‘Battleford Hangings, 1885’

Today is the 135th anniversary of Canada’s hanging of 8 Aboriginal men for treason and murder, following the North-West Rebellion…

“The North-West Rebellion was a violent, five-month insurgency against the Canadian government, fought mainly by Métis {mixed race} and their ‘First Nations’ {Aboriginal} allies in what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. It was caused by rising fear and insecurity among the Métis and ‘First Nations’ peoples as well as the ‘white’ settlers of the rapidly-changing West. A series of battles and other outbreaks of violence in 1885 left hundreds of people dead, but the rebels were eventually defeated by federal troops. The result was the permanent enforcement of Canadian law in the West, the subjugation of Plains ‘Indigenous’ {sic, ‘Aboriginal’} Peoples in Canada, and the conviction and hanging of Louis Riel… 

“The North-West Resistance had not been a concerted effort by all groups in the North-West. Even most Métis communities stayed out of the fighting. The people of the South Branch communities of the Saskatchewan River valley, centered at Batoche, had been the principal combatants. The Plains Cree of Big Bear’s Band had participated, but the neighbouring Woods Cree had not. Some Cree from the Batoche area fought with the Métis, as did Dakota warriors from a reserve from south of present-day Saskatoon. The Siksika had remained neutral, the Kainai refusing to abandon their traditional animosity towards the Cree. Meanwhile, almost every settler had rallied to the government cause, even though their vocal anti-government agitation before the shooting started had helped to create the environment that made the resistance possible.

Halifax Provisional Battalion fords a stream near Swift Current, part of the Canadian expedition into the Northwest in 1885.

“As the government soldiers left the West, Louis Riel’s trial for high treason began at Regina. Riel demanded a political trial. His lawyers failed in their attempt to convince the jury that Riel’s religious and political delusions made him unaware of the nature of his acts — largely because Riel was so eloquent in his address to the jury on 31 July. The law provided no alternative to the death penalty, and on 18 September, Riel was sentenced to be hanged.

“The government arrested many people on the lesser charge of treason-felony. W.H. Jackson, Riel’s personal secretary, was acquitted by reason of insanity. Most of the provisional government council pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from conditional discharges to seven years in prison. Chiefs Poundmaker and Big Bear were tried and sentenced to three years in jail. Several other ‘Indigenous’ peoples from Batoche, Frog Lake and Battleford were sentenced to various terms after treason-felony convictions. Dakota chief White Cap was the only major ‘Indigenous’ political leader acquitted of treason-felony. Eleven ‘Indigenous’ warriors were convicted of murder…Riel was hanged at Regina on 16 November 1885.

French Canadians had supported the campaign to suppress the rebellion, but there was widespread outrage in Québec over Riel’s execution. Wilfrid Laurier’s passionate denunciation of the government’s action was a major step forward in his political career (see Wilfrid Laurier: Speech in Defence of Louis Riel, 1874).

“On 27 November, six Cree and two Assiniboine warriors, including Frog Lake war chief Wandering Spirit, were hanged at Battleford. Three other convicted murderers had their sentences commuted. All the rebels sentenced to jail were released early. Gabriel Dumont, among others, eventually returned from the US under the terms of a general amnesty…”

–‘North-West Rebellion’,
Bob Beal & Rod Macleod, Canadian Encyclopedia, February 7, 2006
Last Edited July 30, 2019 by Richard Foot and Eli Yarhi

Grave marker of the 8 men hung at Fort Battleford

“In the 1885 trials that followed in Battleford, the outcomes for the Aboriginal leadership were particularly bad. Eight men — among them Kapapamahchakwew (aka: Wandering Spirit), and the two Nakoda leaders, Itka and Man Without Blood – were tried in October and condemned to hang… One of the condemned men unsuccessfully requested death by firing squad instead. A gallows large enough to hang eight men at once was built and the mass execution took place on 27 November…”

–‘Rebellion 1885’,

They were guilty of vicious murders…

“We were gathered on this occasion to hang eight Indians who were convicted of having participated in the murders, which, of course, you will remember, were of a particularly revolting nature, involving throwing the bodies in wells, and worse maltreatment.

“This was a public execution. The scaffold was erected in the open square of the stockade which surrounded the buildings that formed the old fort. A regular prairie fort with corner-bastions and a ditch and old brass guns and everything. The scaffold consisted of a platform about twenty feet high with four heavy posts, one at each corner, and two higher posts in the centre with a cross-beam. This had the effect of giving an uninterrupted view from all sides of everything that went on, both on and under the scaffold. Hundreds of Indians from the many reserves surrounding Battleford were gathered to witness the execution, and I am sure very few of the surrounding settlers failed to be present.

“It was a cold day and dull. The crowd was silent and being composed of friends and enemies of the condemned men, naturally constrained. The whites had all lost friends and relatives in the past unpleasantness, and the different tribes of Indians represented had been practically exterminated. So no very cordial feeling could be looked for.

“A considerable military force for that time and place was on duty, presumably to prevent trouble. Two full divisions of the N.W. M. P. and “A” battery — in all about 350 men. Sounds small to those used to the large numbers spoken of in the late war, but as I said before this was as different time and place. We were drawn up in the form of a hollow square surrounding the scaffold, and the civilians and Indians were within the stockade, not allowed to crowd up to the military but given every opportunity to observe all that happened. Now the scene is set and nothing to do till 10 o’clock.

‘The Condemned Men’
“Most of the constables had become acquainted with the condemned men during the weeks preceding this day, as we took turns on guard, so their execution was a matter of personal interest to each of us. We younger fellows were naturally curious to study the behaviour of men facing sure and inevitable death.

“Well, these Indians did not seem to take it over-seriously; in fact, some of them joked openly with us, and I know for a fact that a few days before the execution, one of the Indians gave the guard a nice, sharp butcher’s knife that he had managed to have smuggled in, as proof that it had been in his power to cheat the gallows, had he been so inclined. How much of this ‘sang-froid’ is genuine and how much put on would be a nice question for our wise men, but their attitude made quite an impression on us. So far as I was concerned, they reminded me of the stories I had read of the aristocrats who went to the guillotine in the days of the French revolution, with a contemptuous indifference to their punishment.

August 1885 – NWMP members at Fort. Battleford

“Comes 10 o’clock. We had been standing in formation since shortly after 9, when we fell in, and we were cold. A weird chanting is heard in the direction of the guard-room, and those of us who could see in that direction find that the prisoners are coming. The chanting gets louder as one by one they emerge from the guard-house, and their voices combine. Their arms are pinioned, but the shackles they have worn since their arrest have been struck off. Each Indian walks between two husky Constables, small chance of escape. They look cold, they will be colder soon.

“They mount the scaffold, are placed by the hangman beneath the dangling rope that awaits each. The hangman places the rope about each neck. The chanting of the “death song” still goes on. The priest who accompanied them is praying, but small attention is accorded him, and the bolt that launches the eight into eternity slips, and the bodies fall the full length of the rope.

“How is it, that sounds and smells live in our memory when taste, feeling and sight are forgotten? I can hear that death chant yet, and the drop of the bodies, when I can easily forget what they looked like.

“As I was directly in front of the scaffold, and it became the duty of the ten men so stationed to act as burial party, I had an opportunity to see the last of our Indian friends. Rough pine boxes had been made under the sheriff’s orders, in the town of Battleford, a mile or so away. These had been loaded on a wagon for transport to the scene of execution. Unfortunately, the horses bolted and upset the load, and two or three of the boxes were badly broken. In repairing them, the dimensions were increased. The bodies were duly placed in the boxes and we escorted them to the trench that had been excavated in the frozen ground with some difficulty. To our dismay, we found they would not fit the grave, and we had no tools or dynamite to blast the hole bigger, so it was necessary to put them in sideways. All this took time, and when we had finished, the short day was over.”
–Sergeant Charles Arthur William Whitehead (Reg.#1577) joined the Force on August 12, 1885

EDITOR’s NOTE: The following details supplement Whitehead’s account and were contained in the ‘Saskatchewan Indian’ magazine – July 1972 and entitled “Battleford Hangings”

“The eight men who were hung were as follows:
–Kah – Paypamahchukways (Wandering Spirit) for the murder of T. T. Quinn, Indian Agent.
–Pah Pah-Me-Kee-Sick (Walking the Sky) for the murder of Pere Fafard, OMT, RC Priest who had fathered the boy as a youth.
–Manchoose ( Bad Arrow) for the murder of Charles Govin, Quinn’s interpreter.
–Kit-Ahwah-Ke-Ni (Miserable Man) for the murder of Govin.
–Nahpase (Iron Body) for the murder of George Dill, Free Trader.
–A-Pis-Chas-Koos (Little Bear) for the murder of Dill.
–Itka (Crooked Leg) for the murder of Payne, Farm Instructor of the Stoney Reserve south of Battleford.
–Waywahnitch (Man Without Blood) for the murder of Tremont, Rancher out of Battleford.

“In September and October the accused were tried by C. B. Rouleau, Resident Stipendiary Magistrate of Battleford. The hangings took place November 27, 1885.

“The scaffold stood in the barrack square. The platform, 20 feet by 8 feet, 10 feet above the ground with railing enclosing the trap was reached by a stairway. From the beam hung 8 hempen ropes in readiness for the grim task.

“It was 8 o’clock in the morning, silence suddenly fell on the whispering groups of civilians. The death chant from the doomed Indians ceased abruptly as a squad of N.W.M.P. rifles at support, marched up to form a cordon about the foot of the scaffold. Then came Sheriff Forget dressed in black, followed by the clergymen. Hodson, the executioner, preceded the prisoners. There they came, hands tied behind their backs, with a policeman before, behind, and on either side of each. The only sound was the measured steps of the sombre procession. Sheriff, Clergymen, Interpreter, and hangmen mounted the scaffold. At the foot of the stairs, the escort stepped aside and the prisoners ascended to the platform through a gate in the railing. The gate was closed and the prisoners took their places. While Hodson strapped ankles, the doomed were granted 10 minutes in which to speak if they wished, all doing so but Wandering Spirit.

“Then all was ready. Black hoods were lowered; ropes adjusted, a deadly silence fell as Hodson stepped behind the line. The grating of iron; 8 bodies shot through the trap; and all was over…

“Mr. P. G. Laurie as coroner examined the bodies. They were dropped into rough boxes and buried in a grave on the hillside facing the Saskatchewan river not far from the N.W.M.P. barracks.”

I wish to say Good-bye to you all”,
he began,
officers as well as men. You have been good to me; better than I deserved. What I have done that was bad. My punishment is no worse than I could expect. But let me tell you that I never thought to lift my hand against a white man. Years ago, when we lived on the plains and hunted the buffalo, I was a head warrior of the Crees in battle with the Blackfoot Indians. I liked to fight. I took many scalps. But after you, the redcoats, came and the Treaty was made with the white man, war was no more. I had never fought a white man. But lately, we received bad advice, of what good is it to speak of that now? I am sorry when it is too late. I only want to thank you, redcoats, and the sheriff for your kindness. I am not afraid to die. I may not be able in the morning, so now I say again to you all – good-bye! How! Aquisanee!

–‘A Day In Battleford In 1885’,
RCMP Veterans Association, AUGUST 15, 2016
See also:
Canadian Judges Rewriting History‘ (‘Northwest Rebellion’) {May 21, 2015}:
“Some of the Band members participated in the Rebellion — clearly violating ‘Treaty 6’ — and the government believed that the Chiefs were encouraging it, so Treaty payments were withheld until the end of the uprising. Now, their descendants are going to be reimbursed for their treason…”
Post also at: 


Thank you from ERBL inc. Canada

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.