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The Trial of Poundmaker

"I am not guilty, much that has been said against me is not true. I am glad of my works in the Queen's country this spring. What I did was for the Great Mother... Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace."
- Poundmaker, Plains Cree Chief

The Surrender of Poundmaker On 26 May 1885, the Northwest Resistance having ended, Poundmaker and his followers loaded their wagons and headed to Fort Battleford to meet with General Frederick Dobson Middleton. A large crowd of settlers, townspeople, North West Mounted Police, and soldiers had gathered to watch as they entered the fort.

When Middleton emerged, Poundmaker offered to shake hands, but Middleton turned away, saying, "Tell him I don't shake hands with rebels." Poundmaker had come to Battleford expecting peace talks, and was taken aback by this unwarranted hostility.

Poundmaker explained that he and his people had fought only after their homes had been attacked, that food was stolen out of necessity, that they had treated their prisoners well, and that those who had killed had done so without his approval. When Middleton asked why he had attacked at Cut Knife Hill, Poundmaker replied that he and his people were sleeping quietly when their camp was fired upon. “If I saw anything wrong in the things we have done, we would not have come [to Battleford]," he said. Throughout this interrogation, Middleton insulted Poundmaker in front of his people, calling him a pilfering rat, a murderer, a liar, and a coward.

Poundmaker’s trial on 17 August in Regina, was regarded as second in importance only to Louis Riel’s. The key evidence against him was a letter calling for war that had been sent to Riel, which appeared to have Poundmaker’s signature on it. Thus, his fate was sealed. After deliberating for half an hour, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. When Poundmaker heard that he was to be sentenced to three years in prison, he stated, "I would rather prefer to be hung than to be in that place."

Crowds gathered to see him pass when he entered the Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg. His demeanour and humble pride impressed the Canadian public and the press; the visitors to the prison were there only to see Poundmaker. When he grew ill, his sympathizers sent petitions to Ottawa, calling for his release. Current unrest on the reserves meant that many feared more fighting if Poundmaker died in prison. After six months, he was released.

Poundmaker made the journey back to his reserve, arriving in poor health. Anxious to see his adopted father Crowfoot, he soon traveled into Battleford to obtain a permit to travel to the Blackfoot reserve. Poundmaker completed his journey, but on 4 July, 1886, he suffered a lung hemorrhage and died at the age of 44.

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