The Final Act - Regina, Nov 16, 1885

The morning of the day fixed for Riels execution dawned clear and calm, with a frosty keenness in the air. As the fatal hour drew nigh, the stir around the barracks slightly increased, the needed preparations being quickly and quietly completed. About 8 o clock the prisoner was summoned by Deputy Sheriff Gibson from his cell, where he has spent the night chiefly in prayers and devotion with his confessor Pere Andre. Mass had been celebrated by the latter, assisted by Rev. Father McWilliams, and the last sacrament had been administered to the doomed man. Supported by the two priests and preceded by the Deputy Sheriff, Riel walked steadily across the guard room and climbed the ladder which led to the gloomy loft at the back of the building. This the party crossed in like order to the door outside of which the scaffold, with the empty noose depending from the beam. Around the door was drawn up a guard of twenty police, under command of Inspector White-Frazer. Sheriff Chapleau, Dr. Jukes, Coroner Dodds and the jury were also in attendance.

The condemned man wore an appearance of unshaken fortitude and firmness, although his face was pale and his look earnest. He was dressed in a black coat, woollen shirt and collar, grey tweed trousers and moccasins. His head was uncovered. When Riel and the priests reached the doorway they kneeled down and engaged in prayer. Gather Andre recited the Litany, the prisoner making the responses in firm and unbroken voice. The spectators were visibly affected by the pathetic scene, and gave a sigh of relief when it was ended. At 8:15 prayers were finished, Riel arose to his feet and was kissed by the priests. The masked hangman stepped forward to pinion the prisoner, who prayed incessantly during the operation, at one stage lifting his hands heavenward and saying “Father, I am ready.” When the pinioning had been completed Riel and the fathers proceeded towards the scaffold, the prisoner walking with steady step and repeating in French the declaration: In God Do I Put My Trust.


Down the six steps to the scaffold and out upon the prop the prisoner walked with firm and hesitating demeanour. Pere Andre and Father McWilliams prayed constantly, and Riel exclaimed as he took his stand on the fatal platform, “I ask the forgiveness of all men, and forgive all my enemies.” When the executioner had taken his place, drawn the white cap over the prisoners head, and adjusted the noose, Gather McWilliams repeated the Lords prayer. As he finished the bolt was drawn, the drop fell, and all was over.

The hangman’s work had been well done; the neck was broken; and in the short space of two minutes the heart had ceased to beat. The legs were drawn upward two or three times in this space of time, and then the body was still. After hanging half an hour the body was cut down and placed in a coffin beneath the scaffold.

The result of the post mortem made by Dr. Jukes was as follows: The execution was most cleverly performed. From the moment he fell, judging from the nature of the injuries received, he must have been entirely without sensation. The neck was entirely dislocated from the bone of the two upper joints of vertebrae, thus paralysing all the lower portion of the body. He could have felt no pain whatever. The circulation ceased in four minutes. An unusually short time. No death could be more merciful. The coroner and jury than viewed the body, and found the features much distorted. One juryman had to retire from the sight.


The Jurys Verdict
After a brief deliberation the following verdict was rendered: That the body is that of Louis Riel, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death; that the judgment of death was duly executed upon the body of said Louis Riel on this sixteenth day of November, 1885; that death was caused by hanging at the police barracks, near Regina, N.W.T., as directed by sentence passed by the court. (Signed)
  • H. Dodds, M.D., Coroner
  • F. Champness, Foreman
  • Jurymen.
  • Wm. P. McCormick,
  • John Dawson,
  • William D. Firstbrook,
  • David H. Gillespie,
  • W. Bedford Jones,
  • (Please NOTE: These articles were originally written at the time Riel was executed and for some reason the names of the jury in the article is wrong. I don't know why but the real jury members are named in Georgr Goulet's book "The Trial of Louis Riel - Justice and Mercy Denied - 1999) Thanks to Michael Gillespie - Grandson of David H. Gillespie, [who was wrongly identified as a jury member], notified of me of this error. How his grandfather was named I am not sure, unless he was one of the potential jurors if not alternate if they had any at the time.

    The real names of the Jury raken from George Goulet's book are as follows:

    Francis Cosgrove - foreman - Whitewood, Edwin J. Brooks of Indian Head, Henry J. Painter of Broadview, Walter Merryfield of Whitewood, Peel Deane of Broadview and Edwin Eratt of Moose Jaw.

     

    The coffin was then nailed up and temporarily placed in the burying ground attached to the barracks, pending the relatives obtaining permission to carry it to St. Boniface.

    The rope used has been destroyed by Deputy Sheriff Gibson, according to orders, to prevent relic hunters getting hold of it. It was a stout hempen cord, five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The whole arrangements for the execution were arranged by Mr. Gibson, and, owing to his foresight and care, no painful hitch took place. The sentence of the law was carried out smoothly and effectually. During the last moments Riel’s behavior excited the pity and admiration of all. He made no speech, but occupied himself with spiritual matter entirely. He was pale, but was self-possessed. His eyes rolled a little occasionally, but his hands were not clenched like a person strongly excited. He made no statement except that in prayers, he asked, forgiveness of all that he had injured and forgave all his enemies.

    The hangman, as already indicated, was Jack Henderson, of Winnipeg, who was one of Riel’s prisoners at the time of the Red River rebellion. He was then pursuing the avocation of a freighter.


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    Copyright Michael J. Durocher, 1997