Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

My Love Affair with Louis Riel: He broke jail with a smuggled knife

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 30 November 1957

If history seems dead to you, take a look at the live evidence: the knife Mrs. Schultz concealed in a loaf of bread and smuggled in to her husband, Dr. John Christian Schultz, in Fort Garry. He used it to cut up his buffalo robe into a rope, escaped to freedom.

John Schultz was a doctor, 29 years old, leader of the Canadians opposing the Metis leader, Riel. They were jailed for their opposition.

The knife is evidence from the 1869-70 birth pangs era of Manitoba. Look at it in a glass case in Civic Auditorium.

The rope that hanged Louis Riel in Regina, the knitted cap he wore to his execution, the rough coffin that brought his body to St. Boniface: this is evidence, too. You can stare at these survivors of the past in St. Boniface Museum, in the City Hall

The drama began when Schultz came to the Red River frontier, in 1861.

Schultz practised little medicine, got into business as a fur trader, store keeper, investment and real estate man. When his Red River carts were loaded with 900 pounds of freight at St. Cloud, Minn., the rail head, he could put himself between the traces and pull them away from the platform. “I’m the better ox,” he’d grin.

A big man, over six feet, he had red hair, blue eyes and a fiery temper. He bought the newspaper, the Nor’wester, and preached annexation to Canada. He hated the French leader, Riel, another fiery man. Schultz and his Canadian party held out seven days, then surrendered to superior forces, Dec. 7, 1869, and the 56 of them were marched to Fort Garry.

Two days before Christmas Mrs. Schultz came to the fort, with a loaf of bread for her husband. That night he used the knife the loaf contained to cut up his buffalo robe.

He made it into a rope to drop over the stone wall. But he was too heavy, the rope broke, he seriously injured his leg. He limped away in pain and escaped somehow to Kildonan. He was passed from house to house for two months, while Riel and his men galloped in a vain search.

In Toronto later Schultz made speeches denouncing rebellion at Red River. After news of Scott’s shooting, it wasn’t hard to get the government to act.

Page revised: 10 June 2021

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