Peter McArthur of Winnipegosis
The Red River Rebellion
Peter McArthur, who owned and operated the first lumbering industry on Lake Winnipegosis, had an important part to play in the quelling of the Red River Rebellion, which broke out in the spring of 1885.
At various times, during the winters of 1934-35, the late Peter McArthur of Winnipegosis dictated his memoirs. Some notes were written by his daughter Agnes and some by his son Charles. The following excerpts are from these memoirs.
“I was imprisoned with the others by Riel in December 1869, escaped in January, was recaptured, and finally released early in MArch when I went to Ottawa and appeared with the others before the Parliamentary Committee. Sixty-four years have passed since then and I want to put in the record that time has deprived us of pride in our party’s activities and I have come to feel that all the Red River parties interested in the transfer of Rupert’s Land, with the exception of native tribes, made grave mistakes. The record of the local Indian band was good and they had as much a stake in the transfer as anyone.” . . .
“Louis Riel then invited us all over to the fort for a conference and made us prisoners. We were taken to the upper floor of the courthouse and lodged in various rooms in groups of six or eight. Looking out of the windows we could see cannon being trained on our prison and we sent two men to see what terms could be arranged with Riel. These two men were Thomas Scott and Alex McArthur, my brother. Scott was retained and McArthur returned with the report that the only terms were unconditional surrender. The unmarried men, about forty of us, were taken to the common jail outside the fort, which was enclosed in a stockade, and during the tedious weeks of imprisonment which followed, we put in the time story-telling, joking, singing, or any way we could. The guards were not rough with us and Riel had reason to complain of their humanity and tried to show by his example a ferocity proper to the occasion. This is why Scott was ordered shot. Scott’s death was a great shock to us; he had said loudly and openly what the rest of us quietly thought.
One day a visitor came to see me; his name was Bill Allen. In shaking hands, he left a pocket knife in my palm, and I started to cut the oak beam holding the bars in our window. I worked at night only and hid the chips in my pocket. During daylight my scarf thrown over the window sill effectively concealed the work. In ten nights the bars were loosened and we waited for a signal. Bill Allen brought word that on account of the severe cold all the guards had withdrawn to shelter. We decided to escape and with some difficulty the five in our compartment squeezed through the narrow opening and dropped to the snow. Four of us started to walk to Portage la Prairie through the thick and trackless woods along the river, but, exhausted by the cold, we were easily tracked down and captured about 25 miles from the fort. Charles Mair, the poet and author, escaped. He had gone to the village, hired a cutter and horses from Dreever and taken the beaten trail to Portage; when at daylight he had met the relief guard coming to the fort, he pretended he was drunk and sang the Marseillaise at the top of his voice. His voice was excellent and his French good, and therefore he fooled the guards completely and escaped to Portage, fortunately for him as he had fore reason to flee than the rest of us because his letter to the Globe describing the Red River settlers had aroused enmity.
Our escape soon becoming known to other prisoners, there arose a commotion and general attempt to escape, however the guard was aroused and captured nearly all of them.” . . .
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