Major Charles Arkoll Boulton

The Man Who Resisted Riel

by George Siamandas



He was born Sept 17, 1841 in Coburg Ontario. His father was a Lieut Col, and Charles followed his father's footsteps into the military. He served at Malta, Gibraltar for the British. In 1869, at age 27, he came west as part of the Canadian Survey Party. The purpose of the Survey was to turn localities into townships for immediate settlement. Boulton's association with Charles Schultz and the Survey Party put him in the immediate suspicion of the Metis who correctly feared the loss of their lands.


Boulton's job became that of assembling and training a group of volunteers to help quell the resistance. He was working in the Portage District which had become the refuge of people trying to avoid the troubles at Red River. Boulton was there to help convince a Sioux Chief to remain loyal to the Queen.

A party of "liberators" decided to march to red River to earn the release of the prisoners being held by Riel. Boulton had tried to restrain "hot heads" like Thomas Scott and Charles Mair and had urged them not to go and in fact they discovered enroute that Riel planned to release them anyway. On Feb 17, 1870 Riel's men captured the Portage Party and Riel decided to establish his authority by making an example of their leader Boulton by executing him the next day.


Boulton was arrested and put in leg chains at Fort Garry. He was questioned by Riel and Riel agreed to Boulton's request to see Archdeacon McLean. McLean convinced Riel to give a 12 hour postponement. Riel used Boulton as a bargaining card for concessions from Donald A Smith. Previous to this the federal govt had ignored Riel's demands to be taken seriously. Smith agreed to Riel's request to have the English elect 12 delegates to meet Riel's delegates at a general convention.

Riel's men became reluctant to guard Boulton. His first guard went mad, while the second died on the job. Boulton later told the story that Riel had awakened him in the night glaring a lantern into his face. Riel asked Boulton to join his govt and be the leader of the English. To this Boulton asked for the release of all the prisoners. Boulton heard no more about it. Clergy and English settlers appealed for mercy and Boulton's sentence was delayed another week and by March he was released. Riel held onto Thomas Scott who he subsequently executed. Boulton returned to Ontario and went into the lumber industry, married and began a family. When the lumber venture failed he decided to return to Manitoba.


In 1880 he returned as a settler in the Boulton Municipality and set up a log house. Boulton purchased land along the proposed railway route and moved closer to the settled area. The area became Russel and Boulton served as the area's first reeve and operated a newspaper the Russel Chronicle. He also became active in many organizations and tried provincial and federal politics.


With the 1885 Rebellion Boulton went west with a group of farmer volunteers from the Birtle Russel district which became known as Boulton's Scouts. His Scouts were active in the Battles of Fish Creek and Batoche. In 1886 Boulton hired a typist from Winnipeg who took down his thoughts which became a book: "Reminiscences of the North West Rebellions."


Boulton had been a farmer, a military man, surveyor, businessman, politician, author and office holder. He began to seek federal patronage which was a long time coming. Finally in 1889 he was appointed a senator. Boulton was active in promoting railways, free trade and western settlement.

Historians suggest that Boulton lost his nerve when he was reluctant to go after Riel along with the Portage group. He was also disappointed at how little recognition he received for his efforts in Manitoba and from the federal govt. His financial achievements were also very modest and he struggled to maintain his large family of seven children. He died in 1899 after a brief cold at age 58.


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