William Henry Jackson: Riel’s Secretary

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Born in Ontario in 1861, William Henry Jackson would go on to have an impact on the Prince Albert area, as one of the most prominent citizens in the early years of the municipality. Studying the classics at the University of Toronto for three years, he would travel to Prince Albert in 1882 with his parents. During those early years in Prince Albert, he would gain the reputation as one of the most well-educated men in the entire district. Eventually, he would become the secretary of the local Farmer’s Union.

It was as secretary of the Farmer’s Union that he would meet Louis Riel in the summer of 1884. Upon meeting and speaking with Riel, Jackson understood the Metis side of things and felt that their grievances and concerns were legitimate. Sympathetic to their cause, he would move to Batoche, south of Prince Albert. While there, he began working as the Riel’s secretary and would convert to Roman Catholicism on March 18, 1885. Riel stood as godfather of the ceremony and gave him the name Honore Joseph Jaxon.  
Things took a turn for the worse for Jackson when in 1885, the Rebellion broke out. When the fighting began, some Metis began to become concerned with the loyalty of Jackson and he was subsequently put under arrest by them after the Battle of Duck Lake in March. The Canadian forces would capture Batoche six weeks later and if Jackson thought that his time under arrest was over, he was wrong. In a cruel twist of fate, he was then arrested by the Canadian forces and charged with treason-felony. In a trial that lasted less than half an hour, he was found not guilty for reasons of insanity and committed to the Selkirk Asylum.
Jackson would escape two weeks before Riel was executed and flee to the United States. While in the United States, he began to present himself as a Metis and changed his name to Honore Jaxon. Settling in Chicago, he became involved in the Labour Movement. In 1894, he was part of Coxey’s Army that marched on Washington, D.C. to demand an eight-hour workday. He then became one of the early converts to the Baha’I faith
In 1907, over 20 years after the Rebellion, he returned to Saskatchewan and attempted to run for Parliament as an Independent in the 1908 election. He lost quite badly. He then made his way to Saskatoon and was involved for a short time in the labour issues there.. After a time in Canada and become discouraged with life here, he moved to New York and began collecting books, newspapers and pamphlets. He was collecting these items in the hopes of establishing a museum in honour of the Metis in New York City. He became known in the city as a curiosity and the New York newspapers called him the human packrat. When he was evicted from an apartment building on Dec. 31, 1951, his personal library was packed into boxes and formed a pile two metres high, three metres across and 11 metres long. It was all hauled away and burned. Jaxon himself would pass away only a few weeks later on Jan. 10, 1952 at the age of 90.
Information for this article came from the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.

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