Louis Riel flees to the U.S.A.

Wolseley's troops arrived before Archibald, and although they were supposed to restore order and keep the peace, a number of the soldiers wanted to seek out Riel and avenge the death of Scott. Warned of their intentions, Riel, Lépine and William O'Donoghue, an Irish American, had time to flee to sanctuary in the United States.

Riel went to the Métis settlement of St. Joseph, in Dakota Territory, to await news from Red River. A letter arrived shortly thereafter from Bishop Taché which suggested that he remain in hiding, for his life would be in danger if he returned. The situation was serious; disputes between the Métis and Wolseley's men were growing in number.

Riel found it difficult to remain far away in hiding and on September 17, he returned to attend a gathering of the Métis in St. Norbert. At this meeting, it was resolved that a petition be sent to the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, to ask him to intercede with the Queen for an investigation of their demand for amnesty. O'Donoghue wanted annexation of the Settlement to the United States, but Riel opposed the idea. However, O'Donoghue was selected to carry the petition to the President and it was turned over to him. On the way, O'Donoghue inserted a request for annexation which did not convince Grant and he rejected it. O'Donoghue then went to New York where he met with some Irish Fenians who had already made forays into Canada. He managed to convince them to make a raid into Manitoba. When news of this reached Manitoba, Lieutenant Governor Archibald was very concerned. Would the Métis join in the raid?

At this moment Louis Riel intervened. Believing that the Métis' future lay with Canada, not with the United States, he assured the Lieutenant Governor that the Métis would not join the Fenians and he kept his word. For want of local support, the Fenian attack died before it had begun. Grateful for the assistance that Riel had provided, Archibald was prepared to leave him in peace. However, this feeling was not shared by all and Archibald came to believe that peace would be restored more quickly if Riel left the country for a while. Riel and Lépine were each offered the sum of $1,000. They reluctantly accepted this amount, more as a result of threats on their lives than because of the money. Riel and Lépine left Manitoba on February 23, 1872 and travelled to St. Joseph bound for St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bounty hunters pursued them constantly. Nevertheless, Riel and Lépine were soon homesick. Lépine was the first to return to Red River in May 1872. The following month, Riel made his way to St. Joseph where he began to campaign as a candidate in the federal election for the Manitoba constituency of Provencher. He persisted in this, despite the advice of his friends, and only eventually withdrew in favour of George-Etienne Cartier, who had been defeated in his own riding. He believed that Cartier would defend the Métis cause. Cartier, however, died a few months later and Louis was subsequently elected by acclamation in a by-election for Provencher held in October 1873. Arrangements were made for Riel to take his seat in the House of Commons, but fearing for his life, Louis lost his nerve and fled to Montreal and upstate New York. The February 13, 1874, general election saw Riel re-elected member of parliament for Provencher. On March 30th, he entered the parliament building, took the required oath of allegiance, signed the member’s roll and hurriedly left the building again in the direction of Montreal. On April 9, Riel was expelled from the House of Commons. He returned to St. Paul and then to Keeseville, New York, where he lived with Father Fabien Barnabé. In September 1874, a by-election was called to fill the vacant seat in Provencher. Riel was again re-elected ‘in-absentia’ but this time he did not attempt to take his seat. In 1875, the new prime minister, Alexander Mackenzie, granted Riel amnesty for the troubles in 1869-70, on condition that he not return to Canada for five years. Exile was a time of anguish for Louis.


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