Saturday, May 28, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

This appeared on the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press recently...
In your editorial Radicals always in our midst (March 16), I was surprised to read in your editorial that in 1871 "the Irish rebel John J. O'Neill met Métis leaders in Manitoba to enlist support for an invasion of Canada in an effort to weaken British oppression in Ireland." I would respond: what Métis leaders?
I have researched this issue extensively. William O'Donoghue had recruited four Fenian leaders to come to Manitoba. The Fenian Brotherhood did not officially sanction this trip, but provided funds for 300 muskets. They had about 30 men with them when they crossed the Manitoba border and ransacked the HBC post at Emerson, which was called "Fort Pembina."

Someone ran across the border and notified Capt. Lloyd Wheaton at the U.S. military post. Wheaton, who had been warned by the White House to stop the raid, crossed the border, rounded up the Irish Americans and took them back across into North Dakota. Canadian patriots in Winnipeg were still rounding up recruits to repel the invaders.

When they appeared before a Pembina magistrate, they were liberated on the grounds it did not break American law to invade Canada. However, three Pembina Métis were later arrested for helping the Fenians and charged with treason by officials in Winnipeg: Louis Letendre, Andre Jerome and Isadore Villeneuve.
Only one was convicted, but Jerome was held over the winter at Lower Fort Garry. He later claimed he had been tortured to give up the names of the Métis who helped the Fenians. He did not confess and was later set free as there was no evidence against him. However, these three Métis were later exiled to the U.S. in 1872.

I conclude that they were put through these show trials to intimidate other Métis from taking up arms against the Canadian government. The Fenians involved were not punished. John O'Neill did not meet Louis Riel or any other Métis leader, since he did not get beyond Emerson.

It is unfortunate this failed Fenian raid is usually dismissed as "an absurd example of failed terrorism." It had a traumatic effect on the families who were terrorized by Canadian government officials.

I refer you to our article The Métis in O'Donoghue's Raid, published in Manitoba History, Spring/Summer 2000: 24-38. Andre Jerome is the great-grandfather of my co-author, Edward A. Jerome of Hallock, Minn.
It is unfortunate your editorial writer knows more about John O'Neill than about the three Métis who were scapegoats in this tragic event.

RUTH SWAN
Winnipeg