Eleven Natives were tried for murder. Eight of them, including Wandering Spirit were hung. Chiefs Poundmaker, One Arrow, and Big Bear were also put on trial.
Even though One Arrow was an old man, it was believed he was at Batoche, so he was put on trial. A long and complex set of charges were read to the court. One Arrow's translator struggled. He then informed One Arrow that he was accused of "knocking off the Queen’s bonnet and stabbing her in the behind with a sword."
It appears that the translator made an honest mistake. The record shows that what was read included the word bayonets, and then it charged that One Arrow "did levy and make war against our said Lady the Queen.... her Crown and dignity."
The jury found One Arrow guilty. The judge then said he had to punish One Arrow to "make the other Indians of the country know what would become of them if they follow your bad example." He then sentenced One Arrow to three years in jail.
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At Poundmaker's trial, the key evidence was a letter which called for war and was sent to Louis Riel. Poundmaker had been there when the letter was written and it appeared that he had allowed his name to be signed on it along with a number of others. This was the main reason why Poundmaker was convicted.
When Poundmaker was sentenced to three years in penitentiary, he stated, "I would rather prefer to be hung than to be in that place."
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At Big Bear's trial, they had a number of witnesses who were supportive of Big Bear. In the view of his lawyer, the evidence showed the government ought to be thanking Big Bear for his efforts during the rebellion.
Just before sentencing, Big Bear made a two hour speech. One newspaper reporter recorded parts and called it an eloquent address. This is a small part of it:
Your Lordship, I am Big Bear, Chief of the Crees. The North West was mine. It belonged to me and to my tribe. For many, many moons I ruled it well. . . .
I am old; my face is ugly; my heart is on the ground. In future this land will be ruled by White men with handsome faces. . . .
When White men were few in this land, I gave them my hand in friendship. No man can ever be witness to any act of violence by Big Bear to any White man. Never did I take the White man's horse. Never did I order any one of my people to one act of violence against the White man. . . .
I ask for pardon and help for my tribe. They are hiding in the hills and trees now afraid to come to White man's government. When the cold moon comes the old and feeble ones, who have done no wrong, will perish. Game is scarce. . . .
Because I am Big Bear, Chief of the Crees. Because I have always been a friend of the White man. Because I have always tried to do good for my tribe. I plead with you now; send help and pardon to my people.
However, it only took the jury fifteen minutes to find Big Bear guilty.
Being in jail was hard on the chiefs. Big Bear spent some of his time working in the carpentry shop, Poundmaker worked in the garden, and One Arrow worked in the shoemaker's shop.
Poundmaker was lucky because his looks and his humble pride had impressed the White public and the press. When Poundmaker became sick, petitions were sent to Ottawa, and six months after being sent to prison, he was released.
In spite of having a cough and feeling weak, after a short rest, Poundmaker journeyed south to see his adopted father, Crowfoot. This is where he died of a lung hemorrhage while making a speech to a group of Blackfoot. He was 44 years old.
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One Arrow, a feeble old man became sick. After seven months in jail he was released, and soon after that he died.
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That summer, thirty-one of the forty-five rebels who had been imprisoned were released under the Prime Minister's general amnesty even though some had been sentenced for up to ten years. When Big Bear pleaded to be set free, the Saskatchewan Herald reported that Big Bear had always refused to move when he was asked to, so now that he was in prison, he should be made to not move. In the fall, Big Bear was refused parole.
Nothing happened until January, when he became sick, had fainting spells, and was admitted to prison hospital. Since the White people did not want to have him die in prison, he was soon released.
They put him on the train to Regina. At Regina, he had to wait so he could catch a ride on a wagon with a shipment of freight that was heading north. It took a month from when he was released before he was unloaded at Poundmaker's reserve where his daughter made a place for him.
After all that had happened, Big Bear was a broken man. He was no longer a chief and did not have a reserve. He had been rejected by his wife, most of his family, his band, and by society. He had to spend his last few months on Poundmaker's reserve where he died in his sleep in January of 1888, at the age of 62.
Unfortunately, I have not had time to research original documents. This account therefore relies on the accuracy of the authors of the books in this bibliography.
Barnett, Donald C. Poundmaker. (The Canadians series),Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Don Mills, 1976.
Beal, Bob, and Rod Macleod. Prairie Fire. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers Ltd., 1984.
Brown, Wayne F. Steele's Scouts: Samuel Benfield Steele and the North-West Rebellion. Surrey: Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd., 2001.
Dempsey, Hugh A. Big Bear. The end of freedom. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1984.
Fryer, Harold. Frog Lake Massacre. (Frontier Books) Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd., 1984.
Miller, J.R. Big Bear (Mistahimusqua). E C W Press, Toronto, 1996.
Sluman, Norma. Poundmaker. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, Toronto, 1967.
Tanner, Ogden. The Canadians. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books Inc., 1977.
Weibe, Rudy and Beal, Bob, ed.. War in the West. Voices of the 1885 Rebellion. McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1985.
Web site by: The Northwest Rebellion Digitization Team, Poundmaker. Big Bear. University of Saskatchewan.
Photographs originate with Glenbow-Alberta Institute (Poundmaker: use authorized 1/12/99)and National Archives of Canada (Big Bear: authorization pending).