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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter VI. Mr. Smith's Account of Scott's Death


Mr. Smith in his report to the Government gives a detailed account of the putting to death of Thomas Scott, which is as follows: "I had no further communication with Riel until Monday, the 4th of March, when about 10 o'clock in the morning, Pere Lestanc called on me. He informed me of Bishop (afterwards Archbishop) Taché's expected arrival—not later certainly than the 8th and probably some days earlier—adding that his lordship had telegraphed to request that if about to leave for Canada, I would defer my departure until he could communicate personally with me. He (Pere Lestanc) then said that the conduct of the prisoners was very unsatisfactory, that they were unruly, insolent to the soldiers and their behavior altogether so very bad that he was afraid the guards might be forced to retaliate in self-defence." I expressed much surprise at the information he gave, as the prisoners, without exception, had promised to Archdeacon McLean and myself that, seeing their helpless position, they would endeavor to act so as to avoid giving offence to their guards, and we encouraged them to look forward to he speedily released in fulfilment of the promise made by Mr. Rid. About 11 o'clock Pere Lestanc left me and went upstairs to communicate to Governor McTavish what he termed the good news that Bishop Taehè was expected soon. The Reverend Mr. Young, Methodist clergyman, had just entered the house, and meeting the Pere in the hail, conversed with him for a few minutes. Mr. Young then came up to me, and from him I had the first intimation that it was intended to shoot Thomas Scott (a leader in the Portage La Prairie rising), and that the sentence was to be carried into effect at twelve o'clock that day. We agreed in believing that this thing was too monstrous to be possible, and Mr. Young said that poor Scott himself was equally incredulous on the subject, thinking they merely intended to frighten him. However, even to keep him in suspense was a horrible cruelty, and it was arranged that as Mr. Young had been sent for to attend the man, he should see Riel, ascertain exactly how the matter stood, and if really serious, let me know at once. Mr. Young accordingly called on Riel, was informed that Scott had been condemned, that the sentence was irrevocable, and would not be dealyed one minute beyond noon. Mr. Young begged for delay, saying that the man was not prepared to die; but all without avail. He was paralyzed with horror, returned to the prisoner and immediately sent a messenger to inform me of the result of his visit. I determined to find out Riel immediately, but recollecting that Pere Lestanc was still upstairs with Mr. McTavish, went to him, related what I had heard, and asked him if he knew anything about the matter. his answer was to the effect that they had seen Mr. Riel and had all spoken to him about it; by which I understood that they had interceded for Scott.

Scott`s Excecution

Governor McTavish was greatly shocked on being informed of Riel's purpose and joined in reprobating it. Pere Lestanc consented to accompany me, and we called on Rid. When we entered, he asked me, 'What news from Canada?' The mail had arrived on the preceding day, and I replied, 'Only the intelligence that Bishop Tachè will be here very soon.' I then mentioned what I had heard regarding Scott, and before Rid answered, Pere Lestanc interposed in French words meaning, 'Is there no way of escape?' Rid replied to him, 'My Rev. Pere, you know exactly how the matter stands"; then turning to me, he said, 'I will explain to you,' speaking at first iii English but shortly afterwards using the French, remarking to me, 'You understand that language?' He said in substance that Scott had been throughout a dangerous character, had-been the ringleader in a rising against Mr. Snow, who had charge of the party employed by the Canaujan Government during the preceding summer, in roadmaking; that he had risen against the 'Provisional Government' in December last, that his life was then spared; that he escaped, had again been taken in arms, and once more pardoned (referring, no doubt, to the promise he had made to me that the lives and liberty of all the prisoners were secured) ; but that he was incorrigible and quite incapable of appreciating the clemency with which he had been treated; that he was rough and abusive to the guards and insulting to him, Mr. Rid; that his example had been productive of the very worst effects on the other prisoners, who had become insubordinate to such an extent that it was difficult to withhold the guards from retaliating.'

He further said, 'I sat down with Scott as we are doing now, and asked him truthfully to tell me—as I would not use the statement against him —what he and the Portage people intended to have done with me had they succeeded in capturing me, to which he replied, 'We intended to keep you as a hostage for the safety of the prisoners.' I argued with Riel and endeavored to show that some of the circumstances he had mentioned, and especially the last, were very strong reasons why Scott's life should not be sacrificed, and that if, as he represented, Scott was a rash, thoughtless man, whom none cared to have anything to do with, no evil need be apprehended from his example. I pointed out that the one great merit claimed for the insurrection was that it had been bloodless; I implored him not now to stain it, not to burden it with what would be considered a horrible crime. 'We must make Canada respect us!' he exclaimed. 'She has every proper respect for the people of the Red River,' I replied, 'and this is shown in her having sent Commissioners to treat with them.' I told him I had seen the prisoners some time back, when they commissioned me to say to their friends at Portage that they desired peace, and I offered to go to them again and reason with them should that be necessary. On this he said, 'Look here, Mr. Smith, I sent a representative to see the prisoners, and when he asked them whom they would vote for as councillors outside their own body, Thomas Scott came forward and said, 'Boys, have nothing to do with those Americans.' When I remarked that this was a most trifling affair, and should not have been repeated, Riel said, 'Do not attempt to prejudice us against the Americans; for although we have not been with them, they are with us, and have been better friends to us than the Canadians.'

Much more was said on both sides, but argument, entreaty and protest alike failed to draw him from his purpose, and he closed by saying: 'I have done three good things since I commenced; I have spared Boulton's life at your instance, and I do not regret it, for he is a fine fellow; I pardoned another one, and he showed his gratitude by escaping, but I don't grudge him his miserable life; and now I shall shoot Scott.'

The Adjutant-General now entered; lie was president of the council of seven which tried Scott, five of whom, Riel told me, 'with tears streaming from their eyes, condemned him as worthy of death,' a sentence which he had confirmed. In answer to Riel, the Adjutant said, Scott must die. Riel then requested the Rev. Pere Lestanc to put the people on their knees for prayer, as it might do good to the condemned man's soul. Referring to Pere Lestanc and making a final appeal, unnecessary to repeat, I retired.

It was now within a few minutes of one o'clock, and on entering the Governor's house, the Rev. Mr. Young joined me and said, 'It is now considerably past the hour; I trust you have succeeded?" "No,' I said, 'for God's sake go back at once to the poor man, for I fear the worst.' Ile left immediately, and a few minutes after entering the room in which the prisoner was confined, some guards marched in and-told Scott that his hour had come. Not until then did the reality of his position flash upon poor Scott. lie said good-bye to the other prisoners, was led outside the gate of the Fort with a white handkerchief covering his head; his coffin, having a piece of white cotton thrown over it, was carried out.

His eyes were then bandaged; he continued in prayer, in which he had been engaged on the way, for a few minutes. Ile asked Mr. Young how he should place himself, whether standing or kneeling; then knelt in the snow, said farewell, and immediately fell back, pierced by three bullets. The firing party consisted of six men, all of whom, it is said, were more or less intoxicated. It has been further stated that only three of the muskets were loaded with ball cartridge, and that one man did not discharge his piece. Mr. Young turned aside when the first shots were fired, then went back to the body, and again retired for a moment, while a man discharged his revolver at the sufferer, the ball, it is said, entering the eye and passing round the head.

The wounded man groaned between the time of receiving the musket shots and the discharge of the revolver. Mr. Young asked to have the remains for interment in the burying-ground of the Presbyterian Church, but this was not acceded to, and a similar request, preferred by the Bishop of Rupert's Land, was also refused. He was buried within the walls of the fort. It is said on descending the steps leading from the prison door, Scott, addressing Mr. Young, said, 'This is a cold- blooded murder,' then he engaged in prayer, and was so occupied until he was shot,"


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