Manitoba Historical Society
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My Love Affair with Louis Riel: Riel and second Tom Scott

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 7 September 1960

“Thomas Scott Acquitted, Riel To Hang,” screamed the headlines.

The time is September 1885. The event, the Riel Rebellion in Saskatchewan.

It is the same Louis Riel who led the Manitoba rebellion in 1870. But it’s another Thomas Scott.

The first Thomas Scott, an opponent of RieL was taken prisoner and executed at Fort Garry by Riel’s provisional government in 1870.

The second Thomas Scott, a white settler married to a Metis woman, was thought to be a Riel supporter, was accused of being Riel’s secretary.

But though Riel’s name at this time was infamous throughout the area, few had ever heard of Scott.

Who was he?

The Winnipeg Sun says be managed a farm at The Ridge, a few miles from Prince Albert, the property of Stobart, Eden, and Co. (Stobart Block still stands at Portage and Smith St.)

He visited Prince Albert April 3, 1885, to sell his pork and for no apparent reason was arrested. He remained in prison till May 23, not charged, with no lawyer, no writ of habeas corpus issued, not knowing why he was detained.

H. J. Clarke, QC, the defense lawyer at his September trial in Regina, said it was “political persecution.” As for the Regina court generally, he called it a “political farce.”

Clarke, who had been Manitoba’s first attorney general complained to the Daily Times:

“Any subject can be “cast into prison without a warrant or charge, kept there for months without being told what for, brought to trial without ever seeing his accuser, tried by a J.P.”

Riel’s trial Clarke called unfair. Half breeds and French Canadians were carefully excluded from the jury, “an insult to them, unfair to him.”

If an English speaking man were tried in Quebec by a French jury, “Ontario would cry out to a man,” Clarke said.

Commented The Manitoban: “Scott was the only white man made a prisoner ... He was imprisoned seven or eight days in a place not fit for a respectable pig. His
fine farm was spoiled, his cattle killed, his hay wasted, all his goods destroyed.”

Clarke, his lawyer, said the only thing against him was a letter he wrote advising the English half breeds to remain neutral. Scott’s wife was a half breed. He was fighting for her rights and her children’s.”

But The Manitoban stated that after the Duck Lake fight Scott offered to raise 100 to 150 men. “He telegraphed a message sent to Riel to offer to make peace.”

In an interview in The Manitoban Scott said he expected to be acquitted: “I never assisted the rebels. I opposed them from the moment they resorted to arms. True, I sympathized with them. My wife is a half breed. I wanted to see her get her rights.” White people contributed money, said Scott, to “bring Riel here. I refused a cent.”

But Scott admitted he wrote to Riel’s council to make terms without bloodshed.
It was this letter, found in Riel’s council papers, on which the prosecuting attorney, B. B. Osler, Toronto, based his case, Said The Times: “He (Osler) did everything in his power to wring a conviction from the jury.”

Sept. 11 the Prince Albert Times commented: “Friends of Thomas Scott will be glad to learn he has been acquitted and is now on his way home.”

The Manitoban observed : “Scott was not above suspicion or the jury would not have taken 20 minutes to decide. He indulged in a great deal of threatening language before the rebellion and was spoken of as Riel’s secretary.”

The Qu-Appelle Vidette: “Scott was mainly instrumental in inciting rebellion. Letters written by him were sufficient to prove him guilty. Defence witnesses, including Fr. Andre and Charles Nolin, said he acted and spoke loyally.”

What happened to the “alleged white rebel” whose imprisonment caused a great deal of excitement in this usually quiet little village?” (Prince Albert). Did he try to restore his ruined farm? Did he go back to Fitzpatrick where he’d been postmaster? Did he “haunt” Riel, not hanged till Nov. 16? Did Biel ever come face to face with Scott?

No one knows. Freed on the charge, “treason felony,” the second Thomas Scott disappeared.

Page revised: 10 June 2021

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