Testimony of John W. Astley
Tuesday, July 28, 1885



Q. You reside at Prince Albert? A. Yes.
Q. How long have you resided there? A. About three years.
Q. What is your occupation? A. Civil engineer, land surveyor, and explorer.
Q. In March last you were employed by Major Crozier? A. I left with the volunteers to go to Carlton.
Q. How were you employed? A. As volunteer and then I was used as scout.
Q. What time in March? A. About the 18th March.
Q. How long were you scout? A. I was scouting through the French settlement, the half-breed settlement, and the reserves till two o'clock on the morning of the 26th.
Q. Were you alone? A. Part of the time; part of the time H. Ross was with me.
Q. You posted a proclamation? A. Yes, I posted a proclamation from Crozier telling those who had been forced into rebellion that if they gave themselves into the charge of the police, they would be protected. I posted those as far as Lepine's and back by the other road in the most conspicuous places where I thought there would be a chance of their being seen, one in English and the other in French. I noticed in passing the road afterwards that these notices were nearly all torn down. I went over the road on the morning of the 26th to see if the French half-breeds were trying to intercept Major Crozier; Ross was with me. We were about the place where the battle took place. I was about thirty or forty yards on ahead of Ross, an Indian suddenly jumped along-side of me and pointed his rifle or shotgun at my breast. I turned round to see if my partner was prisoner too, I saw that he was and that there were some sixteen or twenty of them all armed and as he was captured first I thought it best to give up quietly.
Q. Who appeared to be the leader of the party? A. Gabriel Dumont. There were about sixteen or twenty of them, part half-breeds and part Indians. We were taken to Duck Lake and put in the telegraph office till the morning; an armed guard was placed outside the building that night. Albert Monkman seemed to be in charge of Duck Lake at that time.
Q. How many men would be at Duck Lake at that time? A. Eighty or 100, that is taking into consideration those who were acting as outside guard. In the morning we were removed into the upstairs in what had been Mitchell's house.
Q. During that day did any more come in? A. After we were placed upstairs about noon or shortly after - before a lot of half-breeds and some Indians came from Batoche with the prisoner in command - that would be some time about noon.
Q. The accused was in command - how did you come to that conclusion? A. That morning he interviewed me and Ross and talked to us. He brought Bourget with him. He seemed to control and asked the questions. I was downstairs afterwards for a few minutes and I saw the prisoner beckoning to the men to fall in line and they fell in line.
Q. He was giving commands? A. Yes.
Q. After they were reinforced how many men had they altogether? A. I should say about 400 taking both Indians and half-breeds.
Q. How many Indians? A. About 150 Indians altogether.
Q. Did you see any other prisoners on the 26th? A. Lash, Tompkins, Simpson, McKean, and Woodcock were brought up into the same room. We heard some report of McKay having come near the building and being ordered back by Dumont. In the afternoon looking towards the west we noticed them running towards Carlton: Shortly after that all that were there except what I would call a fair sized guard, who remained around the building, went in the same direction. Shortly after the prisoners heard firing. I myself did not hear it. I heard the sound of a cannon that is all I can swear to. In about an hour or an hour and a half they returned bringing a wounded prisoner, Newett, with them. He was shot through the leg and hammered on the head with a musket or something. I dressed his wound and the prisoner came upstairs and talked to us about this battle. He said that ourselves as prisoners might have been sent into his hands to show future people in what way he had conducted the war - pointing to the wounded prisoner and saying that he used that man humanely. He said the volunteers and the police fired first. I told him that from what I knew of Major Crozier he did not intend to fire first, that he had told me so. I suggested that perhaps a gun had gone off by accident and the prisoner admitted that that was perhaps so. He called on his men in the name of God or the Supreme Being, 'I say unto you fire,' and he explained that the troops were beaten by the bravery of his own soldiers.
Q. At this time were the stores looted? A. They were not looted when we went there, but before we left they were cleared out.
Q. You were taken to Carlton on what day? A. On the 31st of March we left Duck Lake for Carlton. When we got out in the yard Riel was there in person, some were getting into sleighs when he told us to march.
Q. Who was in command of the party that took you? A. Monkman. When we got to Carlton we remained there till the 3rd of April, we were then moved to Batoche.
Q. Who was in command taking you to Batoche') A. Andrew Jobin. In Batoche we were placed in a room in the lower floor of the store, afterwards we were put in the upper flat of the same store. Soon after I sent a communication to Riel in reference to Ross and the other prisoners, seeing what I could do towards getting an exchange. Riel came upstairs and told me he could not see things in the same light, but he would exchange us for Clarke, Sproat and McKay.
Q. The Hon. Lawrence Clarke? A. Yes; I said that could not be done.
Q. How were you treated as a prisoner? A. In the early part, well -as well as men could be under the situation, but after that when we were taken down into the cellar we could not have been treated worse.
Q. Did they take extra precautions at the time of Fish Creek? A. There was always a home guard left around the buildings. Just after the Fish Creek fight the Indians came back earlier and alarmed me as regards the safety of the prisoners. I thought as long as the half-breeds were there the Indians could not get at us, but if the home guards were taken away when the Indians came back earlier they might massacre the prisoners. After the Fish Creek fight I wrote to Riel asking him for an interview, that would be about the 26th of April. I had a long talk with him about the prisoners. I told him about the fears entertained about the Indians and asked him if he would allow me to see the general or Irvine to try and effect an exchange. He refused to exchange.
Q. What did you say to him? A. I said, what do you want to keep us for? I said I suppose you wish that if you or your council get into danger you will want the prisoners for that purpose. Riel said, yes, certainly. I said to him to allow me to go and see either Irvine or the general about getting an exchange. I said: 'You claim a victory at Fish Creek and Duck Lake, and I said let me go and see and try for terms.' He said that he had gained two victories. I asked him if he would not allow me to do that. He said we must have another battle and he said: 'If we gain another battle the terms will be better and he said if we lose it the terms will be the same as now.' He said that after another battle he would allow me to go. From that day I was waiting, expecting that another battle would occur. On the last day, that would be the 12th of May, he came to the cellar and called my name in a hurry, and as I was getting out he told the rest of the prisoners what he was sending with me to the general in that message. I think the paper is there.
Q. Is that the paper? A. Yes, that is the message I carried out that morning (paper shown to witness).
Q. Did you see the prisoner right after that? A. Yes, right at the council chamber at Batoche. At the same time that he wrote that he wrote another message for Jackson to take. I took the message to the general. I also saw him write that one for Jackson.
Q. Is that it (shown witness)? A. Yes, that is the one that Jackson carried.
Q. He gave that to Jackson the same time he gave you yours? A. Yes, at the same time. One of us was supposed to go one way and the other the other. I rode to the general with that on horseback. The prisoner went with me until he passed me through his own lines. I went on, reached the general, and gave him the note. He read the note and took a few minutes to consider. I asked him to write a note to Riel. He wrote that note and I took it back to Riel. I think that note is among the papers there. Instead of allowing me to go back into the cellar the prisoner made me go into the church and he put an English speaking half-breed and an Indian to guard the church. In about half an hour or so Riel called for me again and I went with him among the women and the children. He wrote several notes but none of them seemed to please him and he tore them up, except one which seemed to suit him. I sat talking with him till he had finished writing and then I began to ask him whether it would not be better to let me see and try what terms I could get. I said that he could come with me and see the general. After talking a long time he left me and came back in a short time with Gabriel Dumont, but as I do not talk French I had to let the prisoner explain to Gabriel what we were talking about. Finally he said there was a great deal to consider. It would then be about one o'clock. About half-past one o'clock he had nearly agreed to what I proposed he should do. The firing then began and he at once turned to me and asked me what that meant. I told him that some of the Indians must have started it.
I told him if he would write a note to the general thanking him and say nothing about fighting, but leave it to me, I would get the firing stopped, if possible. Anyway I would see what could be done. He then wrote a note and asked me to take it. I asked him to pass me through the lines.
Q. Is that the note (shown witness)? A.  That is the note just as an excuse for me to get the firing stopped.
Q. That is the note? A. Yes; he wrote that in a tent or the council chamber and gave it to me. He went part of the way with me through his lines. In the position outside his own rifle pits the firing was pretty heavy. Riel went down into a low place till I overtook him; he was on horseback. Some of his men had left the rifle pits and gone to where he was. When I came up to him Riel asked for the note and put it into an envelope.
Q. Is that the envelope? A. Yes.
Q. Are those the words he wrote upon the envelope? A. Yes. He took the note out of my hands and wrote those words on the outside in my presence. He ordered the men who had left the rifle pits to go back again, and they went back along with me. I continued on, went to the general, and gave him the note. I did not call his attention to the memorandum on the outside of the note till the night time. I asked him how the fire began and he said the Sioux started, but that if Riel would get his men to stop firing that he would order his men to remain where they were and they would not advance any further. There was not time to write a letter. I went back and it took a long time to find Riel. I went among the women and the children and I found him. The firing was getting warm. I told him what the general had said, that if he would order his men to stop the firing he would do the same, and that he could come with me personally to the general. He hesitated for a time. At last I said there are not many minutes to waste; if you want to call the council together call them and let me address them. At last the prisoner said, 'It is not necessary to call the council.' He said he would do as I wished. I said you acknowledge you have the power to do as I wish without the council. He said, 'Yes.' I said for him to give the order to stop firing. He said, 'You know the men I have; I cannot go among these men and tell them to stop firing.' He said, 'You know that.' I told him I would go back and explain how everything stood and see if it was possible for the general to stop his men at a certain position; if he was willing to do as I wished. He was.
Q. That is willing to surrender? A. Yes, I went back and told the general what he said. He said that he could not accept it as a surrender unless Riel ceased firing. I knew he could not get his men to cease firing. I went back to try and keep the troops from getting at the women and children. I got the general to send a note to Riel offering the same terms as I had offered, that is that he should be kept safe till he had a fair trial.
Q. Did he speak to you of his personal safety? A. He had very little to say about the half-breeds. As far as regards himself seemed the principal object.
Q. What did he ask you in regard to himself? A. If I would explain what risk he ran personally himself. He said to me that we knew he never carried a rifle, of course, at the same time we had seen him carry a rifle on one occasion. I told him he ran no danger as I could look at it. He suggested that I should broach the subject of the church to the general and it would give him a chance to broach the subject when he came to be interviewed by the general. He would say that he was not to blame, that the council was to blame.
Q. During the time that you saw the prisoner there did you see him in command? A. He ordered the men into the pits on that occasion when some of them were leaving them. He took one half-breed and made him go back, saying that he would be able to do some fighting with the troops at all events.
Q. When did you see him armed? A. Some time before the Fish Creek fight, it must have been about a week before, I was talking to Riel before the council chamber one day, when a French half-breed came up with the report that the troops were coming. Shortly after, myself and the rest of the prisoners saw him passing the front of the house quickly with the half-breeds going towards the river, armed.
Q. During the eight days you were in the cellar were you bound at any time? A. They used to tie us up about supper time and leave us that way till next morning, that was for the last eight days. Delorme came down and threatened to shoot us if we were loose when he returned. They used to tie our hands behind our backs and then release us in the morning again.
Q. It is suggested to ask you if when you were released on the 12th if anything was said to the prisoners? A. He told the other prisoners the message I took to the general that if the women and children were hurt or were wounded by the troops he would massacre the prisoners, or words to that effect, just the same as was in the note.


Q. Was the 26th of March the first occasion on which you saw the prisoner? A. No, I saw him in the settlement since last summer off and on, but not to know him as I know him now.
Q. How often did you see him from that time? A. Perhaps ten or twelve times.
Q. Where did you see him? A. At the Batoche settlement, Prince Albert and different parts of the Prince Albert district.
Q. Were you present at any of the meetings? A. I never attended any. I was at the Prince Albert meeting a few minutes but I took no interest in it at all.
Q. A few minutes at Prince Albert? A. Yes, just walked into the hall and saw the prisoner at the end of the hall.
Q. When did you commence to take an interest in him? A. When I went to Carlton as a volunteer, and when I undertook scouting.
Q. You went up from Prince Albert with the volunteers? A. Yes.
Q. How long did you remain at Carlton? A. About a day and then I went through the settlement.
Q. When you left Carlton where did you go? A. Past the Indian reserve, Duck Lake, and through the principal part of the French half-breed settlement. I did not go quite to Batoche.
Q. You returned when? A. Sometimes at night and sometimes in the day time.
Q. Did you see the prisoner at Batoche till the 26th? A. I did not go to Batoche.
Q. Now you were prisoner- who took you prisoner? A. Sixteen or twenty half-breeds took me. Gabriel Dumont was in charge of the scouting party.
Q. How long were you prisoner before you saw Riel and his men? A. From two o'clock that morning till about noon the same day, that is when he came in person from Batoche.
Q. How long was he at Duck Lake before you saw him? A. I saw him coming in the yard.
Q. Was he the first man that came into the yard? A. You could not see the yard. He was the first man I noticed. I knew him by sight.
Q. Were there others besides him? A. Yes.
Q. Was he mixed with the others? A. No, he was more advanced than the others; he was by himself.
Q. How was he dressed? A. A large check, common looking trousers, as well as I remember, about the same kind of tweed he wore most of the time. Riel was never very particular about his dress.
Q. How long was he there before he came to interview you and the other prisoners? A I would say it might be perhaps half an hour.
Q. Did he come to see you or did he send for you? A. He came to see Ross and myself.
Q. To whom did he address himself first? A. I do not know. I may have been the spokesman.
Q. What did you say to him? A. I did not tell him exactly what I was there for. I gave him another story.
Q. What was the story? A. That I was travelling through the country making enquiries if that outfit was stopped at his headquarters.
Q. What was your object in telling him that? A. To get away from the place.
Q. Was the prisoner excited at that time? A. Not that I could see, he talked reasonably, as rather a clever man.
Q. What did he say. How long were you engaged in conversation with him at that time? A. Just while I explained to him.
Q. Did he tell you afterwards he found out you were not telling the truth? A. I don't think he found it out for five weeks.
Q. Did he say anything about church and state at that time? A. Not at that time.
Q. Did he talk about the rebellion? What did he say? That was the last you saw of him till you returned from Duck Lake? A. No; after the battle was over he came up and saw us.
Q. Did he say he was at that battle? A. Yes, that he had ordered the men to fire.
Q. He said that Crozier fired the first shot? A. He said that the volunteers or policemen fired the first shot. I said that I knew that Crozier would not fire the first shot, that perhaps one went off by accident, then he admitted that it might be so. He laid no stress on the first shot being fired.
Q. How long did you talk with him at that time? A. Quite a long time.
Q. How long? A. I would not say as to the time at all.
Q. How long did you converse with him? A. He talked to us prisoners.
Q. How many of you? A. Myself, Lash, the two Tompkins, Ross, McKean and Woodcock.
Q. Were the wounded prisoners with you at this time? A. Charley Newett. I dressed his wounds. The prisoner asked him some questions.
Q. What did he ask him? A. He asked him whether he knew if the Hon. Lawrence Clark was among the volunteers. That was the principal thing.
Q. Did he give directions how the wounded man was to be treated?
A. He left that in my hands, he hoped and expected I would do the best I could for the wounded prisoner.
Q. You say you were speaking to him for a considerable time, did he at this time strike you as being excited or excitable, or was he calm? A. He was cool enough, a little elated at his victory.
Q. Did he speak of dividing the territories? A. He mentioned about the half-breeds making certain claims and told us we had no business in that part of the country, that we belonged to Canada and that this country belonged to the Indians and half-breeds. I did not take much interest in what he was saying as I was dressing the wounded prisoner.
Q. Did you hear him talking of defeating the Government that time? A. Not as far as defeating the Government is concerned.
Q. What did he say about it? A. He told us what the ordinary claims were and said that we might have been sent to show how we conducted the war.
Q. Do you know did he say anything about saving the life of this wounded man? A. He said that he himself had stopped an Indian from killing that man. I told him that was the effect of raising the Indians and that was the way the Indians fought to kill a man when he was wounded.
Q. When had you a conversation with him again? A. The next day. I was downstairs a short time and I met him and had a talk with him about the Indians. I told him it was a bad thing to have anything to do with the Indians. He said that he could not help it that he was compelled to use the Indians. I told him that he was aware that he could not control the Indians.
Q. Who was present at that conversation? A. I was by myself just coming out of the door.
Q. Were there others around? A. Some half-breeds were stationed as guards, they were armed.
Q. During that occasion or on any occasion, did he speak of the church or of the Dominion of Canada? A. No, not of any importance except as regards Batoche.
Q. What did he say at Batoche about his church? A. He said he wanted me to mention to the General that he was to be recognized as the founder of the new church and that if the subject was mentioned to the General he could continue the subject when he met him.
Q. What did you understand by founding a new church? A. I understood it as a sharp trick to get the upper hand of the unfortunate half-breeds.
Q. Did you understand that before? A. I looked upon it in that light.
Q. Were there other half-breeds listening at this conversation at Batoche.? A. Lots of them were standing around but only an odd one could talk English, he spoke in English to me.
Q. When did you think it was to get advantage of the half-breeds? A. I considered that he was using them for his own ends.
Q. Did you consider his actions eccentric? A. He seemed intelligent and in many respects a clever man.
Q. What did you say to General Middleton about this man? A. I told the general exactly what I knew about the matter.
Q. Did you tell the general that you had considerable influence over Riel and that he was a simple-minded man? A. No.
Q. You have had considerable to do with the working up of the evidence against Riel? A. Not that I am aware of.
Q. Have you been engaged in that line for the last month? A. Not working up evidence.
Q. Working up the case? A. No; I am here as a simple witness - I am no more than the others.
Q. Have you given instructions to the Crown about this prosecution? A. Not in any other light. I gave no instructions - it would be rather strange if they received instructions from me.
Q. Had you anything to do with preparing the papers or giving information? A. No; not in preparing the papers. I have only given my own information.

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