph Howe in Ottawa on 11 March 1870, about events that occurred while Taché was absent from the settlement (and which, therefore, he had not witnessed):

“Sir,– The painful duty devolves upon me of communicating to His Excellency the condition of the country. I am most of all astonished at my own ignorance of the real state of affairs during my stay in Ottawa. The sight of the evils which weigh our people down, and the dread of still greater evils which, it may be, threaten them, cause one’s heart to bleed. This colony, formerly so calm and peaceful is now given over to desolation. With deepest regret I feel it my duty to state that, with very few exceptions, all who have come from Canada have acted as if their object was, not only to compromise the Dominion Government, but also to open out an unfathomable abyss.

… The Convention [of Forty] had hardly closed (and it had been a very stormy one), when the whole country was on the eve of a general conflagration. Colonel [John Stoughton] Dennis‘ old plan was resumed — Captain [Charles Arkoll] Boulton, at the head of some hundred men, came down from Portage de la Prairie … Doctor [John Christian] Schultz was coming up the Red River from its mouth … The junction of these two armed bodies took place near the Scotch Church at Kildonan. The Scotch refused to take part in this movement, which fact at the outset cast a damper on it.

During this time a young French half-breed was made prisoner; he soon fled, seizing a double barreled gun. Owing to sequence of circumstances, the nature of which is unknown, he shot a young Scotchman of the name of Sutherland, and killed him. Pursued by those who had previously captured him, he defended himself with an energy and vigor which exhibited a foretaste of the nature of the struggle impending with hundreds of his fellows.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons,”Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” Journals of the House of Commons 8 (Appendix 6), [Ottawa: I.B. Taylor] 1874; also printed as Canada, Parliament, Chambre des Communes, “Rapport du Comitée spécial sur les causes des troubles du Territoire du Nord-Ouest en 1869–70, Journaux de la Chambre des Communes 8 (annexe 6), 1874), 21-22 (page number to the English-language edition).]


Despite accounts which purport an earlier date of death, the New Nation (8 April 1870), reported that Parisien died on 6 April 1870. See


On 6 April 1870, HBC Gov. William Mactavish wrote to William Gregory Smith, HBC Secretary in London:

“The party from the Lower Settlement was led by Dr. [John Christian] Schultz and on their arrival at Frog Plain they billeted themselves in the Scotch Church at that place. … I regret to say that during the time occupied by the proceedings of the Assemblage at Frog Plain a young Scotchman, named John Hugh Sutherland, was shot by a Frenchman who had been taken prisoner. Sutherland was in no way connected to the movement; the person who shot him did so in the course of a futile effort to regain his liberty.

I also regret to state that a prisoner named Scott was shot by order of a French Court-Martial on 4th March.”

[Great Britain, Colonial Office, and Canada, Governor General, “Correspondence Relative to the Recent Disturbances in the Red River Settlement; Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, August, 1870,” [Blue Book Reports for 1869 and Journals of the House of Commons] (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1870), 215, 216.]

On 23 July 1870 Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché wrote to Sir John Young, Governor General of Canada:

“I regret as much as any one the deplorable deeds perpetuated [and reported with ongoing outrage in the Ontario press]; nevertheless, I dare affirm that is impossible to form an impartial judgment of the same with out being acquainted with the circumstances that have given rise to them, and such information it is very difficult for outsiders to obtain. Three men lost their lives during the troubles,– the first I may say accidentally, since Parisien, who shot him, was not sound in mind. Parisien himself, arrested before the sad event by the so-called ‘Loyal Party,’ was afterwards killed by them, or rather left for dead, and in fact died in consequence of the horrible treatment they had inflicted on him. No mention is made [in the Ontario press] of the death of these two men, but instead, some of those who most largely contributed to the death of the latter, thinking to display their loyalty, loudly called to revenge the last victim, the unfortunate Thomas Scott. Any one acquainted with the events is less astonished at the death of Scott than at the fact of there being but one victim in insurgent [Canadian] quarters. This fact clearly proves that the armed party [the military of the Provisional Government] was neither blood-thirsty nor actuated by a revengeful spirit. … I have no desire to accuse any one, but if punishment is to be inflicted on the most guilty and rebellious, it might be deserved by some of those who are exalted as the champions of loyalty, duty, and honor.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 41.]

On 22 September 1870, an account of the “murder” of Thomas Scott, without mention of the other two deaths, was published by the Toronto Daily Telegraph (it would be available at Red River by about 10 October). The description was written by Canadian Rev. George Young, who was present at Red River during the period of violence and who regarded the Provisional Government of Assiniboia as an “abominable confederacy.”

[Neil Edgar Allen Ronaghan, “The Archibald Administration in Manitoba — 1870 – 1872,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitobs), 356, notes “Young prepared the account either on or before the 6th of September, when it was given to the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, then in Winnipeg. The broad lines of his account are essentially the same as in the one he later gave in Manitoba Memories. Characteristics of this account are the following: the story of Scott’s asking Riel to allow the women and children to leave the house where the [John Christian] Schultz party was surrounded [in a previous incident on 7 December 1869]; the idea that Scott was not part of the Schultz party when taken prisoner; the idea that Scott was never taken in arms; the suppression of his key role in the Portage rising; a denial that Scott entered the Coutu house on his way to join the Schultz party at Kildonan; a denial that Scott was guilty of violent behavior while a prisoner; a denial of the Courrier de St. Hyacinthe statements about Scott’s reactions to Young’s prayers; the emphasis on the cruelty of the execution.” See also George Young, Manitoba Memories: leaves from my life in the prairie province, 1868-1884 (Toronto William Briggs, 1897), 123, 131 – 153.]

Later reports of the three deaths contained some conflicting details:

The Story retold, 1871:

Alexander Begg, though he does not appear to have been an eye-witness, published a retrospective account, with commentary, in 1871:

Rumors were … continually being heard, regarding the movements of the Portage party, and their intentions. One of their delegates [to the Convention of Forty], Mr. [Kenneth] McKenzie [who had voted to legitimize the Provisional Government], a sensible and good man, met them and strongly advised them to turn back, as they were liable to cause a great deal of trouble if they continued on their course. He also told them that the prisoners were being released, or about to be so. Notwithstanding this good counsel on the part of a thoroughly honest and reliable man, they persisted in holding on their way, their strength increasing as they went, until they numbered somewhere about one hundred men. To say the least of it, their taking the step they did was not only uncalled-for, at the time, but one that risked the peace of the whole Settlement, to serve their own motives of revenge.

We cannot look upon it in any other light, as it is well known that they started upon their expedition before the return of the delegates they had sent to the convention. They ought to have heard their report first concerning matters, before rushing rashly into an undertaking which was likely to cause ruin and desolation to so many homes in the neighborhood of Fort Garry.

Miss [Victoria ‘Vicky’] McVicar … drove down in company with Mr. William Drever [Jr.], to announce the fact of the prisoners being released, to the party congregated at Kildonan school-house. In the meantime, prisoners had been taken on both sides, on suspicion of being spies. One by the French, and three by the English; and amongst the latter, was one Parisien, who had been dodging about the Lower Settlement for some time.

The chances for peace now appeared to be good; when the next morning information was received, that changed, for a time, the whole aspect of affairs — namely, that young Sutherland had been shot by Parisien; who, having succeeded in escaping from his guard, and meeting his victim riding along the river on the ice, fired on him, wounding him in the wrist. Young Sutherland then partly fell from his horse, when Parisien again fired at him, this time inflicting a mortal wound. The object of the murderer must either have been to obtain the horse to facilitate his escape, or else he must have been actuated by a dread that Sutherland intended to intercept him; whereas the young man was merely riding down to the English camp, to see what was going on; he never having mixed himself up in any way in the rising on either side. The avengers, however, were soon on the track of the murderer, for hardly had he fired at young Sutherland the second time, and before he could capture the horse, his pursuers from the English camp, were close upon him. Parisien, on seeing this, darted into the woods, but was soon afterwards overtaken, and, in the struggle that ensued, he received injuries from which he died some days afterwards.

Mr. [William] Fraser from Kildonan, went up at once to see [President Louis] Riel about what had happened; but it appears, was not received very cordially, being told that Parisien, as a prisoner escaping, had a right to fire on his pursuers. …

Mr. [John] Sutherland, the father of the boy who had been shot, now sent word to the English camp, that it was his earnest desire that no blood should be shed on account of what had happened to his boy, as it would only make his bereavement the harder to bear, if through it, other innocent lives should be lost.

Parisien, the man who shot young Sutherland, was taken to the Stone Fort, from which he was afterwards removed to his own house, and where he died in a short time of his wounds.

[Begg, Creation of Manitoba, 277-278, 284-285, 286, 290.]

The Story retold, 1872:

In 1872, a letter to the editor appeared in the Manitoba Liberal – a newspaper owned by John C. Schultz. The correspondence was dated 14 March 1872 and signed “Pascal Parisien ‘A Loyal French Half-breed.'” Parisien wrote:

“Sir,– In one of the late issues of the Métis, reference has been made to the death of Norbert Parisien, and Canadians blamed for it. Now, in justice to all innocent parties, I deem it necessary to state that Canadians are in no way responsible for the death of my relative.

Had Louis Riel allowed this young man to remain at home and not forced him to take up arms, in all probability he would be alive to-day. While on duty in the Fort, he heard Riel using threats against the Canadians who were imprisoned, and he (Riel) said ‘that he saw no reason why he should not kill all those men and save further trouble and anxiety.’

This so terrified the young man that, he got out of his mind and made his escape, run away towards Kildonan, and met his death in some way not known to his relations. And it is wrong to accuse any persons in particular as being the cause of his death.”

[“To the Editor of the Liberal,” Manitoba Liberal (15 March 1872), 2. A Pascal Parisien was perhaps among those who sided with William Dease in protesting against the instituting of a provisional government at the settlement. See Possible Objectors to a Provisional Govt., 29 Nov. 1869, this site. Pascal Parisien apparently wrote in response to “St. Boniface. Samedi, 2 Mars, 1872. Les morts violentes,” Le Métis (2 March 1872), 2. See also “1875: Donald A. Smith defends his role in the Resistance,” this site, in which Schultz denies any connection with the newspaper, but Smith furnishes proof of the dishonesty of that statement.]

The Story retold, 1874:

Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché reported in 1874, before the Parliamentary Committee, appointed to inquire into the difficulties of 1869-1870, that he had been told by Rev. John Black of Kildonan Church:

The [Portage party] people gathered in the church, and in Mr. [John] Black‘s parsonage, and in the neighborhood, and a consultation was held in his own room, at which it was proposed to go and seize my palace and my cathedral, fortify them, and have cannons placed there with which to fight the parties across the river. Some of the party, however, objected to that, as the French people generally, being Catholics, considered the palace and cathedral sacred, and it would only provoke them and cause those not already under arms to rally to the Provisional Government. Finally the idea was abandoned all together.

This is all I recollect of my conversation with Mr. Black, save that Mr. Black told me he had dissuaded them from coming to the fort, and showed them the folly of their plan; and he added too, there was absolutely no organization amongst them, that in fact, one man had been killed, and another so seriously injured that he was at the time left for dead, and never recovered. Bishop [Robert] MacRae [sic: Machray] and Archdeacon [John] McLean, told me in substance the same thing.

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 25.]

The French-language weekly newspaper Le Métis (25 April 1874) published details “in response to assertions made by Dr. Lynch.” The paper stated its report was based “dont la première nouvelle a été répandu par des personnes qui n’étaient pas du tout intéressés à en parler” (translation: “the first news … spread by persons who were not at all interested in talking about it”).

According to Le Métis:

“Lors de l’assassinat de Parisien, il est dit que Scott attacha au cou de Parisien encore vivant, une ceinture, et qu’après avoir bien noué l’autre bout de la ceinture à la queue d’un cheval, Scott monta en croupe sur le même cheval et le lança à la course trainant ainsi Parisien un bon quart de mille.”

(translation: He “tied a sash around Parisien’s neck and tied it to a horse’s tail,” then rode the horse, dragging Parisien for a good quarter of a mile.)

[“Reponse au Dr. Lynch,” Le Métis (25 April 1874), 1 [continued; continued], 2 [relevant passage]. The translations are those of Neil Edgar Allen Ronaghan, “The Archibald Administration in Manitoba – 1870–1872,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba), 226 n. 101.]

The Story retold, 1883:

A reporter for the Winnipeg Daily Sun in 1883 wrote a version of events based on an interview with Louis Riel, which, the syntax indicates, might have involved translation from French to English, and in which the following exchange reputedly took place (though some details might have been scrambled in the course of being put to print). Notably, Riel placed the blame for Parisien’s death on Thomas Scott:

I don’t mean to say my conduct was perfect on all occasions, because every man is liable to make trifling mistakes, but had I the same thing to go through again, I would do exactly the same. If the people of Canada only knew the grounds on which we acted and the circumstances under which we were, they would be most forward in acknowledging that I was right in the course I took. And I have always believed that as I have acted honestly, the time will come when the people of Canada will see and acknowledge it.

Even the execution of Scott?

I would just as soon you would not make any mention of it as I do not wish to revive old feuds; but at the same time in saying that I thoroughly approve of my past conduct, I honestly include that act also.

The council acted honestly in condemning Scott.

Why did you select Scott?

I did not select him.

Scott was about the fourth man in influence and prominence amongst the leaders. Dr. [John Christian] Schultz was the principal leader. Col. [John Stoughton] Dennis was second in authority, and Major [Charles Arkoll] Boulton was third.

Did you converse with Scott before he was executed?

I sent for him when he was in captivity in the fort. I told him he was conspiring with other men. I also told him that if he had not been careful that evening, he would have been killed for trying to murder the guard we placed on him.

Did he try to kill the guard?

Yes, he seized a bayonet that was in the room and endeavored to slay the guard by plunging it into him through an opening in the door of the guard room. He was always hot headed and violent. I will tell you of one of his crazy acts. A man named Parisien, a follower of his, was taken prisoner by us but afterwards escaped. He went back to Scott’s camp near Kildonan and Scott thinking he was a spy took a strong scarf, tied one end around Parisien’s neck and the other to the tail of his (Scott’s) horse. Scott then jumped on the animal and galloped about quarter of a mile, dragging the poor victim in this way till it was thought he was almost choked to death. He recovered sufficiently to make his escape, but Scott’s followers pursued him; catching him they beat and cut him in such a manner that he was left for dead.

Did you speak to Scott about his attempt on the guard’s life when you sent for him?

I told him I could not check public opinion; I also told him the fort was full of men exasperated at him. I told him I had no means of doing anything for him and asked him to give me his word that he would keep quite. He replied: “You owe me respect; I am loyal and you are rebels.” He insulted everybody and defied me. I entreated him to keep quite, but he said he would do just as he pleased and I felt convinced we could not change his mind.

Did he ever plead for mercy?


Where was his body buried?

I have always declined to answer that question.

Was it thrown into the river?

It might have been; but I am not supposed to know, and in fact don’t know.

[Correspondent, “Riel’s Reminiscences,” Winnipeg Daily Sun (28 June 1883).]

The Story retold, 1886:

‘Major’ [Charles Arkoll] Boulton‘s account, published in 1886, averred:

“we camped in the church for the night.

Towards dusk, a prisoner, whose name was Parisien, was brought in as a suspected spy. He was taken in charge by the guard, and no more secure place offering, he was imprisoned underneath the pulpit. On the following morning, he asked permission to go out. Leave being granted, he was accompanied by the sergeant of the guard and two men. Around the church were numbers of people, and others constantly arriving; their sleighs and cutters were standing about, and in one of these a gun was lying on the seat. This caught the eye of Parisien, who was as quick as lightning to conceive the idea of escape. He made a bolt from the guard, seized the gun from the cutter, and ran for the banks of the river, only a few yards distant. As he got down the bank there happened to be riding towards the church on the frozen river the son of Mr. (now Senator) [John] Sutherland. He was coming from his father’s house to join the force, and without any knowledge of what had occurred, this poor young fellow, about twenty-one years of age, was suddenly fired at twice by the prisoner, both shots taking effect.

The ruffianly act was seen by the people on the bank, who had witnessed the attempt to escape, and they immediately began firing on Parisien, who continued his flight. The object he had in view, in shooting young Sutherland, was evidently to seize his horse to assist him to escape, or to prevent Sutherland riding after him. From where I was, inside the church, I heard the firing, and rushed out to ascertain what was going on. When I was informed of the shooting, I ran down the bank and found poor Sutherland lying on the snow alive. I had him carried into the house of Rev. Mr. [John] Black, where Dr. [John Christian] Schultz and another doctor present attended him. The poor young fellow lingered through the day and then died. As soon as I had seen him placed in Mr. Black’s house, I went off down the river to ascertain what had taken place in regard to Parisien. I saw about half a mile distant a large crowd. I ran to them and found that they had caught the prisoner and were handling him severely. They were infuriated at the death of Sutherland, and intended showing their captive no mercy. His feet were tied together with a sash, and he was being dragged along the ice by another sash, which was tied around his neck. Before long he would, no doubt, have suffered the consequence of his act. But I interfered, and had him taken in charge and brought back to the church, determined to let no hasty act or feeling to prejudice our proceedings, as his case was one for judicial trial. When the force broke up on the following day Parisien was sent down in charge of a guard to the lower fort: on his way down he again tried to escape, but was fired upon by the guard, who recaptured him, and about a month after he died of his wounds.”

[Charles Arkoll Boulten, Reminiscences of the North-west rebellions: with a record of the raising of Her Majesty’s 100th regiment in Canada, and a chapter on Canadian social & political life (Toronto: Grip printing and publishing co., 1886), 108-109. The reference to “another doctor” might refer to Rev. John Black D.D. (Doctor of Divinity), as apparently he was sometimes referred to as Dr. Black (see, for example, ‘The Story retold, 1923’ immediately below). In a much later account, F. N. Shrive, “Charles Mair: A Document on the Red River Rebellion,” Canadian Historical Review (1959): 223, averred the doctor in question was Dr. Henry Septimus Beddome. The account of eye-witness Christina Ross/ Mrs. Bernard Rogan Ross (‘The Story retold, 1923,’ below), refers solely to John Christian Schultz as present and performing medical intervention.]

The Story retold, 1923:

William James Healy‘s description of the event, based on interviews conducted for his book, Women of Red River, published in 1923, likewise puts the men of the Portage Party, including John Christian Schultz, “in the Kildonan church and school house. Most of them had guns,” while Schultz had a cannon. Healy seems to have based much of the description below on the reminiscences of Catherine Sutherland/ Mrs. William Ross Black who fills in a few details regarding the Sutherland family’s take on the event:

That evening a young man named Parisien, a French-Canadian who was simple-minded, came down the road past the Kildonan church. He had been employed in Fort Garry sawing and chopping wood, and was on his way to his people, who lived across the river from St. Andrew’s. Some of Major [Charles Arkoll] Boulton‘s men seized him as a spy, and made him a prisoner in the school house. In the morning he managed to make his escape. He ran to the river bank, took a gun from one of the sleighs that were standing near the church, and ran down the river bank. That was about ten o’clock in the forenoon. Only a few minutes before Parisien’s escape, the Sutherlands, who lived across the river, were welcoming their father home from Fort Garry. He had persuaded Riel to set all the remaining prisoners free that morning. “He said to my second eldest brother, John Hugh, ‘Jump on a horse and ride as fast as you can across the river to Major Boulton and Dr. [John Christian] Schultz, and tell them that all the prisoners are to be set free!” said Mrs. Black, in telling her recollections. “John Hugh ran out at once and started across for Kildonan on a horse. I remember well how my mother cried with joy when my father came home that morning. We had not seen him for two days and two nights. The night before my mother had said that we might never see him again. He had been doing his utmost to prevent strife and bloodshed. Poor John Hugh was crossing the river when he and the half-witted and badly frightened Parisien met. Men were running from the river bank in pursuit of Parisien, who raised his gun and fired twice at my brother. John Hugh fell wounded from his horse. Some of the men who were pursuing Parisien carried him to  Dr. [John] Black‘s [Rev./Doctor of Divinity] house. Others seized Parisien and dragged him back to the school house. My uncle William Fraser, after helping to carry my brother into Dr. Black’s house, came over to our house, and my father and mother went away with him at once, and were away all day. My mother came home that night. She told us afterwards that when she left John Hugh whom they had put in Mrs. Black’s bed at the manse, she knew that he would not live until the morning, but she could not leave us children alone any longer. John Hugh died the next morning. Before he died he begged earnestly that young Parisien should not be punished for what he had done. “The poor simple fellow was too frightened to know what he was doing,” my brother said. The men who had seized Parisien dealt with him very roughly and talked of hanging him there and then. Dr. Black went out and saved the young man’s life. I remember Dr. Black saying how pitiable an object young Parisien was as he saw him lying half unconscious with the blood streaming from a wound in the side of his head which one of the men had given him with a hatchet. He died not very long after.

[W.J. Healy, Women of Red River, Being a Book Written from the Recollections of Women Surviving from the Red River Era, A Tribute to the Women of an Earlier Day by the Women’s Canadian Club (Winnipeg: Bulman Bros. Ltd., 1923), 221 – 223.]

Healy reported that in an interview, Christina Ross/ Mrs. Bernard Rogan Ross recalled:

The morning poor young Sutherland was shot … I had driven up from Middlechurch with my cousin, Miss [Victoria ‘Vicky’ McVicar/] MacVicar from Fort William, who was visiting me. We went to the Bird’s and on our way back home we stopped at Robert [McBeath/] Macbeth‘s, where I left Miss MacVicar and drove on alone. As I came near Kildonan church I saw the crowd of men gathered around there. Young Sutherland had been carried in to Dr. [D.D./ Doctor of Divinity/ Rev. John] Black‘s house. I went in to the Black’s house and met Dr. [John Christian] Schultz in the hall. He was saying “War! War!” Dr. Schultz did everything he could to save poor young Sutherland’s life, but it was all in vain. They told me that the first shot which Parisien fired sent through young Sutherland’s right hand, and that he fell from his horse, still clutching the rein. The men thought that Parisien wanted a horse, so as to make his escape, but the half-witted young man was so frightened that instead of trying to mount the horse and get away, he shot Sutherland in the breast. William Fraser said to me, “Will you let me have your horse? I must go and tell John Sutherland what has happened.” I let him take my horse, and he drove off to the Sutherlands.

[Healy, Women of Red River, 230–231.]

In 1923 as well, Alfred Cambell Garrioch published his account of the story, apparently based on an account told by his brother, George Garrioch. After noting the presence of John Christian Schultz, Garrioch recounts:

The church and schoolhouse at Kildonan were converted into barracks, and the Scottish settlers gave substantial assistance in the commissariat department during the twenty-four or thirty hours that it took the valiant little army to complete its task.

While this [a negotiation] was occurring at Forty Garry, something tragic was taking place at Kildonan. A young Frenchman by the name of Parisien had been captured on suspicion of being a spy, and was being kept under guard at the schoolhouse, when, watching his chance, he sprinted through the open door and seizing a double-barrel gun from a sleigh close by made for the river. George Garrioch, brother of the writer, was the guard and described to me how he raised his gun and drew a bead on the flying Frenchman with his finger pressed dangerously on the trigger, while several voices shouted — “Shoot him! Shoot him! — and how the moral aspect of the question just then intruded itself into his mind and he didn’t shoot him.

When the fleeing Frenchman had run a short distance along the river path, he met young Sutherland who was on horse-back. It is supposed that Parisien was mentally defective and he acted like it. He shot at the approaching rider, wounding him in the hand, and the startled horse, wheeling suddenly round, caused the now disabled rider — to lose his seat and fall. As he was in the act of rising the second shot, fired at close range, penetrated his lung. Several men were now in pursuit of Parisien, among whom were the two brothers of the name of Pochien, who belonged to High Bluff. Little men they were but regular warriors of the buffalo-hunting type. They were light of foot and sound in wind and limb, and once their blood was heated in the chase they were liable to revert to the primitive methods of warfare favoured by the Indians, and on this occasion they brought the Frenchman’s flight to a temporary finish by a slight tap on the head with the back of a tomahawk. His feet were then tied together with a sash, and another was passed round his neck, and they were on their way to the schoolhouse dragging their unfortunate victim head first like a toboggan when they were met by Major [Charles Arkoll] Boulton, who insisted — almost a little late — on his being treated more in accordance with the methods of civilized warfare. Sutherland lived only a few hours after being shot. He was a young man of promise, and was well known to the writer, as he lived at his father’s place only twenty rods distant from where I was boarding at the time. Parisien was placed in charge of a garrison of fifty men who were stationed in Lower Stone Fort for a short time. There he again made an attempt to escape and was fired at and wounded, which, together with the rough handling he had previously received, culminated in his death a short time afterwards; and so there was afforded some colour to the argument whereby Riel’s friends sought to palliate the crime of Scott’s murder, declaring that it was only on a par with the slaying of Parisien.

[A.C. Garrioch, First furrows: A history of the early settlement of the Red River country, including that of Portage la Prairie (Winnipeg: The Author, 1923), 228-229.]

The Story retold, 1925:

In 1925, Auguste-Henri de Trémaudan, reported that, during an interview conducted in 1923 with André Nault, the latter revealed that Parisien, on his deathbed, had insisted that, on fleeing the scene of Hugh Sutherland’s shooting, he had been chased by Thomas Scott. Scott had a cudgel of some sort and “on reaching Parisien, who was now running for the bush, he set upon and mercilessly began to beat him.”

[A.H. de Trémaudan, “The Execution of Thomas Scott,” Canadian Historical Review 6, no. 3 (September 1825), 229.]

In 1935, de Trémaudan, repeated the assertion that Scott was responsible for Parisien’s death. In some respects, the account does not readily accord with other accounts, perhaps because de Trémaudan was attempting to reconcile different versions of the story that had arisen over time:

C’est au cours de ces préparatifs qu’eut lieu le premier épisode sanglant de cette malheureuse époque: un double assassinat fut commis dans le camp anglais. Norbert Parisien, faible d’esprit que chaque parti croyait l’espion de l’autre, s’échappa en plein jour du Fort Garry, juste au moment où les hommes de Portage-la-Prairie commençaient à arriver. Les soldats de Riel voulurent tirer sur lui comme il sautait du haut des petites fortifications dans un banc de neige, mais leur commandant, André Nault, les retint en disant: “Laissez-le courir” L’évadé venait à peine d’atteindre la rivière qu’il entendit un galop de cheval derrière lui; il se retourna, croyant qu’on le poursuivait, et, persuadé que le cavalier allait faire feu sur lui, il crut devoir l’en emêcher et déchargea son fusil en pleine poitrine du cavalier, Hugh Sutherland, qui tomba foudroyé. C’était un fils de John Sutherland, l’un des notables de la colonie. Au bruit du coup de fusil, une poignée d’hommes accourent et se mirent à la pousuite de Parisien. A leur tête se trouvait Thomas Scott, armé d’un gourdin. Le fugitif avait réussi à traverser la rivière. Tout essouflé, it s’était dissimulé dans les buissons de la rive opposée. Scott et ses compagnons eurent vite fait de l’y découvrir; ils le saisirent et le rouèrent de coups à tel point que six jours plus tard le malheureux succombait à ses blessures.

Ni l’un ni l’autre de ces hommes n’auraient pas jugé à propos de prendre les armes contre le Government Provisoire. Rappelons que ce gouvernement, établi de façon régulière et absolument légale, selon le voeu des partis, anglais et français, avait un comité exécutif composé aux deux tiers de membres de langue anglaise.

[A.-H. de Trémaudan, Histoire de la nation métisse dans l’ouest canadien (Montreal: Éditions Albert Lévesque, 1935), 218 n. 7.]


An Unresolved Aspect of the Death of John Hugh Sutherland

Historians writing of the Resistance have overwhelmingly attributed the death of Sutherland to Norbert Parisien. Whether the gunshot wounds would have inevitably led to Sutherland’s death, however, cannot be known. Sutherland did not die immediately after being shot and it is possible that his death was instead the direct result of complications attributable to ‘medical’ malpractice.

According to Archbishop Matheson, Sutherland expired after a major surgery was  inflicted upon him by John Christian Schultz — a man posing as a a certified medical doctor, who had rushed to Sutherland’s ‘aid,’ and was heard crying “War! War!”

[see University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine Archives, file: Schultz_JC – Schultz, John Christian, “Samuel Matheson, ‘notes on early medical men of Manitoba by Archbishop Matheson’,” (original in Ross Mitchell file; and Healy, Women of Red River, 230-231. AM, MG12 E1, J.C. Schultz Papers, Personal Correspondence 1858-1887, Box 15, Joseph Monkman to J.C. Schultz (14 March 1866), indicates Scultz had performed an earlier surgery — blinding a woman by puncturing her eyeball, from which all the fluid then drained.]

Shortly after arriving in Red River Settlement, Schultz had begun presenting himself as a certified medical practitioner. He had attached the prefix “Dr.” to his name in a series of advertisements printed in the Nor’-Wester immediately after the death, on 31 May 1861, of Red River’s resident surgeon and coroner, Dr. John Bunn.

[See “The Late Dr. Bunn,” Nor’-Wester (1 June 1861), 2.]


Advertisement, “Dr. Schultz, Physician and Surgeon, Residence, Royal Hotel, Upper Fort Garry,” Nor’-Wester (15 July 1861), 2; (1 August 1861), 2;  (14 September 1861), 4; (1 October 1861) 4; and (15 October 1861), 4.


The advertisements ceased after Dr. Curtis James Bird arrived in the settlement (1861) and took over Dr. Bunn’s practice and position as coroner (1862). Schultz had expanded his own practice, however, by setting up shop to dispense pharmaceutical concoctions from his drugstore at the Town of Winnipeg.


Advertisements printed in the Nor’Wester (25 August 1866), 2.

It can only be hoped that Schultz was not poisoning the poor on a weekly basis.


In fact, as a medical man, Schultz was a quack at best and a conscious fraud at worst. His claims of having an appropriate education do not bear scrutiny:  Oberlin College, a collegiate (not a college) in Ohio, “has no record of his attendance.” He did not graduate from Victoria University, Coburg, having registered for only one term. He was not granted a degree by Queen’s University, Kingston, where he registered for two terms. No regular medical institution awarded him a degree, nor granted him a medical license. (It is doubtful that Schultz simply “purchased a degree, as it was legal to do at the time,” unless from an ‘irregular’ school because, after 1850, the Licensing Board of Canada West had ensured that tighter regulation than that was in place. Schultz would have had to attend an accredited university for three years’ worth of lectures in the Arts and Sciences before attending lectures in the Medical Department of such a university for an additional year.)

[Source: See “Memorable Manitobans: John Christian Schultz (1840–1896),” MHS,; George F. Reynolds, “The Man Who Created Portage and Main,” MHS Transactions 3, no. 26 (1979–1980 season),; “Modern Medicine in the 19th Century,”; Heather MacDougall, “Canadian Professional Development and Codes of Ethics, 1868–1970,” in “Medical Ethic, Past, Present and Future,” Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Canada,; and C. David Naylor, Private Practice, Public Payment: Canadian Medicine and the Politics of Health Insurance 1911–1966 (Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986). See also Lori Loeb, “George Fulford and Victorian Patent Medicine Men: Quack Mercenaries or Smilesian Entrepreneurs?,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 16 (1999).]

Mysteries Surrounding the Life and Death of Norbert Parisien

Norbert Parisien died of physical trauma inflicted 16 February 1870 (perhaps complicated by additional wounds received at a later date). Reputedly, Parisien identified Thomas Scott as the last man to cudgel him and leave him for dead — after he had been attacked with a hatchet, then dragged by the neck behind a horse for a quarter of a mile.

Q: Who was Norbert Parisien?

Details about Norbert Parisien are obscure and contradictory. In some accounts he is presented as no older than 15; in others, as no younger than 52. It is possible that he was the Norbert Parisien born c. 1844 (26 years old in 1870) to Bonaventure Parisien dit Leger and Marguerite (a Saulteaux woman); or Norbert might have been a man of the same name born 1814 (56 years old). He appears to have died once in the latter half of February, or on 4 March 1870, and then a second (or third) time in April. Reputedly he was suspected throughout the Red River Settlement of espionage activity in the capacity of a double agent, while yet he was recognized as, and extended sympathy for being, a mentally challenged member of the community. He apparently was related to Narcisse Parisien, and wife Marguerite Sabiston, who lived at or between lot 77, St. Andrew’s Parish. One source implies they were his parents, but no sources  establish linkages adequate to overcome the problem of Norbert having nominal duplicates. Aside from the Parisiens of St. Andrew’s Parish, there were additional Parisien families located in St. Norbert, Poplar Point, St. Peter’s and St. Clement’s Parishes of the Red River Settlement.

[See Hartwell Bowsfield, “Parisien, Norbert,” DCB,; “Memorable Manitobans,” MHS,]; Lawrence Barkwell, “Norbert Parisien. (1814–1870),” Louis Riel Institute,,; Sean Parisien, Metis Culture and Heritage Resource Centre Forum,,m=1110357972.]

Q: Who were the Pochien brothers, whom afterwards Garrioch alleged had given Parisien a ‘slight tap’ with a hatchet?

One similar sounding name among prisoners taken after the event would seem to be that of the Paquin/ Botquin dit Pocha brothers of High Bluff.

[See Neil Edgar Allen Ronaghan, “The Archibald Administration in Manitoba – 1870–1872,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba), 49 n.43, 206, 226 n. 101, who notes, “the name … may be that of one ‘old man Pocha’ or Pochain, … See F. N. Shrive, “Charles Mair on the Red River Rebellion” in CHR , Vol. 40, 1959, p. 224. The name may really be Pochain, since a family by that name lived at High bluff. See ‘R. McC’s account of the Portage affair in St. Paul Daily Pioneer, April 2, 1870.” Ronaghan also explains,

“There is a difficulty about this part of the incident. When the execution of Scott became a ’cause célèbre’ there was a tendency on the part of certain historians to suppress his part in the capture and wounding of Parisien. Boulton, who ‘interfered’ and prevented the lynching of Parisien, wrote only of ‘a large crowd’ who had followed and captured Parisien. J. J. Setter wrote that Parisien was ‘dragged back by Wildred Bartlett and others, making a drag rope of his scarf, which was tied aroung his neck’. Mr. Hart, a surveyor who was at Kildonan wrote that ‘A loyal half-breed was so enraged when he saw the prisoner that he struck him in the
face with his hatchet’. Black is reported to have said that ‘one of the men’ had wounded Parisien ‘with a hatchet’. A. C. Garrioch, in his account in First Furrows, implied that the ‘Pochien brothers of High Bluff’ used a tomahawk on Parisien. However, we are fortunate in that the first detailed published account, written on March 1 and published in St. Paul on April 2, reported that ‘a young fellow named Pochain from the High Bluff’ captured Parisien, but said nothing about. his having used a hatchet. … Then in 1874, in response to assertions made by Dr. Lynch, the French-Ianguage weekly Le Métis published details about which ‘the first news was spread by persons who were not at all interested in talking about it’ (‘dont la première nouvelle a été répandu par des personnes qui n’étaient pas du tout intéressés à en parler’). It was Scott, Le Métis reported, who tied a sash aroung Parisien’s neck and tied it to a horse’s tail (Il est dit que Scott attacha au cou de Parisien encore vivant, une ceinture, et qui après avoir bien noué l’autre bout de la ceinture à la queue d’un cheval, Scott monta en croupe sur le même cheval).”

One account identifies a Joseph Paquin dit Pocha as among “new arrivals,” farming at High Bluff with a brother — who might have been W. Paquin or J. Paquin. All three were listed among prisoners taken on 17 February.

 [See New Nation (25 February 1870), page 2 column 4,]; Frederick John Shore, “The Canadians and the Métis: the re-creation of Manitoba, 1858-1872,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1991), 43.]

Joseph Paquin dit Pocha Jr. was born 1833 to Joseph Paquin dit Pocha Sr. and Marie Lapointe. On 29 November 1859, Joseph married Matilda Hodgson (born 1831 at St. John’s parish). In 1869 they had seven children, ranging in age from 10 years to less than 1 year old.

William Paquin dit Pocha was born 30 December 1842 at St. Andrew’s parish, On 23 November 1865 he married Maria Anderson (born 1848 at St. Andrew’s to Thomas Anderson and Catherine Chenier/ St. Andre/ Landry) in St. Mary’s Anglican Church at Portage la Prairie. The couple then moved to High Bluff.

Garrioch’s allegation that ‘the Pochien brothers’ attacked Parisien has no documentation to back it up.

According to W.A. Farmer’s testimony at the Lepine trial of 1874, Parisien, like Sutherland, received ‘medical’ attention from John C. Schultz and a Dr. Beddsome [sic] prior to his death. []


Animosity and the Death of Thomas Scott:

Most people at the Settlement (and perhaps beyond), deplored Thomas Scott’s death as much as they deplored any death, including those of Hugh John Sutherland and Norbert Parisien.

[Norma Hall has argued that to some Red River settlers, it is possible that Scott was viewed as a particularly violent man, insanely so, citing contemporary accounts of windigo:

Stories of Scott’s death maintain some unusual occurrences transpired:

• the volley of shots from the firing squad didn’t kill him, and he lay on the ground groaning.

• A pistol was put to his ear and fired, his body was put into a pine box and taken into the fort, but, it was claimed, he was still making noise.

• Settlement clergy were refused the body for burial. The box was buried secretly – rumours circulated in the settlement of eerie late night doings.

(See Arthur William Alsager Pollock, Colburn’s United Service Magazine, and Naval and Military Journal vol. 137, part 1 (London: 1875), 176-177 n., for one story — attributed to John Bruce — recounting the execution and disposal of Scott’s remains.)

(For another account, see Dr. Derrick Nault [of the University of Calagary], “Thomas Scott: Recollections of Alexandre Nault as Passed Down by Andre Nault.“)

More bizarrely still,

• when the box was dug up some time later, it was found to contain only straw.

(For an additional account of what actually happened to Scott’s body see Derrick Nault, “Did Andre Nault Accidentally Reveal the Location of Thomas Scott’s Body?)

One possible explanation for the execution, as well as the seeming-strange details about the death and burial, might be that Red River people had Aboriginal approaches to community management. They may have thought that Thomas Scott was Windigo. I suspect that they did, because the treatment of Scott conforms to the means of dealing with Windigo. From the time of the attack on Parisien — which, because Sutherland died, some thought could have set off a ‘civil war’ —  to descriptions of Scott’s volatility in jail, and of his weird inability to die, his behavior is consistent with the most abhorred evil known to Algonkian speaking peoples in North America — and to fur traders as well.

In past usage (which differs in some cases from present usage), the word windigo was not a proper noun, it was only a kind of “reference,” to a murderous, infectious force that invaded a community and was dedicated to its physical extermination.[1] There were many ways to spell it. The term derived from the Algonquian root word “witiku”, though pronunciation and spelling varied widely, appearing as Wendigo, Windego, Wetiko, Windago, and Windikouk. Aboriginal law and practices had been devised to deal with the societal threat windigo posed in the absence of facilities for long-term incarceration. The procedures were all followed in the Scott case:

• he was isolated and restrained from inflicting additional harm.
• he was interviewed to determine the extent and source of the hostility.
• he was given spiritual counseling — in an attempt to heal what was regarded as a horribly aberrant, but possibly surmountable affliction.

If Scott was suspected of being windigo, unfortunately for himself, he did not demonstrate behavior that would have convinced anyone who believed in windigo that he could be saved. If he had shown remorse, and an ability to behave reasonably, then he would have been banished, for life. In cases that were extreme, however, cases where there was no indication that the offender could refrain from deadly violence, execution was deemed “the only solution.” The decision was not lightly made. Action was not taken in an easy spirit, but ending a windigo was considered “the very opposite of murder.”

People who had gone windigo were notoriously hard to kill. Usually a hole was put in their head to get the evil spirit out. There was a special method for disposing of windigo remains – it varied from community to community but was always very different from the ordinary funeral practices. Cremation, for example, would be resorted to where burial was the norm. Once over, community silence on a windigo incident was usual.

It is unlikely that anyone in Red River felt that it was safe to openly discuss the matter. Schultz and Mair, once back in Ontario, with the help of the ‘Canada First’ society stirred up sentiment among Orangemen to avenge their ‘loyal martyr,’ Thomas Scott. [See “Schultz and Mair and their Associates Advocate Mob Law,”  New Nation (13 May 1870), 1.] Sir John A. Macdonald, characterized the entire Boulton-led escapade as “foolish,” and “criminal,” but the pronouncement did little to quell Ontarian outrage. The loudest responses emanating from that province indicated that all Red River families were at risk of retaliation.

Whether the execution of Scott and unusual treatment of his body was due to adhering to Aboriginal law or not, the turmoil ceased when he did and life in the settlement regained its harmony.

[1] John Robert Columbo, Windigo: Kirkness, Killing the Shamen; Alberta History.

See also Norma Jean Hall, “‘A Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810-1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2001) 156–161, esp. nn. 77, 96; and Norma Hall, “The Red River Resistance and the Creation of Manitoba,” doing canadianhistory n.0,]

To Canadian Party supporters who were opposed to the Provisional Government of Assiniboia — particularly those Canadians who hated Catholics, ‘the French,’ and ‘Half-breeds’ — the death of Thomas Scott served as a rallying cry. His execution was classed as ‘murder’ and used to promote a construct of Métis peoples as dangerous and too savage and excitable to be capable of ‘civilized’ behaviour — including that required to negotiate confederation or practice self-government.

This view of the Métis was popular enough in Canada that members of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia were vilified, and the work of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was disregarded to the point where it’s very existence was denied.

One of the Red River conditions for confederation — that amnesty be granted for all participants in ‘the troubles’ — though the condition was believed to have been promised and accepted by Canada, was withdrawn. Members and supporters of the Provisional Government were attacked physically and hounded by negative propaganda. The furor drummed up in Canada, demanding that the ‘murder’ of Thomas Scott be avenged, never really abated.

[Thomas Bunn, quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 118, testified that as late as 9 March 1870 “A good many people did not believe that Scott was dead.” Page 72 of the same report, records that Rev. N.J. Ritchot testified that during negotiations with Sir John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier:

“They said that if a written promise of amnesty were required before the passing of the Manitoba Bill it would be imposing conditions on the Crown. They did not upon this occasion or during any of the prior conversation refer to the death of Scott as the difficulty in the way of the amnesty. They only asked me if I was present at the death of Scott and I answered I was not. They said with regard to the popular outcry respecting the death of Scott, that while regretting that event they, as men of business, could pay no attention to it, and that this matter would not prevent them from making suitable arrangements and settling all the questions. They requested me to keep perfect silence as to the communications I had with them, and let the public mind settle down.”

Jonas A. Jonasson, ‘The Red River Amnesty Question,’ Pacific Historical Review 6, no. 1 (March 1937), 62, notes that in 1872, ‘On February 9, the Government of the Province announced that it would pay $5,000 to any person or persons bringing any of the “murderers” of Scott to trial.’ See also Bruce Cherney, “Execution of Thomas Scott — used by Riel’s enemies to tarnish his achievements in Manitoba,”]


Additional Sources:

J.M. Bumsted, ‘Thomas Scott and the Daughter of Time,’ Prairie Forum 23, no. 2 (fall 1998), 145–169.

J.M. Bumsted, Thomas Scott’s Body And Other Essays on Early Manitoba History (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2000), 3–10, 197–213, 254–258.

Canada, Parliament, Senate, Debates of the Senate: official report (Hansard), Issues 1–21 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1955), 124.

Canadian Who Has Visited Manitoba to Discover the Truth [pseud.], Ontario and Manitoba ([Toronto?: s.n., 1872]), 1–16.

John Skirving Ewart, The Manitoba School Question (1894), 355–356, 386.

A.-G. Morice, Aux Sources de L’Histoire Manitobaine: Extrait de la Nouvelle-France (Québec: Imprimerie de las Compagnie de ‘L’Événement’, 1907), 87–89;

New Nation:

The Revolution! Liberation of the Prisoners,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 2.

The Revolution,” New Nation (25 February 1870), 2.

Canadian Malcontents,” New Nation (4 March 1870), 2.

Doug Owram, “‘Conspiracy and Treason’: The Red River Resistance From an Expansionist Perspective,” Prairie Forum 3, no. 3 (1978): 157–174.

Alexandre-Antonin Taché, Amnesty Again, 16, 32.

Joseph Francis Tennant, Rough Times, 1870-1920: A souvenire of the 50th anniversary of the Red River expedition and the formation of the province of Manitoba ([Winnipeg?: s.n., 1921]), 17–19.

A.-H. de Trémaudan, ‘The Execution of Thomas Scott,’ Canadian Historical Review 6 (1925), 222–236.

Auguste-Henri de Trémaudan, Histoire de la nation métisse (Montreal: Éditions Albert Lévesque, 1935), 218 n. 7.

François-Xavier-Anselme Trudel, quoted in ‘The Execution of Louis Riel,’ [28 May 1886] Debates of the Senate of the Dominion of Canada 1886, 4th Session, 5th Parliament, ed. Holland Bros. (Ottawa: A.S. Woodburn, 1886), 842–847.


Published: 23 July 2012


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