Testimony of George Ness
July 28, 1885


Examined by MR. BURBIDGE:

Q. You live near Batoche, Mr. Ness? A. Yes.
Q. On which side of the river? A. On the east side of the river.
Q. How far from Batoche? A. About two miles.
Q. What is your occupation? A. Farmer.
Q. You are a justice of the peace as well? A. Yes.
Q. You know the prisoner? A. Yes.
Q. When did you first see him? A. Somewhere in the month of July, about that time.
Q. July 1884? A. Yes, 1884.
Q. Where did you see him then? A. I cannot say exactly the first place that I saw him, but I saw him around the settlement.
Q. In the parish of St Antoine? A. Yes.
Q. Was he living there at that time? A. Yes, somewhere there.
Q. Was his wife and children living there, too? A. Yes.
Q. Do you know if he has continued to live in the country since then? A. Yes.
Q. You know of his holding meetings? A. Yes, sir, I believe he was holding meetings.
Q. Did you attend any of those meetings? A. I attended one of them.
Q. One of the first meetings? A. No, this was on the 24th February.
Q. Where was it held? A. In the church at St Antoine.
Q. Did anything of importance take place at that meeting, and if so tell us? A. I didn't continue all way through the meeting. I left when it was about half way through.
Q. And you say it was conducted principally in French? A. Yes, it was conducted in French.
Q. You understand French? A. Yes, I knew what they were saying.
Q. Was that meeting attended by persons who afterwards remained loyal? A. Yes, several, and also by persons who were in the rebellion.
Q. Did you take any part in the meeting yourself? A. No, sir, I was just listening. I heard there was to be a meeting and I just went out of curiosity.
Q. Had you any reason for not taking part? A. I never did take any active part.
Q. Had you any conversation with Riel soon after he came into the country? A. Yes, I talked to him several times.
Q. In what month of 1884 would that be? A. It might have been the end of July or August.
Q. What were you speaking about? A. He was talking of trying to assist the people in their grievances, to have their grievances righted.
Q. Speaking of getting up an agitation? A. Yes, an agitation or bill of rights.
Q. Did he at that time make any suggestion of using force? A. No, sir.
Q. Did you see him frequently from that time forward? A. Yes.
Q. You live in the same neighborhood? A. Yes. I have seen him there very often.
Q. He attended church regularly? A. Yes.
Q. Did you see anything or hear anything to lead you to suppose they would take up arms? A. No, nothing till the 17th of March.
Q. Now, tell us what took place then? A. As I was proceeding home in the cutter I overtook one of my neighbors on the road. He was on foot and as is the custom of that part of the country I took him into my cutter as far as my place. He said, I believe Gabriel is inciting the Indians on One Arrow's reserve. I went home. I thought probably it might be true and I took and fed my horse and started for Carlton.
Q. This was about three in the afternoon? A. About three, it was getting towards sunset. I went to Carlton and informed Major Crozier what I had heard. I came there that night, it was late. I suppose it is about twenty miles to drive there. I asked permission to camp from the major and the next morning I saw him and he told me if I heard anything more to try and let him know as soon as possible. When I got back to Duck Lake Mr. Kerr told me, they are in arms already at the river, and they are going to take Carlton tonight. I thought it was my duty to send back to the major and inform him what was going on.
Q. You did so? A. I did so. I sent a letter by a special messenger.
Q. All this time your own family was about two miles from Batoche? A. Yes.
Q. After sending the message what did you do? A. I started for home to my family as I was anxious about them.
Q. What took place on the way home? A. On my way home, on the north side, or west side of the river at Walters' store, I heard there again that a mass meeting was to be held that evening.
Q. There was something really stirring them? A. Yes, there was something really the matter. I determined to go on.
Q. Did you do so? A. Yes. As I crossed the river I met another man. He was under arms already. He says they have taken up arms already. I said it was very foolish of them. Take the advice of a friend says I and leave that thing alone. So I continued on my way. When I got opposite Kerr Brothers' store I saw a big crowd there.
Q. Is Kerr Brothers' store on the east or west side? A. On the east side.
Q. Or on the south side as some say? A. Yes. As I got close to them I saw them coming on foot to the road. The store is perhaps about seventy or eighty feet from the road. Gabriel Dumont was in front. He says 'bonjour.' I took his hand and I says Gabriel, what is it you wish - it is not for nothing you stop me in this manner. He says, 'where have you been to?' I said I have been to Duck Lake, and he says you have been doing something, you have been further than Duck Lake. I says, Gabriel, it is none of your business where I have been to. Well, he says, I will take you prisoner. I says you can do what you please. I says, if you want to kill me, I am ready. I asked him if he was at the head of affairs, and he said no, Mr. Riel, the prisoner here, was at the head. He says I will have to keep you prisoner till his arrival.
Q. How many people were with Dumont? A. There were probably forty or fifty or sixty.
Q. And they were principally your neighbors? A. Neighbours and Indians.
Q. People you knew well? A. Yes.
Q. And some Indians? A. Yes.
Q. How many Indians do you think were there? A. There might have been twenty or twenty-five.
Q. Did you say anything to these people? A. I asked them who was taking me prisoner, whether they assisted Gabriel or not, and no one would answer me. I said it was a very foolish thing they were doing, that they would all be killed if they went on with it, if they meant rebellion.
Q. You made a speech to them? A. Yes. They said there is some more old men in the house. A young man said that. He says you better go and ask them if they will take him prisoner. They went back to the house and brought along two men.
Q. Who were they? A. Donald Ross and Calice Tourond. Tourond made a jump for my horse and caught him by the reins, and Ross consented.
Q. The people all consented to your arrest? A. Yes.
Q. Where did they take you to? A. Back to the store, about seventy or eighty feet from the road. Gabriel says you can get down and warm yourself; so I went in and warmed myself. While I was in the house I heard the people saying in French, they have taken Captain Gagnon.
Q. Who is he? A. A captain of the police force stationed at Carlton. All the people went out. I went out with them. I saw Mr. Lash.
Q. Had the prisoner arrived at this time? A. After I went out I saw Mr. Riel, and he was saying to Mr. Lash, have you any arms. Lash says, no, I never carry any arms.
Q. Who appeared to be in command after the prisoner arrived? A. Mr. Riel. He told me, he says you go down to the church; and we started almost immediately for the church.
Q. Did every one appear to obey him? A. Yes.
Q. Dumont and all the rest? A. Yes.
Q. Tell us about their taking you to church. A. When we got to the church they were in the front of the church. Mr. Riel commenced saying he was a prophet, that he could foresee events.
Q. Before that how many men were in arms - at the time you and Lash were taken prisoners to the church? A. Well, there might have been about fifty.
Q. How were they armed? A. With guns.
Q. Had any of them rifles? A. They might have had rifles. I didn't take that much notice.
Q. They were armed with firearms? A. Yes.
Q. Who was in charge of the church? A. Rev. Father Moulin.
Q. Did you see him on that occasion? A. When the crowd got to the church he came out and he wished to speak to the people. Mr. Riel says: No, we won't let him speak; take him away; take him away; we will tie him.
Q. He threatened to tie him? A. Yes. He says: Shall we take him prisoner? Some of them said: No, we will put a guard over him.
Q. Did he say anything about taking possession of the church at the same time? A. Yes. Riel says: I will take possession of the church. Father Moulin says: I protest your touching the church. Riel says: Look at him; he is a Protestant.
Q. The prisoner said that? A. Yes. Go away, says Riel, go away.
Q. What happened then? A. They went into the church then, and ordered us to go into the church.
Q. Ordered you prisoners? A. Yes, us prisoners. Mr. Riel jumped into my cutter as I was going to the church. He bowed very politely to me and said to take my horse.
Q. How long were you in the church? A. Probably quarter of an hour or half an hour.
Q. Where did they take you then? A. Across the river to Walters' & Baker's store.
Q. Where did they put you then? A. Up stairs.
Q. Were there any prisoners in that store when you arrived? A. They took Mr. Lash and Tompkins.
Q. Did you find any prisoners when you got there? A. Mr. Walters was a prisoner with his assistant, Mr. Hannipin.
Q. Were you kept under guard at Walters' & Baker's store? A. Yes, all the time.
Q. That would be on the night of the 18th still? A. Yes.
Q. Tell me if anything of importance took place that night. A. They brought in Louis Marion a prisoner on the 18th about nine or ten o'clock, and during the night I heard some one call out down stairs to go and cut the telegraph wire. I heard a noise as if they were going off to, and then several hours afterwards I heard them saying they could see a lantern, that some one was repairing the telegraph. I heard them as if they were starting off again.
Q. Did they bring in any more prisoners that night? A. They brought back Peter Tompkins and McKean, who had been repairing the telegraph.
Q. What took place on the 19th? A. On the morning of the 19th they took us back to the church again.
Q. Were you kept there all the day? A. Yes.
Q. As prisoners? A. Yes, as prisoners.
Q. Was the prisoner giving orders? A. Yes, he appeared to be at the head of affairs; he was giving orders.
Q. What was the chief event of that day as far as you can remember? A. He was giving orders to go and take William Boyer and Charles Nolin prisoners.
Q. Did you hear him say why they were to be taken prisoners? A. Because they would not take up arms.
Q. Did he say anything about because they had been movers up to that time? A. Because they had been movers and had left it at the time of the taking up of arms.
Q. Was Nolin tried? A. About his trial I cannot say exactly. I heard Riel saying he ought to be shot, or that they would shoot him.
Q. You understood Nolin and Boyer were to be shot? A. Yes, both of them.
Q. And because they would not join in the movement in taking up arms? A. In not taking up arms.
Q. Where did they take you from the church? A. In the evening they offered to take our word of honor we would not try to escape and they gave us a book to put our names down and they told us we would be more comfortable down at Garnot's house and they took us down there with a big guard in addition to our word of honor.
Q. Coming to the 20th, the next day, can you tell us anything of importance that occurred on that day? A. Yes, somewhere about the middle of the day Riel came down to see the prisoners.
Q. While you were at dinner? A. Yes, while we were at dinner.
Q. And addressed you all? A. Yes, addressed us all.
Q. Did he say anything to any of you particularly? A. Well, he told Mr. Walters - Mr. Walters asked him why he was keeping him prisoner - if he would not give him his liberty and Riel said he would think over it, and that he would give him his liberty. He says to Lash: 'We will offer you the same position in our Government which you hold under the Dominion Government as agent, that is if you will accept of it.'
Q. After that did he take you to the council house? A. He told me he wanted to see me at the council house, so I went up to the council house.
Q. What did he say to you there? A. He told me he was going to give me my liberty and they would read me my penalty for my crime, my offence.
Q. Did he make any further promises there? A. Yes, he would let me go on condition I would not do anything against the movement.
Q. What did you say to that? A. I said I preferred he would leave a guard over me, that I could hardly consent to that.
Q. Was anything else said? Did you see Maxime Lepine there? A. Yes, I saw Maxime Lepine there.
Q. Did he take part in any conversation do you remember? A. Yes, he was one of the councillors.
Q. Do you remember anything he said? A. No, I cannot remember now.
Q. When you told him you would rather he would keep a guard over you what took place? A. They took me in and read my crime to me.
Q. What was your crime? A. Communicating with the police.
Q. Was this before the council? A. Yes.
Q. Who appeared to be in the chair? A. Albert Monkman and Garnot.
Q. What was Garnot acting as? A. Secretary of the council.
Q. They read over to you your offence? A. Yes, they read over to me my offence and my penalty.
Q. What was your offence? A. Communicating with the police and insulting Gabriel Dumont.
Q. What was your penalty? A. They took my horse and cutter and robes.
Q. They were to be confiscated? A. Yes.
Q. You were to be given your liberty on the condition that you would do nothing against them? A. Yes.
Q. That you would be neutral? A. Yes. I had no alternative. I had to take it.
Q. Your wife and family were at home? A. Yes. When I arrived home that evening I found my wife in a great state of excitement about me. It appears Sioux Indians had been through there and told her I was to be shot.
MR.. GREENSHIELDS: There should be a limit to this hearsay evidence.
Q. From the 20th March till the 14th May where were you? A. I was at home.
Q. Were you within the line of guards of the rebel position? A. Yes.
Q. You had frequent occasion of seeing armed parties? A. Yes, they were passing and repassing all the time.
Q. Did you see Indians in arms too? A. Yes.
Q. Did you have any of the rebels quartered on you during the time? A. Yes, they told me my property was public; everybody's property was public.
Q. The prisoner and others with him took whatever they saw fit? A. Yes.
Q. Did they ever speak with you about what they intended to do, or you with them? A. Well, after the Duck Lake fight most of them were frightened; they saw they had put their foot in it, and they didn't know how to get out of it.
Q. Do you know the day of the Fish Creek fight? A. Yes.
Q. What date was that? A. On the 24th April.
Q. How far is Fish Creek from your home? A. About twelve miles.
Q. Did you see the rebels going down to Fish Creek? A. Yes, I saw them.
Q. Did you see them returning? A. Yes.
Q. Had you any conversation with any of them on returning? A. Yes. When they were returning there was a wounded man brought into my house, one who was wounded at Fish Creek.
Q. Did you see Riel among the men who went down? A. No, sir, I didn't. I could not see them well enough to identify them. I would not expose myself that much. I was hiding.
Q. Didn't you see Riel returning from the direction of Fish Creek before the fight? A. No, sir, I didn't.
Q. Did you ever see Riel armed? A. I saw him with a revolver.
Q. On what occasion was that? A. That was while I was a prisoner. 

Examined by MR.. FITZPATRICK:

Q. You saw Riel in connection with the present difficulty for the first time last July or August? A. Yes, somewhere in July or August.
Q. You knew the circumstances under which he came into the country? A. I believe he was sent for as far as I heard.
Q. At the time you first saw him there was a certain amount of agitation in the country was there not? A. Yes, sir.
Q. The agitation was to obtain by constitutional means redress for certain grievances that the half-breeds pretended to exist? A. Yes.
Q. That agitation had been going on for some years? A. Yes.
Q. Riel told you when you first saw him that he had come for the purpose of taking part in that agitation at the request of the persons interested? A. Well, I could not say he exactly said that, but I understood that he came for that purpose.
Q. You saw him frequently from July last up to the month of March? A. Yes.
Q. Did you during all that time hear of anything either from himself or any person else which would lead you to believe that anything in the shape of a rebellion was pretended by him? A. No, sir, not till the 17th of March.
Q. During all that time he lived in the country and took part in all the movements that took place? A. I believe he did.
Q. It was a matter of common report he took part in all those movements? A. Yes.
Q. You never heard any extraordinary remarks passed with regard to him until the 17th of March? A. No.
Q. You know that different petitions had been in circulation in the country and had been forwarded to Ottawa? A. I believe they had.
Q. You are also aware that as late as the month of February last a petition was prepared under the direction of the prisoner, which was signed by yourself, and which was sent to Ottawa, or of which you approved? A. I might have approved of it, but I never signed it. He showed me a petition some time in August, I think, but I never heard of its being taken around to be signed.
Q. Did you hear of anything in February? A. No.
Q. At the time of that meeting which you refer to as having taken place on the 24th of February? A. No. I had heard the Government had refused Riel, that they would not have anything to do with him.
Q. Do you know whether any answer had been given to any petitions that had been sent in; any answer by the Government?
A. I believe not. I never heard of any.
Q. It was a matter of common report previous to the 17th of March that the police force was being increased? A. Yes, there was some talk of it.
Q. That was generally considered among the people there as being the answer to their petition? A. I could not say.
Q. Was not that the general impression formed by the public report circulated at that time? A. I could not say.
Q. After Riel came into the country, at the request of the half-breeds, you know of your own knowledge that he was very poor? A. Yes.
Q. You know a subscription was made for the purpose of enabling him to exist in the country? A. Yes, a subscription was made.
Q. You know he also desired to return to Montana again? A. Yes, there was something said about him returning to Montana.
Q. You said that the first time you heard of anything in the shape of an armed rebellion was on the 17th of March? A. Yes.
Q. Up to that time there had been nothing of that kind spoken of in any way to your knowledge? A. No, there were some reports in the papers.
Q. But among the people, among your neighbors? A. No.
Q. When did you first see Riel after the 17th? A. On the 18th.
Q. You saw him at the time he took possession of the church? A. Yes.
Q. You heard what he said to the priest at that time? A. Yes.
Q. Up to that time had you heard him make any remark derogatory to the priests? A. Yes.
Q. When? A. In the month of February, I think.
Q. Towards the end of February? A. Somewhere in February.
Q. At that time did he not have a difficulty with Father Moulin? Just state what that difficulty was? A. He accused Bishop Tache and Bishop Grandin of being thieves and rogues.
Q. Made a general onslaught on all parties connected with the Roman Catholic Church? A. Yes.
Q. Didn't you clearly understand at that time that this man declared publicly that he had ceased to belong to the Roman Catholic Church? A. No.
Q. Didn't he say at that time that the priest was entirely outside of the church, that he was a Protestant? A. No.
Q. What about the word Protestant which you used in your examination-in-chief? A. He said that on the 17th of March.
Q. The difficulty with Father Moulin was in March? A. Yes; and in February.
Q. In March he said the priest was a Protestant or something to that effect? A. Yes.
Q. Did you consider at that time he acted as he had acted when you first knew him in July or August with reference to the priests and religion? A. No; he acted very much otherwise.
Q. Now, can your memory enable you to say what he said at that time on the 17th March in his difficulty with Father Moulin? A. It was on the 18th March.
Q. State what took place, the words that were used, and how he acted on that occasion? A. He said the Spirit of God was in him, and Father Moulin said he was making a schism against the church, and Riel said Rome had tumbled. Rome est tombee.
Q. Proceed if you please? He said the Pope of Rome was not legally Pope? A. Yes.
Q. He said the episcopate spirit had left Rome and come into the North-West Territories? A. No; he did not say that.
Q. Did he say anything of that kind? A. He said the Spirit of God was in him and that Rome had tumbled, and he could tell future events.
Q. Did he state the reason why Rome had tumbled? A. No; he did not give the reason.
Q. During July, August, September and October, immediately after his return to this country, he attended church as Roman Catholics generally do? A. Yes; he acted very devoutly.
Q. The first time you heard of the rebellion, heard it talked of, was at this time of the 17th March, and it is on that day he gave expression to this extraordinary language you have just told us about? A. Yes; on the 18th of March.

Examined by MR. BURBIDGE:

Q. When you told Mr. Fitzpatrick you understood the Government had refused Mr. Riel, I understand you to be referring to Mr. Riel's own personal claims, is that what you mean? A. I said the Government had declined to accede to Riel's terms?
Q. You were referring to Riel's own claims? A. Yes. Yes; from what I understood it was his personal claims.

The court adjourned till 29th July.


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