Saturday, June 9, 2012

Louis Riel and the Miracle that never Was

Louis Riel will not go down in history as a brilliant military commander.  Instead of tactical control, Riel sought divine intervention on the field of battle.  This did not turn the tide of the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.  Despite the hesitations and questionable military acumen of his opponent General Middleton, the Métis would go down in defeat.

Historian Jennifer Reid notes that, at the Battle of Batoche, Riel was unarmed on the battlefield.  Instead of shouting tactical directions, he recited the rosary.  This did not seem to increase the military effectiveness of the surrounded Métis.
Battle of Batoche

The Capture of Batoche, lithograph by Sergeant Grundy (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-2424).Canadian Encyclopedia

While Dumont's troops had held their own defending their rifle pits until 12 April, Middleton lured them from their cover, leading to their undoing.  One of his fellow insurgents called to Riel, "Work your miracle now, it's time".  (Reid, Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada, 248).  Riel lifted his arms into a cross.  Intervention was not forthcoming.  When fatigued, two Métis soldiers held up his arms and he called to the heavens, "My God, stop those people, crush them."

Riel's prayers were left unanswered, and finally, with Riel's men resorting to firing rocks and nails for ammunition, the forces under General Middleton swarmed the remaining insurgents and took Riel into custody a few days later.
Prisoner Louis Riel in the camp of Major-General Frederick Middleton
1885, by James Peters LAC Ref. No.: C-003450
After Batoche, Riel gave up hoping for his miracle.  He wrote to his diary while awaiting execution, "Oh my God, it is you who are waiting for me."  Thomas Flanagan's history, Louis 'David' Riel: Prophet of the New World suggests that Riel's religious world view was irrevocably tied to his actions in the 1885 Métis troubles.  To Flanagan, Riel's millennial belief in the coming of a French-Canadian and Métis kingdom, explain his suicidal attempts to offer himself as the Martyr of Batoche.

Louis Riel speaking at his trial Date     1885Author     O.B. Buell
Riel's lawyers were unable to convince the jury that his political and religious delusions or mental imbalance had caused him to act irrationally.  Sentenced to death in September, his trial was postponed for an inspection of his mental health, but Riel was deemed both capable and culpable.  Riel was hung on 16 November 1885 for high treason.

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